By Nadine White
Judah Adunabi is tired. The race relations advisor has twice been mistaken by his local police force for the same wanted criminal, including once being shot by a stun gun. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 64-year-old is damning about racial inequality in the UK. “Things are in a terrible state,” he tells HuffPost UK.
As the country this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act, which made it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins, Adunabi said British society has “made very few improvements in race relations” since the legislation was passed.
He explains: “Granted we, as black people, can now generally move from city to city without having to be conscious about being victimised because of the colour of our skin, but there is still a way to go to achieve parity in terms of equal opportunities and rights.”
Abunabi, a Rastafarian who is known as Ras Judah, hit the headlines in 2017 when he was tasered in his face – without warning – while walking his dog.
This took place outside his home, after he was questioned by two officers and refused to reveal his identity. The officers reportedly thought he was Royston McCalla, a wanted man.
Last week, officers from Avon and Somerset Police made the same mistake. They approached the community elder, mistaking him for McCalla again, before driving off laughing, according to the 64 year-old. The encounter was later confirmed by the police. It’s worth noting Judah is a founding member of an advisory group aimed at strengthening relations between the local police and the Afro-Caribbean community in Bristol.
This year, a number of significant anniversaries have been observed that mark key moments of progress – but also of injustice – in the history of Black Britons. The 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush boat, bringing key workers from the Commonwealth following the Second World War. The 60th anniversary of the Notting Hill race riots. The 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech, which criticised mass migration and referred to black people in a derogatory way. It was also 25 years since the murder of Stephen Lawrence, who was killed by racists in 1993.
Why should black people be treated any differently from any one else in the UK? We should be treated with respect because we’re all human beings.”
These anniversaries come at a time of divisions within Britain as Brexit looms, and the Windrush scandal revealed how some black people have been deported or denied healthcare and access to education.
But unlike the #metoo movement, or everyday ableism, which exposes prejudice and harassment of disabled people, the UK has not recently had a moment of public reckoning about discrimination on the grounds of race.
For Adunabi, the situation is entrenched. “For example, institutionalised racism in the police force has been rife for some time now.
“Why should black people be treated any differently from any one else in the UK? We should be treated with respect because we’re all human beings.”
The police officer who tasered Adunabi was last month cleared of misconduct. This ruling left him feeling disappointed.
“After the judge made the decision earlier this year with the taser situation, I’ve got no confidence whatsoever in the police or judiciary system when it comes to black people,” he says.
Last week, an elderly black woman, Delsie Gayle, was racially abused by a fellow passenger aboard a Ryanair flight. She was eventually moved to a different seat and the flight attendants did nothing to directly address the situation.
The incident was filmed by a fellow passenger, who later posted it on social media, causing outrage. Many suggested that the airline failed in its duty to protect her. Abundi, Delsie Gayle, migrated to the UK from Jamaica in the 1960s.
“Ryanair should’ve taken action and I’m disappointed in them,” he said.
“When I saw the lady on television giving an interview – tears came to my eyes. Do you think if it was a black person treating a white person like that, they wouldn’t have been taken off of the flight immediately?”
“It’s good that the brother was there, taking the footage,” he added.
Nowadays, smartphones and social media are tools with which black people who find themselves in vulnerable positions can raise awareness about injustices faced, says Abundi.
Footage of incidents like the Ryanair incident and, even more recently, a pensioner telling a Sainsbury’s security guard that “he doesn’t belong here”, highlights that there’s a long way to go.
“Even before my taser situation, I always say to black youths – whenever you’re travelling, make sure that one of you has got your phone available to video incidents because there are so many things happening out there.
“I’ve been here from the early 1960s and I’ve seen a lot of people getting criminal convictions for crimes that they didn’t know anything about, let alone commit. Now we’re in the 21st century, things are more advanced. Any time we end up in controversy, we must ensure we’ve got the tool at our disposal – one of those things is the footage and the others are social media and traditional media, to a degree.”
I always say to black youths – whenever you’re travelling, make sure that one of you has got your phone available to video incidents.”
The latest flashpoint with police officers from Avon and Somerset Police came as Adunabi was returning from a hospital appointment due to damage to his eye after being tasered in 2017.
“They killed (ex-footballer) Dalian Atkinson with a taser and they’re trying to tell us that these devices don’t cause problems, which is absolute rubbish.
“Since being tasered I’ve had difficulty sleeping and wake up in cold sweats. I suffered a stroke last June, my speech has been affected and one of my teeth broke.
“The fact that I might not have been alive to see my children and grandchildren, it has a heavy impact on me emotionally and psychologically.”
Despite his current position on race relations in Britain, Adunabi remains optimistic about the experiences of future generations.
“Although not much has changed in 50 years, we must remember that it took us, as black people, well over 200 years to achieve freedom from transatlantic slavery. Rest assured, 50 years isn’t that long,” he says.
“We’ve got lots of youngsters coming through, though, and they’re very forward thinking.”