Some ideas and resources for arguing against common racist comments in the UK

Published Categorised as How to, Popular Posts

There’s no neut­ral state of being apolit­ic­al. Everything is polit­ic­al. If people claim to be “apolit­ic­al” it just means that the current levels of injustice don’t person­ally incon­veni­ence them enough to care.

At the time of writ­ing in June 2020, we’re going through a dramat­ic shift in public conscious­ness in many coun­tries about racism, the prob­lems with current soci­ety, and nasty histor­ies that have been brushed over and ignored. A lot of my friends are arguing with family members and acquaint­ances, or discov­er­ing that friends are much less well-informed than they’d hoped. If it’s tiring being white and trying to argue against it, imagine what it’s like having it person­ally aimed at you.

There are plenty of online guides aimed at counter-acting common racist state­ments, but most of them are from an Amer­ic­an context (here is a good quick one), so I thought I would write some rebut­tals to some common false argu­ments that are being thrown around in the UK at the moment, with answers that work with the history and culture of the UK.

This is more of a one-stop resource for useful counter-argu­ments, images and sources to link to than a whole article to send to Uncle Geoff who keeps saying these things.

Also if you take one thing from this collec­tion, this article by Jude Yawson about racism in the UK is a great, inform­at­ive link to share

(I have turned the comments off on this post to stop me having to constantly moder­ate replies from racists)


Persist­ence is key, people don’t often change their mind dramat­ic­ally overnight, it’s the slow drip of new inform­a­tion that can change their mind.

People have been This Terrible all along. This is always what we’ve been up against. They were just hiding it better before.

If your energy is trail­ing, the best people to concen­trate on are people you know, rather than strangers being terrible in the comments of the local paper. It’s import­ant to chal­lenge the local racists too, but you have the most like­li­hood of chal­len­ging and chan­ging the mind of people who have a connec­tion to you.

I also wrote a guide to spot­ting fake social media accounts, and strategies trolls use here.

it’s going to be exhaust­ing (but imagine what it’s like to be on the receiv­ing end of all this racism all your life), you will need to take breaks some­times, but keep at it. Persist­ence and determ­in­a­tion is the key. You will prob­ably feel like every­one fuck­ing hates you and your life would be easi­er if you just kept quiet, but keep at it. Good Vibes Only, Why Can’t We All Get Along doesn’t work here. System­at­ic injustice doesn’t get changed without discom­fort. People abus­ing their power don’t give it up easily, or if every­one just asks nicely.

The Over­ton Window is the selec­tion of polit­ic­al views that are considered reas­on­able and ok in soci­ety. What is in the window can change dramat­ic­ally, and be changed. Ideas can go from crazy and ridicu­lous to completely normal (women getting the vote in the UK) or from considered normal to outrageous (Apartheid in South Africa).

People don’t change their opin­ions dramat­ic­ally overnight that often, the import­ant thing is to bloody-mindedly slowly shift the Over­ton Window away from bigoted views, and do everything in your power from stop­ping it slid­ing back. You don’t want to leave people only getting their inform­a­tion from the Daily Mail.

We’ve got to slowly chip away at this giant wall with a tiny screw­driver.

Here are some ideas to reply to some of the common state­ments that come up again and again. I’m not present­ing them as The Correct and Only Answer, it’s ideas you can copy if you want to chal­lenge these falla­cies but are coming up short on what to say.

I’ve also included lots of memes and screen­shots of social media stuff. Usually I’m pretty care­ful about sourcing graph­ics here, but I’m not sure of the origin­al source of some of these.

I’m going to write anoth­er post with histor­ic­al info about the brutal­ity of the Brit­ish Empire. I was origin­ally going to put it in here, but it got so long and unwieldy I’ve decided to make it a separ­ate post.

