A Theory To Understanding the Policing of the Black Community in the UK

A Theory To Understanding the Policing of the Black Community in the UK

By exposing the historical causes, Post-Colonial Theory offers a critical framework for analysing power dynamics and racialisation within the context of policing.

The intersectional element of Gender Theory sheds light on the linkages between race and gender, improving our understanding of the over-policing of men and women within the Black community in the UK and offering insight into how differences in law enforcement are encountered within the Black diaspora.

Therefore, this essay will explore the symbiotic relationship of post-colonialism and gender and apply both theories to a case study of the shifting focus of colonised Black people to young Black men and a female child.

Post-Colonialism’s Impact on Policing

To start with, Nair (2017) explains that Post-Colonialism Theory in the context of International Relations “highlights the impact that colonial and imperial histories still have in shaping a colonial way of thinking […] and how Western forms of knowledge and power marginalise the non-Western world.” (Nair, 2017, p.5). Nair further argues that the idea that Western perceptions of non-Western cultures are a product of European colonialism and imperialism is a central post-colonial notion and superiority.

Thus, discourse frequently encouraged non-Western people to create the idea of themselves as “other” or as distinct from the West to minimise them. By doing this, they assisted European nations in rationalising their hegemony over non-European people under the pretext of advancing civilisation (Nair, 2017, p.5). Ergo, Post-Colonialism Theory allows people to understand the racial hierarchies that colonisers imposed on the colonised people through the process of racialisation and ‘othering’.

This process of racialisation and ‘othering’ was explained by using stereotypes and workings like it. Often, it was used to reinforce systemic racism in institutions such as the police force, as we have come to understand by utilising Post-Colonial Theory.

Contemporary Examples: Fear and Police Intimidation

Racial stereotypes work in a chain-like system; it begins by colonising Black people to create a racial hierarchy where colonisers can paint a picture of colonised people as aggressive and inferior. For Fanon (1967/2008), the post-colonial exchanges between white people and black people depicted “the N*gro” as morally absent and hyper-sexual to justify the colonisers’ need to impose [European] civilisation upon them” (Stone, 2020, p.247).

This explanation demonstrates the start of the racist stereotypes chain: demonising and targeting Black people as aggressive and deviant people, especially towards white women. Furthermore, Stark (1993) mentions how the insemination of these ideas was used to create the notion of ‘othering’ where “archconservatives show that Black people […] favour robbing and raping whites [which shows] a ghetto sickness” (Stark, 1993, p.486).

Allowing Black people to be perceived in this light creates the idea of ‘othering’ them to be justified. Thus, them being treated as suspects compared to other people, a target group to be surveilled more than other ethnicities. The idea is subconsciously used to justify the over-policing as these people are the ones you are made to fear and made to believe have been ‘violent’ since the dawn of time.

Shifting Focus: Young Black Men in Policing

An example of this today is the “fear of black [people] in public spaces” (Blake, 2020, p.1). It created the idea that if a Black person is assumed they are dangerous over and over again, the police will be used as a tool to intimidate and coerce Black people into submission through the threat of an arrest. This example relates to Althusser’s work on Repressive State Apparatuses as “the apparatus of the state that exerts itself primarily through violence and the threat of violence (the army and the police)” (Margulies, 2018, p.185).

Black community - Karen

We see this repeatedly with the rise of ‘Karens’, defined as “white women engaging in racist behaviour [and] a typical scenario involves a white woman calling the police on a Black person or Person of Colour for doing something harmless.” (Armstrong, 2021, p.27).[1]

Black Community: Creating Space for Marginalised Voices

In essence, the legacies of colonialism demonstrate how the “negative characterisations of the black […] colonised [people] were readily conveyed […] to signify inferiority and primitiveness and superiority and civilisation” (Parmar, Earle and Phillips, 2023, p.813). So, when Black people are consistently imaged to be dangerous, aggressive, and brutal, post-colonialism explains that the police will be used in a racist manner to repress them.

