Britain’s big race divide
CNN poll shows what Black Britons have long known – from policing to politics, their country has failed them
June 22, 2020
London — The outpouring of pent-up frustration about racism in the United Kingdom caught many White people by surprise.
Who did not think the country had made big strides towards tolerance and equal opportunity over the past few decades?
Who was concerned that statues of slave traders still stood in towns and cities across the union?
Who questioned whether Black Lives Matter in Britain?
The answer: Many, many Black people, whose views of race and racism in the UK are profoundly different from those of most White people, according to a sweeping and exclusive new CNN/Savanta ComRes poll.
Black people are at least twice as likely as White people to say there is discrimination in British policing and media; three times as likely to think the country has done far too little to address historic racial injustice; and significantly more likely to believe that the country’s governing Conservative Party is institutionally racist.
CNN and Savanta ComRes surveyed 1,535 British adults aged 18 and up online from June 12-14, including at least 500 Black and other ethnic minority respondents. The margin of error on the full sample is ± 2.5 percentage points.
Half of Black Britons say police have not treated them with respect
I have not been treated with respect by the police
Friends or family have not been treated with respect by the police
I have been stopped and searched by the police
Black in this survey refers to those who identify as Black or Mixed/Black African or Mixed/Black Caribbean.
BAME is a term used by UK institutions for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in Britain.
Online survey conducted by CNN/Savanta ComRes between June 12 and 14, 2020. Margin of error for “all respondents” is ±2.5 percentage points. For “Black,” it is ±8.2 points. For “White,” it is ±3.1 points. For “BAME,” it is ±4.3 points. For “BAME excl. Black,” it is ±5.1 points.
Source: CNN/Savanta ComRes
On policing, it’s not simply a matter of perceptions. Black and White people report significantly different personal experiences with law enforcement.
Black people are twice as likely as White people to say they personally have not been treated with respect by police, with half (49%) of Black people and a quarter (26%) of White people indicating that experience.
Black people are also twice as likely to say a friend or family member has not been treated with respect by police: Six in 10 (59%) Black people said so, compared to three in 10 (31%) White people.
Black Britons twice as likely to say police are institutionally racist
British police are institutionally racist
I would be treated with respect if I were stopped by the police
Officers are properly held to account for deaths in police custody
Source: CNN/Savanta ComRes
And Black people are twice as likely as White people to say British police are institutionally racist -- but even among White people, just over a quarter of people believe it: 27% of White people said so, while 54% of Black people did.
In reponse to Black Lives Matter protests in the UK, the National Police Chiefs’ Council said last week it would “develop a plan of action looking at issues of diversity and inclusion and concerns about racial inequalities in policing and the criminal justice system, and consult on it.”
The NPCC referred CNN to that statement in reponse to questions about our poll findings. The Metropolitan Police, which covers the greater London area, declined to comment.
Black Britons twice as likely to find statues of slave traders or colonizers offensive
I find statues depicting people involved in the slave trade or colonization offensive
I understand why some people find them offensive
I support the removal of statues of people involved in the slave trade or colonization by protesters
I support the removal of statues of people involved in the slave trade or colonization by authorities
Black history is taught too little in schools
On the whole, the British Empire was a good thing
Source: CNN/Savanta ComRes
The tearing down of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol earlier this month was among the most dramatic images to come out of Britain as Black Lives Matter protests radiated from the United States to countries around the world after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.
Long a source of local controversy, suddenly the monument -- and others like it, from London to Oxford to Poole -- became the focus of national debate.
CNN’s poll found Black people are more than twice as likely as White people to say they are offended by statues of people who were involved in the slave trade or colonization: Two-thirds (66%) of Black people said so, while only about a third (30%) of White people did.
And Black people are about twice as likely as White people to support the taking down of such statues, either by demonstrators or by the authorities. Six out of 10 (60%) Black people support their removal by protesters, while just under three in 10 (28%) White people do. Support is incrementally higher among both groups for authorities removing the statues.
Even on the question of whether respondents understand why other people might be offended by such monuments, Black people are notably more likely to say they empathize: More than 8 out of 10 (81%) Black people said they understood why others would feel that way, compared to just under two-thirds (64%) of White people.
But the differences between White and Black perceptions of life in Britain go far beyond policing and symbols of historic oppression.
