In the documentation of #clapforourcarers, the British media does what Britain often does best, neglect its diversity whilst simultaneously boasting about diversity. You cannot tell the history of the NHS without talking about the diversity of ethnic backgrounds that make up the workforce. This history is also a story about race and society, incorporating the lives of people from around the world.
After the War, the UK government put out a call to its empire for workers, not thinking that all these Black and brown people from the Caribbean, and Asian and African continents would come, not the White people from English speaking countries such as New Zealand. The NHS would have been stillborn had it not been for Black nurses in the beginning that saved it from collapse. Yet, today, with Coronavirus, the whitewashing of the NHS continues in the media’s representation of the workforce. You cannot go to a hospital without running into the people of colour that keep it afloat.
The late Jamaican philosopher Stuart Hall said “We are here because you were there” and it is in part because of Britain’s colonial project that we have migrants from places all over the world. For international viewers looking in, watching British press on Coronavirus, they are being lead down this path of dominant whiteness. From the people being interviewed to how the NHS is being represented in the media. As Britons, we know the NHS workforce is culturally diverse. Yet, any viewers without knowledge of the NHS will believe that it is as White as it is being portrayed to be.
Africans, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese and many people of colour make up a good percentage of carers in Britain today. The same can be said for students on health-related courses at our universities including nursing, social work and social care. Like Gina Yashere says, it looks like Britain is erasing this diversity from its history. When we look back on this in 20 years time, history will show it to be whitewashed, as many significant events in British history were before it; from the world wars to Renaissance Britain to the days of Roman rule. But wasn’t it a legion of African Romans (or Moors) that stood watch on Hadrian’s Wall for nearly 350 years?
As I sit at home now in lockdown, we must talk about the nuances of Coronavirus under inequality. Will people of colour be stopped at a disproportionate rate to White people under new police powers? Will they be detained at such a rate? This is a global disease but those receiving tests seem to come from a certain class. We have a government that advocated for the genocide (herd immunity) of its ageing population. We also have a government that put the whims of billionaires over all. Its contempt for the working class has not gone unnoticed. When this is all over, the public and parliament needs to hold the prime minister’s government to account.
Gina Yashere mocks the people saying it shouldn’t be about race, and she’s absolutely right to do that. Race is a social construct but it’s a social construct of which the global majority have been othered. However, you cannot talk about British healthcare without talking about race. From institutional racism within healthcare to the diversity of the workforce. It comes from the comfort of privilege to live your life not having talk about race in any meaningful way. And life isn’t binary. One size doesn’t fit all.
We are better than this, we need to #stopthewhitewash; and if race doesn’t matter (as they say), why is the British media representing the National Health Service in its own image?