“Oh why can’t we all get along, it’s not nice to all be arguing like this”

Ignor­ing prob­lems doesn’t make them go away. The nasti­er the prob­lem, the worse it gets if ignored and allowed to fester. Enforced nicey-nice­ness can actu­ally be a way of silen­cing and controlling people. If you’re not allowed to talk about anything diffi­cult, it can never be resolved.

The most viru­lent defend­er of Apartheid I ever met was a nicey nicey Down­ton Abbey/​Bake Off type middle aged lady I used to work with. I thought she was South Afric­an, but turns out she was English but had emig­rated to South Africa in the 80s at the height of Apartheid and sanc­tions. She really hated Nelson Mandela because he “took her nice life away” and she viewed black people as this nasty sort of thing like an insect you’d rather not have come in your house. Accord­ing to her Apartheid was good because “well, black people just aren’t like us, are they”. She was appalling, but totally “normal” and “respect­able”.

Fuck you Linda.

(And she would have more prob­lems with me saying fuck than she would with want­ing to bring Apartheid back, which shows the prob­lem).

Normal and respect­able people accep­ted slavery. They accep­ted Apartheid. They accep­ted women not being allowed to vote or own prop­erty. They told people who argued that we should change these things that they were crazy trouble-makers, and that they were the prob­lem, not the system.

“All Lives Matter”

Ah so you value Black people’s lives and care about them being treated well? That’s great. Oh, trans people’s lives too? Bril­liant. Disabled people? Great too. Refugees? Let me know when you want to sign up to volun­teer with the char­ity. I’m glad that you care a lot about the well­being of so many differ­ent groups of people who are differ­ent to you, and want soci­ety to treat them well. Not just straight white people.

“Why does every­one care so much about some Amer­ic­an man?”
“George Floyd had previ­ous convic­tions, why are you making a martyr of him?”

If you commit a crime, there is an invest­ig­a­tion and you go to court and (hope­fully) have a fair trial and a chance to defend your­self. Any penal­ties are from a clear book of laws. There is no crime that has the punish­ment of a police­man strangling you on the spot in a car park. Espe­cially not for the bank note you tried to pay with turn­ing out to be fake. Have you ever had a fake note? You deserve the death penalty, right? Outside in the carpark of the shop with no trial.

The police in the USA can do what they like (espe­cially to Black people) with no account­ab­il­ity because their profes­sion­al asso­ci­ations pay the legal fees and they escape justice through a convo­luted legal loop­hole called Qual­i­fied Immunity (link here with info). They are out of control and bereaved famil­ies are sick of them. Lawyers get nowhere trying to bring them to justice.

Breonna Taylor was a para­med­ic from Kentucky with no connec­tion to crime at all. The police burst into her house late at night when she and her boyfriend were asleep, because they got the wrong house number for a drugs bust, and shot her dead when her boyfriend panicked think­ing it was burg­lars. There were no consequences for them, and when public pres­sure forced the police to release the report into her death, it was mostly blank.

Derek Chau­vin knew he was being filmed by a member of the public who tried to inter­vene, but he didn’t care because he was so arrog­ant that he thought he would never face any consequences. The public had had enough. That was the final straw. They were sick of not being listened to.

Huge numbers of people in the UK have atten­ded protests because they want to show solid­ar­ity and support to the Amer­ic­ans, but also because they want to draw atten­tion to prob­lems with racism in Brit­ish soci­ety which have also been ignored and brushed under the carpet for too long.

Brock Turn­er was seen by two witnesses, who inter­vened. There was no ques­tion of his guilt. The judge worried more about the impact going to pris­on would have on his prom­ising swim­ming career than the impact on his victim (the judge was later fired after public outcry). Brock Turner’s fath­er also complained that “”[The sentence] is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

“What about Lee Rigby? No-one protested about him”

Lee Rigby was killed by terror­ists, who went to court, faced justice and are now in pris­on. His family were satis­fied, unlike the famil­ies of those murdered by out of control police. They have released a state­ment of their disgust at their family member’s murder being used to justi­fy racism.