It’s there in film and television.
Black people are more than twice as likely as White people to say there is too little representation of Black people in the media: Two-thirds (67%) of Black people indicate that, compared to a quarter (27%) of White people.
Two-thirds of Black Britons say Black people are under-represented on TV and in films
There is too little representation of Black people in films and television
There is too much representation of Black people in films and television
Black celebrities are treated worse than White celebrities by the media in the UK
I support the TV show "Little Britain" and others being removed from streaming services for using blackface
I support the film "Gone with the Wind" being removed from HBO Max for its depiction of slavery
HBO Max, like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia
Source: CNN/Savanta ComRes
Drilling down on that finding, nearly half (44%) of White people said there was about the right amount of representation of Black people in film and television. Only one in six (17%) Black people agreed.
Black people are more than twice as likely as White people to support the removal from streaming services of TV shows that use blackface, as the BBC did this month with the comedy “Little Britain.”
And Black people are three times more likely than White people to say Black celebrities are treated worse than White counterparts by the media -- a frequent topic of debate around Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who is mixed race.
Half (50%) of White people say Black celebrities are treated no better or worse by the media than White ones, while only one in five (21%) Black people say that. Roughly half (48%) of Black people say Black celebrities are treated worse than their White counterparts, compared to only 16% of White people.
Most Black Britons say BAME people have less opportunity to succeed professionally than White people
BAME people have less opportunity to succeed professionally than White people in the UK
Employers are doing too little to promote BAME employees
Source: CNN/Savanta ComRes
Anti-racism activist Nova Reid said CNN’s findings show something that Black people have long known about perceptions of racism in Britain.
“We are coming from completely different starting points -- we as in Black people. We have had racism brought to our doorstep. Children didn’t want to play with us because they thought we look like feces. It has been part of the lingo and the dialogue in our families.”
Well-meaning White efforts to ignore race can actually make racism harder to fight, Reid said.
“Lots of my White peers have been taught ‘not to see color.’ It has the opposite effect. They become unsophisticated and unable to see discrimination,” she said.
She said a British unwillingness to talk about racism makes it worse, citing the example of Doreen Lawrence, who has been campaigning for racial justice since her teenage son Stephen was murdered by White youths in 1993.
Lawrence has argued that race played a role in the Grenfell Tower fire in London three years ago, which killed 72 people. Black and other ethnic minority people suffered disproportionately in the high-rise blaze.
“Baroness Lawrence spoke up about Grenfell and the lack of outcome and the lack of change, and she said a lot of it is down to institutionalized racism” and has been attacked for it, Reid said. “We have an unhealthy culture in the UK that calling out racism is more offensive than racism itself, but she is speaking the truth.”
“We have an unhealthy culture in the UK that calling out racism is more offensive than racism itself.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson -- who has openly used racial slurs himself -- has acknowledged several times in the past month that there is racism in Britain, and last week announced a new “cross-governmental commission” to look at racism and discrimination.
But he’s been criticized for reportedly appointing his adviser Munira Mirza to head it, since she is on record as calling institutional racism a myth.
And he came under fire in mid-June for saying: “What I really want to do as Prime Minister is change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimization and discrimination, we stamp out racism and we start to have a real sense of expectation of success."
Critics argue he’s underplaying the problem, deflecting instead to the “narrative” and the “sense of victimization and discrimination.” He’s also come under fire for launching another commission and not implementing the findings of previous reports and inquiries about racism and discrimination.
“The UK has a deep institutional racism problem right across the country. It bleeds through every institution in this nation,” said campaigner and activist Melz Owusu.
“The racism is not subtle either. It is rather a privilege of not having to be subjected to it that makes it appear subtle. That then is a form of willful ignorance. We need to have a frank and open conversation about what racism truly means in this country and only then can we tackle it effectively,” said Owusu, a PhD student and founder of an initiative called the Free Black University, which describes itself as “engaging the radical Black imagination.”
Most Black Britons think the governing Conservative Party is institutionally racist
The Conservative Party is institutionally racist
The Labour Party is institutionally racist
The Liberal Democrats are institutionally racist
The Brexit Party is institutionally racist
The Green Party is institutionally racist
The Scottish National Party is institutionally racist
Plaid Cymru is institutionally racist
Source: CNN/Savanta ComRes
Black respondents to CNN’s poll were significantly more likely than White people to say Johnson’s governing Conservative Party is institutionally racist, although a significant minority of White people agreed: 58% of Black people and 39% of White people said the party was institutionally racist.
