The decades (or centuries) old Caucasian prejudice against women and people of colour has again been spectacularly highlighted. In 2020, the spectacle of a US police officer immobilising George Floyd by kneeling upon his helpless body was flashed across the globe as a typical, but nevertheless outstanding, example of institutional prejudice and violence. On Saturday 13 March 2021, in the UK we had an almost parallel optic by a UK police officer, holding a female down on the ground whilst arresting and handcuffing her. A number of other women were treated similarly whilst attending what was a peaceful vigil.
The irony in this UK case was that the vigil was triggered by the murder of Sarah Everard, who the police suspect was abducted and murdered – by a male member of the police force. A further layer of irony was added by the fact that the police action occurred under the authority of Cressida Dick, the first female Commissioner of police in the UK. Any thought that a female in charge may have moderated how a female rights vigil – against male violence – was policed was mistaken. Patriarchy, prejudice and disrespect of all kinds is so woven into the institutional culture and regulatory methods of most – if not all – police forces, that this culture over-rides any other human rights considerations.
With regard to police prejudice and disrespect in relation to gender and colour, recall for a moment the fairly recent ‘selfie’ photos of UK police officers taken adjacent to the bodies of two murdered women of colour! However, the police are not unique in being seeped in patriarchal forms of prejudice. To a greater or lesser extent it exists throughout all male-dominated societies. Prejudice against women, people of different skin colour and class, permeates every institution, from the royalty, government, politics, economic, finance, education, law, military and even some aspects of family life.
Women are subject to discrimination, sexual harassment, violence and rape in everyone of the above areas of life. Males of colour and the essential workers of the ‘lower’ classes are also discriminated against and exploited in many of the above areas. Additionally, the patriarchal and patronising attitude to women is currently revealed in the treatment of female essential workers. They have born the brunt of the front-line struggle against Covid19 infection in hospitals, care homes and private dwellings.
In the UK, as elsewhere, up to seventy-five percent of all paid and unpaid health and care workers in most countries are women. Apart from a few weeks of hand clapping they were effectively abandoned by men in government and by every other male dominated socio-economic institution. In the UK none of the men within the ‘establishment’ or mainstream, have seriously protested against the paltry wage settlements offered by the government to those who had quite literally saved lives and comforted the ill at considerable risk to themselves.
Silence with regard to violence or sexual exploitation against women – epitomised by the murder of Sarah Everard – will also be the probable response by most men and even some women, such as Cressida Dick. The social silence by such ‘elevated’ women has been bought by their privileged positions within patriarchal institutions. Allowing a token number of ‘deserving’ women or people of colour or class, into bourgeois institutions is a means of moderating criticism over discrimination whilst maintaining prejudices and male domination.
This is why since the 20th century horror of the Yorkshire Ripper, in the UK, women are still living in fear of harassment, violence, rape and even death at home, work or when travelling between.
Another incident highlighting deep-seated prejudice recently occurred in the UK. Revelations by a royal prince and his American bride of mixed parentage, suggested a form of colour prejudice was operating within the British Press and the Royal Family. A question was hurled at one royal along the lines of; ‘is the royal family racist?’ Since only in an imaginary ‘virtual’ world are there such human categories as races, this question entirely missed the real issue.
The question should have been; ‘is the Royal family prejudiced?’ Clearly they are. Not only against people of colour, but of non-royal people in general. The royals are even deeply prejudiced against non-conforming royals such as Edward (with Mrs Simpson) or Margaret (with Snowden) and of course – Diana. The royal family are just the gaudy be-medalled apex of bourgeois elitist pretensions and are symptomatic of an all-embracing prejudice. They live off public money supplied either via tax-payer subsidy or by charging for land and property they have inherited or acquired. Having taken taxpayer cash they button their lips and turn a blind eye to the systemic exploitation of women and working people in the UK and the former colonies, who are the ultimate foundation of their extravagant life-styles.
Although the head royal is a female, she shows little concern about women’s oppression. Indeed, she has always been proud of the military men and their historical regiments who have unapologetically confiscated land and resources, raped, killed and terrorised women in all the former British Empire territories. Indeed, she ‘salutes’ them in an annual ceremony of mutual admiration and self-justification. The British Caucasian ‘establishment’ throughout its numerous layers is saturated with many forms of prejudice.
Such practical and ideological prejudice is part of the ‘muck of ages’ which Marx identified as being the challenge working people need to overcome in pursuing their own release from elite oppression and exploitation.
It is to be hoped that many more women will become active in asserting their rights as human beings and that more men will start to support their efforts in this endeavour. In this regard, I suggest it is not enough for men to defensively assert that ‘not all men’ are rapists and murderers. That is undoubtedly true! But it is also true that ‘not all men’ are engaged in supporting women’s rights or even actively challenging sexist jokes and other disrespectful attitudes to women.
Yet if only half the male population routinely spoke out about and actively supported women’s rights, then together with campaigning women – a critical-mass would develop – to such an extent that all women would soon start to feel protected at home, valued at work and safe on our streets.
Roy Ratcliffe (March 2021.)