“Racism is an Amer­ic­an prob­lem”

Here is a great article from Jude Yawson that says it better than I can:

“To exist as a histor­ic­ally conscious black or Asian person in Britain is to exist know­ing that a major­ity of your white coun­ter­parts do not acknow­ledge your history. They have not been forced to adopt centur­ies of trauma, or been sub­jected to the racial­ised percep­tions created over that time. They have not origin­ated from moth­er coun­tries gradu­ally drying from the imper­i­al­ism they were soaked in, and do not have to live in recog­ni­tion of slavery and colo­ni­al­ism and the impact these have had on their coun­tries and people.”

Let’s also not forget the Windrush Scan­dal of recent years, where the UK was deport­ing Brit­ish people for no genu­ine reas­on. People who have still not received recom­pense.

“Racism and Classism Killed the Resid­ents of Gren­fell Tower: from the resid­ents’ years of docu­mented complaints about safety to the fact it lies in the richest borough in London – a stark remind­er of whose voices get listened to in modern Britain, whose don’t, and that this dicho­tomy can have deadly consequences.”

“I have person­ally not seen racism in the UK so I don’t think it exists any more”

Things only exist if I have person­ally exper­i­enced them. So I’m going to assume that the coun­try of Norway, which I have never visited, just doesn’t exist. Silly delu­sion­al “Norwe­gi­ans”.

“Police brutal­ity is an Amer­ic­an prob­lem”

The police in the UK thank­fully don’t have guns to the same extent as in the US, but they do still have a big prob­lem with unex­plained and un-invest­ig­ated deaths in custody.

“The police don’t use equip­ment like tear gas or rubber bullets in the UK”

A lot of the tech­niques and equip­ment the police in the US are receiv­ing condem­na­tion for were pion­eered in North­ern Ireland by the Brit­ish govern­ment. The UK also manu­fac­tures a lot of this equip­ment.

“Why are people in the US call­ing for police defund­ing? Crime will spir­al out of control”

In the USA, the police receive huge budgets, but are also assigned duties which other coun­tries give to social services. The budgets get spent on weapons rather than social programmes. Is it really a great idea to send someone with a gun but no thera­peut­ic train­ing to deal with someone having a mental health crisis?

People are call­ing for the money to be spent on schools, social work­ers, drug rehab and mental health care instead. Better social services means less crime to begin with.

The police in the UK don’t get given the same huge sums of money, but the Tories have certainly defun­ded social services under the guise of auster­ity, making the poor pay to bail the rich out after the bank­ing crisis. Better social services, mental health­care, fairer hous­ing and other improve­ments are also needed in the UK.

“You don’t solve any prob­lems with upris­ings, you should do a peti­tion instead”
“People are just protest­ing for fun”

People try simpler meth­ods like peti­tions first. Protest­ing is a lot of effort. They only protest if no-one is listen­ing to what they’re saying.

“The ANTI­FAs are using this as an excuse to beat people up”
“Both sides are just as bad”

Whatever Donald Trump thinks, Anti­fa is not some kind of secret organ­isa­tion like the Mafia. It’s just short for Anti-Fascist. The label anti­fa can cover all sorts of differ­ent groups with differ­ent aims. It just means that they all despise fascism and racism.

The oppos­ite of anti-fascist is fascist. Pick your side.

The Black Lives Matters protests have had huge numbers of people, but very little trouble. A small number of Tommy Robinson’s little gang showed up this past week­end, did Nazi salutes by a WWII memori­al, punched the police, took cocaine in front of a journ­al­ist from the Tele­graph, and pissed on a memori­al to a police­man murdered by a terror­ist. All in one after­noon.

Which side is trouble again?

“Anti­fas stabbed a man at a protest in London”

This didn’t happen

“George Soros is paying for all this to cause trouble”

George Soros does not secretly rule the world. The real­ity is much less dramat­ic and excit­ing: he’s an econom­ist who moved into bank­ing and became incred­ibly rich, but felt guilty about becom­ing so rich, and decided to start donat­ing his money when he retired.

