On the 14th of June 2017, millions across the UK saw the shocking scenes at Grenfell Tower in London. When the cladding caught fire, flames immersed the building and reduced people’s homes to ash. On that day, Grenfell didn’t just expose the true extent of inequality in the UK. It also exposed deep-seated institutional racism within the country.
“We can’t breathe.” These are some of the last words spoken to emergency service operators from Grenfell victims. Now, three years later, with the world amid anti-racism protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd, who uttered the same words, “I can’t breathe,” the similarities are harrowingly clear.
Institutional Racism And Housing
UK surveys have found that a third of landlords admitted discrimination against those without British passports or those who ‘seemed’ like immigrants (accent, name, or skin color). BAME households are also shown to be more likely to wait longer for a social housing offer, to be offered poorer quality homes & flats rather than houses. This highlights the deep-rooted institutional racism that has been taking place in the UK. It eventually culminates in injustices like Grenfell, where most of the residents are from BAME backgrounds and have their complaints ignored by landlords that have admitted to discriminate against them for no reason other than their race, accent, or name.
Calls From Family Members For The Grenfell Inquiry To Include Institutional Racism In It’s Terms Of Reference
Nabil Choucair, the brother of victim Nadia Choucair, stated in The Guardian that he is calling for the inquiry to expand the terms of reference to include Institutional Racism in their inquiry.
“I have fought and tried to get this changed right from the beginning, I believe my sister, mother, nieces and brother-in-law were treated and judged differently.
“We are faced with social inequality and racism every day of our lives in this country. You’re treated differently if you’re not white. You can’t have an inquiry without having looked at how those 72 angels were treated.”Nabil Choucair, The Guardian
Nour-eddine Aboudihaj, the founder of the Grenfell Tower Trust, told The Guardian that residents were ignored repeatedly when they raised concerns about the safety of the building. Residents had raised concerns as early as two years before the fire took place.
“There were a lot of complaints about electricity cuts, gas, all these issues but they were not listened to. The fact residents were from immigrant or BAME backgrounds means they weren’t listened to and they were treated unfavourably.”
“That’s what institutional racism is about, It’s not some individual deliberately doing something in a racist fashion. It’s whether any policies, procedures, acts or conduct directly or indirectly led to consequences.”Nour-eddine Aboudihaj, The Guardian
Family members of the victims in an interview with ITV News stated that if Grenfell had happened in the wealthier area of Knightsbridge, home to predominantly white residents, “maybe we might have got a different response” to the fire. They also believe that the urgency was ‘not there’ as most residents in the tower were from an ethnic background and that they were not listened to on the night. Most residents were told to ‘stay put’ in the tower while the fire ravaged on – advice that ultimately led to many of their deaths.
Three Years On, Is There Any Justice?
Seven different families, all previous residents of Grenfell Tower, are still waiting for new homes. Three years have passed, and families are still living in temporary accommodation. Only five households have accepted permanent homes and are still waiting to move into them. Kensington and Chelsea council have, however, stated that they are assisting two other families. Despite this, there are still 194 other households that need to be rehoused. There has been little discussion about what help and support they are receiving.
Institutional racism is deeply ingrained in British society. Grenfell has exposed this in the most dramatic way possible, but the only way to allow something good to come from this tragedy is to learn from it. More education is essential for not just landlords, but everyone in society. Racism is a learned behavior, not something anyone is born doing. In order to stop anything like Grenfell happening ever again, we need to start tackling the root of racism and educate ourselves.