The future of the left since 1884

Broken Communities

Now more than ever, those being discriminated against are feeling the effects of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative, writes Suriyah Bi.


Opinion broken glass

Inequality has long been recognised as a fundamental determinant of life outcomes and a common cause of inequality is discrimination, which is on the rise for certain groups in Britain, leading to worrisome divides in society.

Individuals experience discrimination and therefore inequality in unique, interrelated ways based on interactions between their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class, age and disability. As such, discrimination can occur based on more than one ground, and it is this understanding of intersectionality that is still lacking.

We urgently need a deeper understanding of the various types of discrimination and inequalities people face, because the reality is, crack open an inequality, and you’ll find another one below, and another below that one, and so on. For instance, earlier this year the revelation of gender pay-gaps paralysed national companies such as the BBC, but ignored the experiences of non-white women who are statistically paid less than white women. Arguably therefore, women of colour may feel they are not afforded the same voice as white women.

The discrimination that people face is often shaped by historical, political and social contexts. Today, we even see new technologies discriminating on social media platforms by employing algorithms targeting online adverts at particular groups, and excluding this content from others. This technologisation of discrimination has been known to lead to discriminatory pricing relating to housing, employment and financial services.

As we saw with Brexit, inequality is too often used to further political motives. In the case of Brexit, fears over job security gave rise to negative sentiments towards migrant workers who hold our healthcare system together. Inequality has been politicised, and what we are witnessing are deepening divides in society, for instance with EU nationals being discriminated from jobs and from renting or buying homes.

Now more than ever, those being discriminated against are feeling the effects of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative. Consequently, what becomes embedded into the minds of people – their psyches – is the inequality they feel on a day-to-day basis, and by extension their ‘sub-sub-sub-category’ of lived social experience. In this way, inequality becomes inequality to the power of three and so we become perpetually stuck in the whirlwind that is the politicisation of thought, unable to recognise that issues of inequality sweep across and affect the majority of the British population (save the elite few). We become so overwhelmed with our personal experiences that we fail to see beyond one form of inequality, and as a result some peoples’ lived experience becomes marginalised. This is piercing the very heart of British values and Britain’s vision of democracy, pluralism and social cohesion.

As a Muslim woman, I have experienced discrimination first hand, and the inequalities in British society made it all the harder for me to fight for justice. In September 2015, I found myself in a classroom where a white British teacher showed an 18-rated, graphic video of people jumping to their deaths during the 9/11 attacks, to a group of 11-year-olds, most of whom were Muslims and some of whom had special education needs.

Viewing suicide in the media can increase the risk of copy cat suicides, and since young people aged between 11 and 18 are most at risk of committing suicide, this was a safeguarding concern. When I raised the incident, I was unfairly dismissed without an investigation based on the grounds that ‘I was uncomfortable with the curriculum’. My concern was seen as an objection based on religious discomfort rather than genuine concern for young children. Fast-forward almost three years, I won a landmark employment tribunal victory against the national multi-academy trust E-ACT for whistleblowing unfair dismissal and victimisation. I represented myself as a litigant in person.

In putting my case forward to the tribunal, I found myself constantly competing with precedent cases in discrimination law, to prove that I had been discriminated against. I pleaded with the tribunal to appreciate the context in which my dismissal took place, that is, the rising levels of Islamophobia as well as the politicisation of Birmingham and its Muslim community through the unfolding of events around the ‘trojan horse affair’.

Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in proving my discrimination claim. Having to compete with precedent cases in law to validate the discrimination that I was subjected to, is simply flawed. We cannot bring to justice acts of discrimination based on precedent cases that are not of the same religion and/or discriminative experience and based on the past and not taking into consideration current events.

My experience shows how in society today, people face a complex range of inequalities which are embedded in every stitch of our social fabric. Taking a step back and viewing the bigger picture, my experience shows how ‘competing inequalities’ sparked a classroom row that perpetuated inequalities in the courtroom.

This leads to systemic discrimination and so it is little surprise that our community cohesion agendas are failing. Minorities feel their contributions to society are of little significance, their experiences of discrimination are invalidated and their life opportunities are reduced. This new dawn of inequality is sharpening the divisions between different social groups and creating a ‘people’s cold war’.

Suriyah Bi

Suriyah is a PhD student at University College London and works as a parliamentary researcher for the APPG for British Muslims. Suriyah is also a Fulbright shortlisted candidate for a visiting assistant in research position at Yale University and the equalities officer for Unite the Union in Birmingham.


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