He’s a Hungari­an Jew whose coun­try was invaded by Hitler and then Stal­in, and who was a refugee himself after the Soviet re-inva­sion of Hungary in 1956. So he has a lot of sympathy for refugees and anti-author­it­ari­an causes, and support for educa­tion and inter­na­tion­al co-oper­a­tion and donates his money accord­ingly. Which is why author­it­ari­ans and wannabe dictat­ors like Vikt­or Orban and Donald Trump hate him.

Talk­ing about George Soros like he’s an evil goblin who secretly rules the world with his piles of gold is an offens­ive Anti-Semit­ic stereo­type taken straight out of a Nazi cari­a­cature.

“The real racists are those who complain about racism”
“Call­ing someone racist is worse than doing some­thing racist”

This is just defens­ive­ness, pure and simple.

“You can’t change the past”

No, you can’t change the past. You can however change what happens NOW. If we don’t do anything to change things the same old prob­lems will repeat again and again.

“It’s the past, we should move on”
“Slavery was a long time ago, it doesn’t have any relev­ance to now”

If you don’t address prob­lems from the past, they contin­ue to be prob­lems in the present. The UK in partic­u­lar has a lot of dirty secrets from the colo­ni­al era. Famil­ies who got rich from slavery and exploit­a­tion are still unduly rich and power­ful, continu­ing to domin­ate polit­ics and power­ful indus­tries, and making sure everything contin­ues to bene­fit them­selves rather than the public as a whole.

“If we take down the statues, then we’ll forget all the history”

There are no statues left of Hitler. You know who he was and what he did.

Statues glor­i­fy people, liter­ally put them on a pedes­tal. It’s not about the phys­ic­al statue itself, it’s about who is glor­i­fied by history, who is allowed to tell their story, who is allowed to have power and a legacy. Why does someone like Edward Colston deserve that kind of thing? Why not have a statue instead commem­or­at­ing his victims, or the work of someone who did some­thing good for human­ity?

The current discus­sion is the oppos­ite of forget­ting or eras­ing history- it’s about finally facing up to the diffi­cult bits. Colston’s descend­ents erased all the people he killed and brutal­ised.

“You should start a peti­tion to remove statues, not just pull them down”

The people of Bris­tol peti­tioned and politely campaigned for nearly twenty years to get rid of the statue, and noth­ing happened.

(Statue of brutal Paraguay­an dictat­or Alfredo Stroess­ner recycled after his down­fall- Paraguay hasn’t forgot­ten who he was or what he did-

“Edward Colston gave a lot to char­ity”

Jimmy Savile did a lot for char­ity too. Shall we put a statue of him up on your street?

You also won’t object if I sell your chil­dren either right? It’s for char­ity, so I don’t see why you’d object.

“What about the Romans”
“What about Roman slavery”

Roman slavery was very differ­ent to colo­ni­al slavery. Roman slaves were no partic­u­lar race, ethni­city or reli­gion. There were no special mark­ings or cloth­ing to identi­fy them. They looked just like every­one else. In fact that was a way to keep the insti­tu­tion going- if slaves had real­ised how many of them there were, they might have banded togeth­er in an upris­ing. There were possib­il­it­ies for Roman slaves to become free, and if they became free they just blen­ded back into soci­ety as an aver­age person.

Slavery in the colo­ni­al era was very differ­ent. All the owners were white, and all the people they enslaved were black. If you had been enslaved and became free, every­one else who looked like you was still enslaved, and you would be treated just as badly, despite being free.

Slavery was abol­ished in the Carrib­bean in the early 1800s, and in the US after the Amer­ic­an Civil War, (and not until 1888 in Brazil!) but just because people were legally free, it doesn’t mean that they were suddenly treated equally and fairly in real life. The Deep South enforced racial segreg­a­tion until 1965 and fought back very hard against Civil Rights campaign­ers.