By contrast, roughly a third of each group believe the opposition Labour Party is institutionally racist: 31% of Black people and 34% of White people said so.
In response to the poll findings, a Conservative Party spokesperson told CNN: “Prejudice and discrimination have no place in the Conservative Party and we will never stand by when it comes to abuse of any kind.”
The Labour Party said it had "set out steps to rebuild trust and confidence in Labour on the issue of racism," including "a number of internal measures aimed at ensuring the party embodies the values it stands for."
Black and White respondents have exactly opposite views on whether they trust the UK government not to repeat something like the Windrush scandal in 2018. People who had come to the country legally from the Commonwealth between 1948 and 1971 -- and did not have paperwork to show their right to remain -- were harassed, and sometimes wrongly jailed or deported, although they had an automatic right to remain in Britain.
Most Black Britons don’t trust the government to prevent another Windrush-type scandal
I do not trust the UK government that something like this would not happen again
I trust the UK government that something like this would not happen again
Source: CNN/Savanta ComRes
More than half (55%) of White respondents said they trusted something like it would not happen again, while the same percentage of Black respondents said they did not.
Black people are almost twice as likely as White people to say the UK has not done enough to address historical racial injustice. Two out of three (64%) Black people said so, compared to one out of three (35%) White people.
Roughly a quarter (27%) of Black people said the UK had done enough, while more than half (54%) of White people said so. Sharpening the contrast further, Black people are three times as likely as White people to say the UK has “not done anywhere near enough” to address historical racial injustice: A third (33%) of Black people said so, while only one in 10 (11%) White people did.
Campaigner Nova Reid has seen anti-racism protests spark, burn, and fizzle out before. She hopes that is not what will happen this time.
“The momentum feels different,” she said. “People are more confident to speak up and say this is what racism looks like. There are people who want to wake up and see change.”
“The results are striking; it is often the case that Black people are considerably more dissatisfied with race relations in Britain than other ethnic minorities.”
“When things get back to normal, when we are out of lockdown, it gets easy for this to fall by the wayside. There are people who will slip back into tick-box exercises,” Reid said.
She hopes this anti-racism moment will lead to lasting change.
“It feels like it is in the mainstream,” Reid said. “Human beings are not tolerating it anymore.”
British institutions often combine Black people with other minority groups in a category called “BAME,” for Black, Asian and minority ethnic.
CNN and Savanta ComRes found that Black people’s responses tended to differ significantly in the poll from those of other ethnic groups.
“What’s striking in these findings is how opinions differ among Black people when compared to other ethnic minorities. Polls often merge all BAME groups together to give the impression of one homogeneous opinion,” said Chris Hopkins, associate director of Savanta ComRes.
“We felt it was important here to try to see what differences there were, if any, among different ethnic minority groups,” he said. “The results are striking; it is often the case that Black people are considerably more dissatisfied with race relations in Britain than other ethnic minorities and, while those views may be sharpened by the events of the last few weeks, it does highlight the importance for statisticians and survey designers to try to avoid falling into the trap of assuming all BAME groups feel similarly when analyzing results.”
BLM movement awakens uncomfortable conversations in the UK - 7:10
Savanta ComRes surveyed 1,535 British adults aged 18 and up about their views towards race relations in the UK. The sample included a nationally representative sample of 1,000 respondents, with a boost to guarantee at least 500 Black, Asian and minority ethnic respondents. The findings were then weighted by age, sex, region and ethnicity to ensure that the findings are representative of the Great Britain population as a whole. Northern Ireland was not included in the survey.
Throughout, the term ‘Black’ or ‘Black people’ refers to respondents who identified as “Black” or “Mixed/Black African” or “Mixed/Black Caribbean.”
The margin of error on the full sample is +/- 2.5 percentage points. On White responses, it is +/- 3.1 points. On Black, Asian and minority ethnic responses, it is +/- 4.3 points. On Black responses, it is +/- 8.2 points.
Update: This story has been updated to better reflect Nova Reid's remarks on some children’s perception of what Black children look like. Statements from the Conservative Party and National Police Chiefs' Council have also been added.