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 deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.