As the years progressed, there was a shift in target groups from Black colonised people being uncivilised to young Black men involved in gang life and knife crime. According to Bhattacharyya (2021), “the racism that associates violent crime with black youth in Britain has been well-documented” (Bhattacharyya et al., 2021, p.35).

Gendered Experiences: Black Women’s Interactions with Police

Dodd mentions how “young black males in London were 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched than the general population” (Dodd, 2020). Fast forward to 2023, “black men were over 2.5 times as likely to be arrested as white men” (UK GOV, 2023). The apparent reasoning for this is “the local geographies of violence [because] areas coded as ‘black’ […]” [CS1] (Bhattacharyya et al., 2021. p.32). These are the places where there have been historical run-ins between the police and young Black people and where there is the most police presence[2].

By analysing this, we can see how the ‘othering’ of Black men from colonial times can be applied to young Black men today, leading to mass surveillance of them in their hometowns. Police are used to assert dominance and “tackle crime” that is occurring in these predominantly Black areas to save the community from these Black criminals by arresting them.

In the same way, colonisers justified their actions by arguing that they brought civilisation to these ‘savage’ African people. Most people fail to acknowledge that an increase in crime and imprisonment rates may result from an influx of available police officers in a given location.

Although post-colonialism offers a valuable perspective for comprehending the over-policing of young Black males in the UK, it is crucial to remember that additional frameworks, like intersectionality, may add to a more thorough examination.

As much as this discussion has been about men, implementing an intersectional framework is crucial to this discourse.

Integrating Post-Colonial and Gender Theory Perspectives

Intersectionality is defined as double (or even triple) discrimination that marginalised people face, precisely “the location of women of colour at the intersection of race and gender” (Crenshaw, 1991, p.1245). In the context of racist policing, Black women are invisible to the discussion. Billups et al. (2022) takes into account that “for Black women, several findings have contributed to the idea that Black women have a unique perceived absence of status” (Billups et al., 2022, p.1), rendering Black women invisible and unheard in their experience with racist policing.

This is because it “suggests that men do not challenge police officer role, in the same way, women do [as the] stereotypes of Black men fit into the traditional police model” (Martin, 1994, p.386). Moreover, “Black women […] may be less likely to trust and contact the police” (Shah, 2021, p.1) because of the process of adultification. Campbell (2022) writes for BBC News, highlighting how this means that they are more likely to be perceived as “less innocent and more adult-like”(Campbell, 2022, p.1).

Infamously, we saw this with the case of Child Q (a Black school girl), who “was inappropriately strip-searched by female Met officers in 2020 after she was wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis” (Davies, 2022, p.1) despite being 15 and with no adult present. Automatically, it is evident that when race and gender are included, Black women are humiliated and treated as ‘others’.

The benefit of implementing an intersectional aspect to this discussion is that it allows the people who are usually ignored, i.e. women, to be visible so that a better solution can be found in the future, one that is representative of the bigger picture. Ergo, inserting Gender Theory also makes space for Black women to be heard.

By taking into account how race and gender intersect and contribute to experiences of discrimination and marginalisation, Post-Colonial and Gender Theory can help explain why Black men in the UK are over-policed. With Nair’s work, we can see that colonial ways of thinking still shape people globally. It was first with colonised Africans, then young Black men in gangs and knife crimes, and finally, the adultification of Black women in the instance of Child Q.


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Dodd, V. and crime, 2020. Young black males in London ‘19 times more likely to be stopped and searched’. The Guardian. [online] 3 Dec. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/dec/03/young-black-males-in-london-19-times-more-likely-to-be-stopped-and-searched> [Accessed 12 December 2023].

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[1] See this link for an example of a Black person and their interaction with ‘Karen’ calling the police: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZGeL2hBFS/

[2] See link for Geographical Area Operational Police Sites https://www.met.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/media/downloads/force-content/met/careers/careers/ldss-support-services-team-member/geographical-area-posting-preferences.pdf