‘I was right to feel afraid': The impact of hate crimes on people of colour

Do you ever fear for your life when you leave the house?

Have you ever had to wonder if you would make it back home after going out to work, or to see friends?

This is an all too recurrent feeling for Sanisha Wynter, 28, from London, who has been a victim of a hate crime.

‘I heard the first ape-sounding grunt and knew I was right to feel afraid – I kept my eyes forward and continued walking’, says Sanisha, who works as an education development initiative consultant.

‘Oi, monkey – your arms are swinging like a gorilla,’ the group of young white adults shouted at her, as they sat on their bikes, eating chips in the middle of the road.

A hate crime, in law, is defined as any criminal offence committed against a person or property that is motivated by hostility towards someone based on any aspect of their identity.

However, there is a difference between abuse, and an attack or assault. An assault will involve some form of violence, while abuse or an attack can take different forms – either verbal or physical.

Every form of hate crime – verbal or physical – can have significant and long-lasting negative effects for the victim.

Sanisha ignored the racist taunts from the group, but as she carried on walking, the group started to throw pieces of food at her.

She kept walking in an ‘act of defiance, however, the group, frustrated by her lack of reaction, decided to shout obscenities.

All Sanisha felt she could do in this situation was to keep quiet and try to walk as fast as she could.

‘I didn’t know their faces or if they would hassle my family if I reacted,’ she says.

Once she got home, safe from the group, she picked the chewed remains of sausages and chips out of her hair and clothes, showered and cried, ashamed of what had happened.

‘I am afraid to go to certain places that are new or described as predominantly white areas,’ she says.

In 2018, about 13.8% of the UK population was from a minority ethnic background, according to Diversity UK, with London one of the most diverse cities in the country. But that was no help to Sanisha.

Counting on the police force may also not be an option. Sanisha recognises there are good officers out there, but she ‘[does] not trust that they listen to or believe Black women’.

‘They are operating within a flawed system where racism is rife,’ she says. ‘I shouldn’t walk away from a police station feeling victimised – how can you feel protected by a force that forgets you?’

In the case of Somriddho Dasgupta, 20, a model, actor and activist based in London, the one thing he tries to avoid at all costs is going out after 11pm.

He says too many of his friends ‘who are people of colour and queer, have been stabbed and mugged when they were out alone at night’.

The impact caused by the abuse or assault on the victims isn’t comprehensible unless experienced. There are no words to describe the pain, shame and spiral of despair that can follow an experience of a hate crime.

Official statistics recorded 105,090 hate crimes reported to the police in England and Wales in year ending March 2020 – excluding Manchester. An increase of 8% compared with the previous year.

Meanwhile, the latest race report commissioned by the government that said there was no longer institutional racism present in the country has been deemed reprehensible and misleading.

‘To suggest that it doesn’t [exist] is either wilful ignorance or deliberate distortion of the facts,’ says Sanisha.

Somriddho believes systemic racism ‘exists in almost every sphere of our lives.

‘Representation would definitely help,’ he adds. ‘I never see people like myself in the mainstream media. This needs to change because representation leads to awareness, which leads to change’.

Dr Loretta Trickett, an associate professor from Nottingham Trent University who teaches on criminal law, criminology, and human rights, says that the increase in reporting of hate crimes may be due to an ‘improvement on the part of the police’ but that there may well have been a notable rise in the number of incidents as well.

However, she highlights that the lack of trust people of colour put into the police forces may come from stop and search practices, where discrimination in these practices have been witnessed over the years.

‘I think it’s to do with the legacy of the murder of Stephen Lawrence – since then and the McPherson report, many of the recommendations that are made in that inquiry have not actually been implemented,’ Dr Trickett tells Metro.co.uk.

‘I think there is that level of distress we can see in the Black Lives Matter protests. Many of the concerns have been from communities in response to the murder of George Floyd, but we have seen examples of discrimination by the police in England and Wales as well.

‘So, there is that real lack of trust.’

The psychological impact of experiencing a hate crime

According to a survey conducted by the government, victims of hate crimes were more likely to be impacted emotionally and psychologically following a crime than victims of all other kind of crime.

Almost half (42%) of victims of a hate crime felt a loss of confidence or vulnerable following the crime, compared with 19% of those for all crimes.

A third (29%) of hate crime victims had difficulty sleeping compared to 13% for all crimes; while 34% of hate crime victims suffered from anxiety or panic attacks in comparison to 14% for all crimes.

Concerning feelings of depression, 18% of hate crime victims felt this way after the attack compared with 9% of victims of all crimes.

One aspect of people struggling to recover from the incidents may be because of the lack of trust when reporting the crime, the lack of belief in the victims and the lack of actions taken – mislabelling a hate crime for a crime is too recurrent of a practice.

In trying to explain why certain people would feel entitled to play with someone of colour’s life, Dr Trickett stresses that the police, the law, the government – ‘to a certain extent’ – aren’t getting to grasp with ‘how many of these incidents occur, the impact it has on people.

‘People become emboldened to act in certain ways when there is no action taken against them for harbouring those views, sharing those views, or enacting those views,’ adds Dr Trickett.

‘Often, there is a big gap between the experience of people of colour reporting and the justice that they get,’ she says. There is gap being between law, policy and practice and how they respond to instances of acts of racism.

‘One of the issues is about police accountability to minority groups. I think that’s difficult, because often the police are held accountable by the HMICFRS, or government organisations, but not necessarily by the public.

‘It’s about improving procedures that isn’t just changing your policy. It’s about recognising it and doing different things at multiple levels. But overall, improving accountability.’

Sanisha, who is best known for her TEDx Talk Vulnerability is your Superpower, can’t stress enough that in order for people of colour to feel safer, things need to change.

‘When I was a victim of a hate crime, I analysed everything I could have done differently to be safe,’ she says. ‘There was nothing I could do except being white – an impossibility I do not want.

‘Stereotypes, interpersonal and institutional oppression must be challenged, and people and institutions must be held accountable beyond cancelling – it only seems to fuel bigots to create a following through hate because no one sees hate crime as a crime unless someone is seriously hurt or dead.

‘All this self-declaration of allyship and solidarity with marginalised people seem performative because the facts and evidence are clear; oppression continues to exist, people of colour don’t get to live carefree.’

How to report hate crime

If you are in immediate danger, call 999.

Call 101 for non-emergency enquiries.

In addition, you can report hate crime to some of the organisations who support affected communities, including:

  • Stop Hate UK (all hate crime)
  • Tell Mama (anti-Muslim hate crime)
  • Community Security Trust (anti-Semitic hate crime)
  • GALOP (anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime)
  • True Vision (all hate crime)
  • In Cymru/Wales: Victim Support (all hate crime)

The State of Racism

This series is an in-depth look at racism in the UK.

We aim to look at how, where and why individual and structural racism impacts people of colour from all walks of life.

It’s vital that we improve the language we have to talk about racism and continue the difficult conversations about inequality – even if they make you uncomfortable.

We want to hear from you – if you have a personal story or experience of racism that you would like to share get in touch: [email protected]

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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