George The Poet Perfectly Explains To Emily Maitlis Why Racism Isn’t Just An American Issue On Newsnight

by : Julia Banim on : 03 Jun 2020 13:07
George The Poet Perfectly Explains To UK Viewers Why Racism Isn't Just An American IssueGeorge The Poet Perfectly Explains To UK Viewers Why Racism Isn't Just An American IssueBBC

George The Poet has perfectly explained to UK viewers why racism isn’t just an American issue during a recent episode of Newsnight.


The British spoken-word artist, poet and rapper expertly refuted presenter Emily Maitlis’s claims that racism in the UK is not ‘on the same footing’ as the US, shedding some much needed light on the institutionalised racism that is so deeply ingrained within UK history.

George, 29, appeared on Newsnight on Monday, June 1, to discuss the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the US in the wake of the horrifying death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.

George the PoetGeorge the PoetPA

Reflecting on the ongoing protests, George – whose full name is George Mpanga – noted ‘disturbing parallels between the Black British experience and the African American experience’.


George, who hosts the award-winning podcast Have You Heard George’s Podcast?, went on to detail many of the injustices within the UK criminal justice system, noting that ‘black and brown people account for half of all young people in jail right now’.

George also went on to give a devastating account of a man called Julian Cole, who George knew when they were both primary school children. Julian was left with a broken neck and severe brain damage after being accosted by five police officers outside of a Bristol nightclub.

Maitlis, 49, queried, ‘You’re not putting America and the UK on the same footing,’ stating:

Our police aren’t armed, they don’t have guns, the legacy of slavery is not the same. We’ve had a report many years ago looking at institutional racism and you would hope reversing or aiming to open that up.

You can watch the discussion below:

In response to this, George said:

If it’s not the same then you have to explain to me why Julian Cole is not an exception. What happened with Nuno Cardoso, what happened with Edson Da Costa, what happened with Sarah Reed who died under very similar circumstances with Sandra Bland in the American context.

This is contemporary. When you talk about the history of race relations, you have to consider the role of the British Empire on the African content and the political and economic consequences of that interaction.


He added:

What is the situation that we’re dealing with today? This is very contemporary and I hope this is a learning point for many people who think along the lines that you just expressed, that this is an American and not a British issue.

With Black Lives Matter protests having well and truly crossed the pond, demonstrations have been planned in cities such as London, Manchester and Birmingham, showing just how much this issue resonates with many British people.

Many activists have been shocked and horrified that people in the UK view their history to be separate to the situation in the US, falsely regarding America to have a more racist past than the UK.

Much is still left out of UK history classrooms about the decidedly less victorious side of British history, the aftermath of which continues to impact so many people to this day.

For example, many of us will have learnt about Britain’s valiant role in fighting the Nazis in WWII. Far fewer will have learnt about the British Empire’s legacy of torture, slavery, exploitation and genocide; taking a cold hard look at what it truly meant for Britannia to ‘rule the waves’.

Britain started establishing overseas colonies in the 16th century, and by 1783, had colonies in America and the West Indies.

Among many other shameful atrocities, slave labour was used to build the British empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, with the labour of enslaved human beings ultimately allowing Britain to rise as a global economic superpower.

Many people understandably feel uncomfortable when considering such an ugly and painful side of British history, one which we cannot feel proud or patriotic about. However, we should not turn a blind eye and allow ourselves to indulge a whitewashed, sanitised narrative.


The omission of huge chunks of British history from the curriculum can have far reaching consequences for public policy, and can shape ill-informed opinions for generations.

Take for instance the Windrush scandal, named after members of the ‘Windrush’ generation who arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between the years 1948 and 1973.

During this period, Caribbean countries were a part of the British commonwealth, with those arriving automatically being British subjects who were free to live and work permanently in the UK as they pleased.

However, in 2017, it emerged that hundreds of these individuals had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights after being falsely labelled as illegal immigrants or undocumented migrants under the UK government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation.

This legislation, implemented in 2012, tasked landlords and employers – among others – with enforcing strict immigration controls, with the aim of giving undocumented migrants no choice but to leave.

However, as many of those from the Windrush generation arrived in the UK as children on their parents’ passports, many did not have the necessary documentation to prove their rights as British subjects.

Therefore, many were put in immigration detention, whilst others faced deportation to countries they hadn’t been to since childhood.

A draft of the independent review into the Windrush scandal, obtained by Channel 4, recommended all Home Office staff should ‘learn about the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world, including Britain’s colonial history’.

As per a report by the Runnymede Trust – a UK based race equality think tank – one in six children under the age of 15 in England and Wales are from Black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. However, the curriculum has yet to reflect this diversity.

Furthermore, it’s clear that many teachers would be keen to expand the curriculum to give a fuller version of British history, with 78% of surveyed teachers stating that they would like training on teaching migration, and 71% wanting training on teaching empire.

Professor Nandini Das, of the University of Liverpool, said:

What does it mean to be British? What does it mean to ‘belong’? The long history of migration and empire is an intrinsic part of British history, literature, and culture.

It can be complex, fraught and problematic. But it is also the soil from which much that we think of as inherently ‘British’ today has emerged.

The teaching of migration and empire should not be an alternative to a ‘core’ history of Britishness, nor is it understanding that speaks only to particular student groups alone.

If we fail to accommodate migration, empire and belonging in our schools curriculum, we are failing to fulfill a fundamental commitment to generations to come, to give them the fullest, richest, most nuanced understanding that we can, about the nation, and about Britain’s place in the world.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, petitions have sprung up in the hope of filling in the significant and damaging gaps in the British education system.

One such petition is pushing to update the GCSE English reading list by including two additional books by BAME writers which focus on issues of race and equality: The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla and Why I am no longer talking to white people about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.

Another petition – which has gained over 62,000 signatures at the time of writing – calls for British children to be taught about the ‘realities of British Imperialism and Colonialism’, noting that the Department of Education states the following, as of yet unfulfilled, aim:

The national curriculum for history aims to ensure that all pupils:

Know and understand the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative, from the earliest times to the present day: how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world.

In order to move forward to a fairer and more equal society, it’s absolutely essential that we acknowledge and critically engage with the historical events which have led to this outpouring of activism.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: News, Black Lives Matter, Emily Maitlis, George The Poet, Newsnight, Racism, UK


Runnymede Trust and 1 other
  1. Runnymede Trust

    Teaching Migration, Belonging, and Empire in Secondary Schools

  2. Channel 4

    Windrush Scandal: Home Office ‘reckless’ and ‘defensive’, leaked review finds