How Racism Shows Up in the Courtroom


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Black Woman Barrister mistaken for a defendant in court

Alexandra Wilson, a Barrister and Author, is a Black woman who was mistaken for a defendant in court on three separate occasions last month which has triggered the Head of the Courts Service in England and Wales to launch an investigation. Anti-black racism organizes society by positioning Black people as default criminals while creating the category of innocence in white people. When people are presumed ‘criminals’, the required response within systems of oppression is to surveil and police them – controlling the spaces into which they can move as well as what they can do and say. This logic is at work in the case of Alexandra Wilson. To see this as a dynamic of this current moment alone erases the historical processes that got us here. Laws and policies have enforced and given power to the criminalisation of Black people. 

From slave patrols in the early 18th century that legalized an enslaved persons seeking their freedom while legalizing their enslavement, to the Vagrancy Act of 1824, to sus lawsSection 60Stop and Search, the Gangs Matrix to drill rappers sentenced for performing their song. Who we position by default as suspicious, dangerous, and therefore criminal ultimately demarcates who we determine is human precisely because of the dangerous conditions they are permitted to endure. We see this mechanic at work across other racialized communities too. For example, the demand that individual Muslims are compelled to denounce the actions of other Muslims tells us that without it they are understood as dangerous first and foremost. 

PREVENT legislation in the UK therefore enforces the everyday surveillance of Muslim people by their teachers, doctors, librarians, and beyond. We can see here the shared roots of different oppressions, even as their outcomes may be particular. In our workplaces, we can seek to interrupt what is otherwise reproduced by default by interrogating who is presumed to inhabit spaces of authority and legitimacy, who is denied entry to the building, and whose talents are always in question.

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