Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said that racism does exist in the UK but that, following a weekend of widespread protests, the British should use this “opportunity” as a catalyst for change.
Speaking to Shelagh Fogarty on LBC radio, Khan said that although he is mayor of one of the most progressive cities in the world, racism remains a problem in London.
"This is an opportunity for the UK to realise how racist it is. We're talking about it now. It's a chance for us to address the racism that exists," he said.
Khan’s interview followed largely peaceful protests at the weekend in UK cities over systemic racism and police brutality after the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died during an arrest in Minneapolis despite pleading that he couldn't breathe.
“What we can do is show empathy and address those things that our black friends are telling us,” the mayor said.
“People will tell you that but for the grace of God the reason that this struck a chord is because ‘George Floyd could be my son, that could be my dad, my uncle’ – as a black people that's what you’d be thinking.”
Khan also called for statues of, and streets named after, slavers to be removed, after one such statue was torn down and thrown into a Bristol harbour on Sunday.
“Britain should take this opportunity to celebrate good people after the toppling of the Edward Colston statue during an anti-racism protest in Bristol,” he said.
Sadiq Khan suggested that the UK strips the names of slavers from streets and statues and replace them with the names of "people that reflect the diverse nature of our cities."@ShelaghFogarty | @SadiqKhan | #BlackLivesMatter https://t.co/IVryJIMVd3— LBC (@LBC) June 8, 2020
He added that people have been “complaining about statues of Colston for decades now” and the removal of the monument will hopefully become the start of a wider trend.
Khan also criticised Boris Johnson for distracting from the protestors’ anti-racism message after his spokesman said on Monday that the prime minister does not think Britain is a racist country.
“The PM doesn't doubt that there continues to be discrimination and racism but does not agree that this is a racist country,” the spokesman said.
"We have made very significant progress on this issue but there remains more to do and we will not be complacent in our efforts to stamp out racism and discrimination where it happens.”
NEW. NO10 says UK is NOT a racist country.— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) June 8, 2020
PM’s spokesman: "The PM doesn’t doubt that that there continues to be discrimination and racism - but does not agree that this is a racist country. We have made very significant progress on this issue but there remains more to do.”
That comment followed a poll last week that found that only a small portion of Britons believed the UK wasn’t a racist society.
The survey, published by YouGov on Thursday, asked 5,146 adults the question: “To what extent, if at all, do you think the UK is a racist society?”
According to the results 6% answered “not racist at all”, while 8% of people believed the UK is “very racist”, while nearly half – or 44% – said British society is “fairly racist”.
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