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Safety & Security

Discrimination and Racism in the UK

Even though the UK is, generally speaking, home to a peaceful, diverse and enlightened society, there are some worrisome and serious divides. Read on for an overview on racism in the UK, as well as other forms of discrimination, such as homophobia and sexism.

Racism and Religious Discrimination

The problem of racism in the UK is one that remains worrisome. The UK has had its share of racial upheaval in the form of riots that took place throughout the 20th century, most notably perhaps in the 1980s. As a mechanism, racism in the UK does not differ from that in other countries, with the same fears and “bogeymen” causing negative attitudes, resentment, and violence.

To detach racism in the UK from the colonial past of the Empire is, of course, impossible for obvious reasons. To go into full detail on this matter is beyond the scope of this article, though. For an overview of the demographics of the UK today, including the strength of ethnic and religious minority communities, please refer to our overview article.


The most tangible divide in the UK today might not be the one along racial and ethnic lines, but rather along religious and cultural ones. Right-wing populists have long adopted the tactic of not explicitly targeting minorities because of their ethnicity (or at least aim towards shedding that image in the public eye). They are rather vocal in their rejection and criticism of Islam and its values.

Of course, Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon, but it has indeed reached new heights in popularity in the UK within the last decade. The more obvious reasons for this are quickly found: continued, at times violent, tensions between what the so-called Western hemisphere and Islamic countries, a perceived incompatibility between different cultures, fears among parts of the population of losing their jobs to migrant workers, and plain fear of the unknown.

Islamic fundamentalists tainting the public image of Muslims in the UK add their part to a generally rather tense situation. Terror strikes carried out by adherents of radical Islam on UK soil have made international headlines and escalated the issue. 


On the one hand, racism in the UK did not take the form of virulent anti-Semitism in the 19th century or during the first half of the 20th century, the timespan in which anti-Jewish resentment gained mainstream acceptance not only throughout the European mainland but much of the Western world and culminated in the unspeakable events of the Holocaust. However, there has been a notable rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the past years.

As with other forms of racism in the UK, these incidents can range from verbal abuse to anti-Semitic graffiti and violent assault. This development has reached an extent that warranted closer cooperation between the Metropolitan Police (which provides law enforcement in Greater London) and the Community Security Trust, which represents the Jewish community in questions of security.

Xenophobic Crime in the UK

Today, parts of what used to be the core messages of the far right, such as tough stances on issues of immigration and asylum and the denouncement of multiculturalism, have been incorporated in the agendas of the political mainstream, further creating and reinforcing negative attitudes towards religious and ethnic minorities. Often, the victims are those who are furthest marginalized as it is.

In 2011/12, the number of crimes aggravated by religious hatred or racism in the UK topped the number of 100 per day. One should keep in mind, however, that this number represents all (reported) incidents of racism in the UK, including persistent name-calling, damage to property, harassment, and violence, and does not reflect the circumstances in which hateful incidents occur. For example, people from minority communities working alone and at night, for example as fast food vendors or cab drivers, are in greater danger of being victimized.

What the above should not convey, however, is that expatriates (particularly those deemed “Black or Minority Ethnic”) are not safe in the UK. Being alert and aware of your surroundings is still recommended, but there is no need for paranoia. If you are interested in further information on the topic of racism in the UK, the Institute of Race Relations has issued an outstanding pdf brochure which is sure to shed some light on the questions you might have.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

InterNations Expat Magazine