Trump's UK State Visit Reveals Britain's Racist Past and Present

Despite protests from the public and politicians, President Donald Trump became only the third US president to enjoy a state visit to the United Kingdom on June 3. A state visit is a special honor filled with pomp and ceremony on which the British have built their reputation and television exports. The invitation is extended by the Queen at the direction of the government and includes a state banquet at Buckingham Palace as well as a parade down the mall (which will not occur during Trump’s visit).

Almost 2 million people were so offended that Trump was offered a state visit that they signed a petition to prevent it, which was even debated in Parliament. The opposition to Trump’s visit can be best summed up by Member of Parliament Stephen Doughty, who organized a petition to prevent the president addressing Parliament on the basis that he is “racist, sexist, extremist.” Although this is true, for Britain to pretend it is above consorting with racists, sexists, and extremists requires the kind of hypocrisy that the nation built both its empire and current social policy on.

This was not the first time Trump visited the UK as president. His visit last year drew a protest of over 10,000 including a giant inflated Trump baby balloon, which was permitted by London Mayor Sadiq Khan — one of the many people of color to have a public fallout with Trump.

The list of the 113 state visitors hosted by Queen Elizabeth II includes characters who make Trump seem like a moderate. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah visited in 2007, during a time in the patriarchal country when women were banned from driving. Mobutu Sese Seko, who was president of Zaire in 1973, was involved in the assassination of the Republic of Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, and became a brutal dictator that embezzled billions from one of the poorest countries on earth. And, of course, the Iron Man of world politics, Vladimir Putin — who is intimately linked to Trump because his country’s intelligence service interfered in the US elections — was granted the full visit in 2003.

Trump is disliked in Britain because he represents what Malcolm X dubbed the “Southern Wolf” of racism: the snarling, rabid racist who lets you know exactly where you stand while baring their teeth. Britain likes to look at the obvious racial tensions in America and pat itself on the back because it could never be so bad. But Malcolm was more wary of the “Northern Fox,” the liberal who also showed their teeth to Black people, but whilst “pretending they were smiling.”

British politics is full of Northern Foxes who call out American racism, whilst ignoring the systematic abuses at home. Black Brits are significantly more likely to be subject to police violence and are actually more overrepresented in the prison population than our American cousins. Yet the underlying problem isn’t as easy to see: British police don’t carry guns, the state does not incarcerate historically unprecedented numbers of its citizens, and Black people only make up 3 percent of the population. America is just a more extreme version of British racism, so it makes sense that the US should be led by the Wolf and Britain by the Fox who, in this case, is Prime Minister Theresa May, who will step down shortly after Trump’s visit.

May promised to build a “fairer Britain” when she took office in 2016, and instead, she has led one of the most obviously racist governments in memory. The Windrush Scandal — named for the iconic steamship Empire Windrush landing from Jamaica in 1948 and symbolized mass migration from the colonies to Britain after WWII — made it apparent that thousands of migrants who had every legal and historic right to be in Britain, and had been so for decades, were at threat of deportation.

This was because of Theresa May’s hostile environment policy, started when she was Home Secretary, which aimed to make life difficult for illegal immigrants by mandating checks on documents for work, housing, and almost every facet of life. Many of those with legal rights but no documents ended up losing their jobs and being deported. We should not really have been surprised, as this was the same person who oversaw vans driving around London telling illegals to “go home,” started a policy of late night deportation charter flights, and advocated ending rescue missions for Black bodies drowning in the Mediterranean as a deterrent to more Africans trying to cross into Europe. Trump may lead choruses of “build the wall,” but May has built a ruthless and racist immigration machine that does not require a physical barrier.

The only difference between Trump and May is style, not substance, and as Malcolm warned us, they are politically both “canines.”

In a sign of the political times, hosting Trump will be one of May’s last acts, in addition to crashing her premiership on the rocks of Brexit. The favorite to replace her is Boris Johnson, a politician who has called Black people “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles,” claimed that we have lower IQs, and argued that Obama’s “part Kenyan” heritage meant he would have an "ancestral dislike” of Britain. Trump has said that he may meet Johnson on his visit, as well as Nigel Farage, our resident Southern Wolf who now leads the Brexit Party, who he called “good guys.” Trump’s visit may end up symbolizing the passing of the torch from the Fox to the Wolf in the leadership of Britain. But the sad truth is that no matter who is in power on both sides of the Atlantic, Black people still “find ourselves in the doghouse.”

About the Author

Kehinde Andrews is professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University. His is an academic, activist and author whose books include Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century (2018) and Resisting Racism: Race, Inequality and the Black Supplementary School Movement (2013). Kehinde led the development of the Black Studies degree and is director of the Centre for Critical Social Research, founded the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity, and is co-chair of the Black StudiesKehinde Andrews is professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University.