“What about the pyram­ids?”

Actu­ally archae­olo­gists don’t think that the pyram­ids were built by teams of slaves. The Pharaoh owned all the land in Egypt and the farm­ers had to pay their rent by doing so many pyram­id days per year.

Bad land­lords and exploit­at­ive work contracts defin­itely are an import­ant issue. The Conser­vat­ive Party actu­ally voted down a law requir­ing land­lords to keep their prop­er­ties in “habit­able condi­tion”. Craig Mackin­lay of South Thanet was one of the MPs who voted against it.

“What about Victori­an work­houses?”
“What about this other bad histor­ic­al thing?”

Those were terrible. Isn’t it good we don’t have them any more because writers like Charles Dick­ens and George Orwell drew people’s atten­tion to how terrible they were. It’s great when people become educated about a topic and real­ise that some­thing they had previ­ously accep­ted is actu­ally horrible and harm­ful and needs to be changed.

“Churchill was a hero”

Churchill fought Hitler, but that wasn’t because he disagreed with Hitler’s racist beliefs. In fact the oppos­ite. We are sold a cuddly hero­ic cartoon char­ac­ter version of Churchill, but over his milit­ary and polit­ic­al career he was respons­ible for massacres, famines and brutal inva­sions. He comfort­ably expressed views in public simil­ar to the Nazis and KKK. There’s plenty of details in this link below.

View at

“Next they’ll be taking down war memori­als”

Anti-racism activ­ists are partic­u­larly grate­ful to those who died fight­ing against Fascism and white suprem­acy. Why would they want to take down a memori­al to them? They don’t want the memori­als that glor­i­fy slavery and brutal­ity, not to get rid of memori­als to those who fought against them.

“The Brit­ish Empire was over­all posit­ive”

I’m going to write anoth­er detailed resource post with lots of links about this (it got too large to include in this post). Afua Hirsch has a great podcast about this- there is a summary and links in the article below:

“The UK were the good guys who ended slavery”

You don’t get any congrat­u­la­tions on stop­ping doing some­thing terrible if you were also one of the main culprits. Congrat­u­la­tions on stop­ping robbing banks!

“We freed all the slaves and didn’t pay it off until 2015”

This isn’t a posit­ive thing. The slave owners got paid a lot of money as compens­a­tion, and the people who had been enslaved got noth­ing. Rich people who got rich in disgust­ing ways became even rich­er (and their descend­ants like David Camer­on and Domin­ic Cumming’s wife are still rich and power­ful off the back of that illi­cit money- link here) There are Brit­ish people alive today who were paying money from their taxes to pay off the debt to famil­ies who enslaved and abused their ancest­ors.

“Coun­try X sold us their own people”

If someone offers you a slave, you don’t have to buy them. You don’t have to buy them and ship them across the Atlantic and make them work for the rest of their life on a brutal plant­a­tion to make you money either.

In fact if you hung around the wrong people now you could be offered a slave for sale. Modern Slavery is still a big prob­lem, and happens in the UK too. You shouldn’t buy a slave now either.

“Coun­try Y sold white slaves”
“Black people were slave owners in Africa”

Again, if someone offers you a slave, you don’t have to buy them. If anoth­er coun­try does bad things, we don’t need to copy them.

“The Portuguese did it first”

Again, just because anoth­er coun­try is doing some­thing bad, doesn’t mean we had to copy them. People knew slavery was bad at the time, a lot of people just didn’t care because they could make a lot of money.

“The Portuguese/​Ottomans/​Saudis/​other nation­al­ity also had a slave trade”

The Otto­man Sultans also used to strangle their own broth­ers on acces­sion to the throne to prevent compet­i­tion. Perhaps the Brit­ish Royal Family would have been more excit­ing if we had copied them with that too.

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