‘Systemic racism permeates all levels of our society’

A letter from Dr Jermaine Ravalier.

Black Lives Matter is one of the most significant movements of the last 30 years. Starting in America following the death of George Floyd, it has been fuelled by deaths of the likes of Breonna Taylor and Botham Jean, and the most recent shooting of Jacob Blake. However, while these (and other) events have opened the door to protests in over 150 towns and cities in the UK, and thousands across the world involving millions of people, many today argue that racism is not as significant or severe as it used to be.

The racism that is faced by Black people in the UK today is often (but not always…) subtle. It doesn’t involve calling us the ‘N’ word and shouting monkey chants at us, but it takes a more subtle and insidious approach. It involves using poor science to substantiate arguments because there is no good science which supports these arguments. It is the denouncing of Black Lives and ignoring the lived experience of countless Black people in the UK. This form of racism is subtle, because those espousing it don’t express overt racist views, and so claim that they’re being persecuted due to ‘political correctness’, or that they are entitled to their own opinion.

So, in the era of fake news and being able to either deny or actively ignore evidence,

I want to outline just a few areas of systematic oppression and over-representation that affects Black people in the UK.

Over 20 years ago, the MacPherson Report found systematic, institutional racism in the Met Police (and it has since been highlighted that this is the case in most of our police Constabularies). More recently Black people have been disproportionately fined for Covid lockdown breaches. The Lammy Review identified systematic injustices in both Youth and Adult justice systems. While we’ve all heard about Black people being hugely disproportionately stop and searched across the country, we don’t often hear that the arrest rate from these searches is only 5% higher, despite a greater proportion of the (mostly young, male) Black population being searched. If more young, white men were stopped and searched would the arrest rate not be higher too? 

Young Black people tend to do worse in secondary and higher education despite coming from an otherwise equal starting point. Black children are three times more likely to be expelled than their white counterparts, often for the same offence, and ten times more likely to be placed in care (social workers, a sector that I work with and research for, openly admit that this is often due to cultural misunderstandings).

Black people are over-represented in health with poorer mental and physical health outcomes. We are six times more likely to be sectioned due to mental ill health. Black women are five times more likely to die during childbirth, Black families have an infant mortality rate twice as high as white families, and Black adults have a lower life expectancy

These are just a few examples. Classic studies from social and cognitive psychology have demonstrated unconscious and conscious biassocioeconomic statusself-fulfilling prophecies against Black people, and needing to changenames and ethnicities on job applications just to get an interview. 

Consistent evidence shows systemic racism permeates all levels of our society. To suggest that this is not the case is not only erroneous, it is masking a significant issue with cherry-picked evidence under the guise of science. As Dr Nasreen Fazal-Short discusses in the September issue of The Psychologist, we do need to broaden the conversation around racism in the industry. If anyone genuinely believes that racism in psychology is not an issue then they are clearly mistaken, but we need to have a plan to tackle and address the institutional racism inherent within not only psychology, but as demonstrated above so many of our institutions.

Dr Jermaine M Ravalier
Reader in Work & Wellbeing (Psychology)

Psychology UoA REF Lead

Chair: Global Inclusivity Network

Bath Spa University
Twitter: @Ravalier

Editor's note: Originally posted online on 7 September.

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber


I have struggled with this and lost a lot of sleep over how to respond to it. The problem is, as Lewis Mitchell puts it, there is nothing with which one can disagree. The problem is the overall interpretation. As Lewis put it, the letter is very “left-leaning”, or, as I would prefer to say, PC-Wokie. In the end, it occurred to me that the best response might be (perhaps as an example of the kind of thing Lewis suggests) simply to ask whether the relative success of Asians[*] is also to be attributed to “institutional racism”.

[*] For an interesting discussion of this issue in the American context see Flynn, J. R. (1991). Asian Americans: Achievement Beyond IQ. Hillside, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (See http://eyeonsociety.co.uk/resources/UAIChapter18.pdf for a summary.)