Is this racism?

You decide. But those of us who are not white are rather fed up with such goings-on.

From the Mirror:

Pizza Hut was accused of racism yesterday after asking a group of black professional footballers to pay in advance for their meals.

The demand was made as a table of white youngsters seated nearby were allowed to settle up after eating.

Five AFC Bournemouth players were stunned when a duty manager told them to pay up front because of "the way you lot look".

When they refused, staff claimed they were being "disruptive" and called the police.

Officers arrived at the restaurant but took no action after the players, including £2,000-a-week first-team regulars Anton Robinson, Liam Feeney and Marvin Bartley, agreed to leave.

Pizza Hut last night apologised to the League One stars and admitted they had been treated "very shabbily" but insisted there was no racism.

However, midfielder Mr Robinson, 24, said later: "The only thing that was different was the colour of our skins."

So Pizza Hut insists it wasn't racism, but the players insist it was. I know which side I'm on.

The UK is a much more tolerant and diverse country than when my father arrived here as an immigrant from India in 1966 and had dog shit posted through his letter box on a semi-regular basis. Thankfully, in 21st-century Britain, racism is less and less acceptable, less and less prevalent. But it still exists. It hasn't disappeared.

And many white Britons, even of an ultra-liberal, politically correct bent, don't quite get the impact that racist or discriminatory language or behaviour can have on people from non-white, ethnic-minority backgrounds.

Often, the racism isn't intended or deliberate, and the person causing offence will get rather upset or annoyed if their words or deeds are pointed out to them. But it's not just far-right, tatooed bigots who discriminate against ethnic minorities. Yet those of us who are non-white are often dismissed as thin-skinned or over-sensitive, or lacking in a sense of humour. We are accused, by the right-wing media, in particular, of inhabiting a "victim culture" in which we supposedly "cry" racism, with the support and encouragement of the "race relations industry".

But how many of you will ever find yourselves in the humiliating position of the black person in a restaurant who is treated differently from the white customers? How many of you know what that's like or how it feels? How many of you have been stopped and searched hundreds of times, as this black adviser to the Met Police was?

How many of you spent three years, as I did at university, being stopped and asked for ID on countless occasions, and for no apparent reason, as I tried to enter my own Oxford college? Christ Church, where I did my degree, has porters stationed at each entrance to ensure that tourists don't get in to the college without paying an entrance fee by pretending to be undergraduates. But I was at Christ Church for three years – didn't they realise, after the first few stops, that I was a student there? On several occasions, I entered the college with a group of fellow students, all white and all of whom were allowed to pass by the porters while I was stopped and asked to produce my college photo card.

I'm not pretending it's the same as being refused service in a restaurant, or being stopped and searched by the police, or being denied voting rights, and it might seem like a trivial matter to those of you who haven't been on the receiving end of such behaviour, but it's the kind of frustrating experience that sticks in the minds of those of us who happen to be non-white but feel as British and as integrated as the next man (or woman).

On a related note, it's rather disturbing to see that Oxbridge colleges have failed miserably in their alleged attempts to diversify their intake and admit non-white students, black teenagers in particular. According to information revealed, via FoI requests, to the (black) Labour MP David Lammy, 21 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black students last year. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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