Friday, 20 April 2012

Racism alive and well in British society

The recent revelations about racism in the Metropolitan Police once again raise the question as to how far society has moved in addressing this issue.
The racism at the Met emerged once again due to one of the individuals being abused having recorded the whole episode on his mobile phone. The means of report brought back memories of how the attack a couple of years ago on street vendor Ian Tomlinson, who later died, only came to light when a film from a tourist was forwarded to a news organisation. Up until then the police were denying all wrongdoing in connection with the incident.
Applying this logic to the question of racism raises the question as to whether anything has really changed in the decade since the McPherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence. The inquiry discovered institutional racism in the police and a wide number of other bodies in society.
There seemed to be a positive response. In the case of the police, the Home Office moved to implement many of the 75 recommendations made by the inquiry. Institutional racism would not be tolerated, racists would be rooted out ran the mantra.
Yet a few years later came the BBC investigation titled the Secret Policeman where an undercover reporter discovered deep levels of racism in police forces. Now these latest revelations add to the belief that what followed McPherson was all one big public relations exercise to create an impression of action having been taken to deal with racism, whereas in reality little changed.
The latest expose of the 20 Metropolitan police officers suspended and under investigation for racist offences tends to support this viewpoint. Though as others have suggested it does also provide proof of some police officers coming forward to expose racism and the forces themselves then moving to take action. So there are some positive developments.
Other recent statistics suggest that racism is alive and well in British society. Unemployment among young black men has doubled in three years, rising from 28.8% in 2008 to 55.9% in the last three months of 2011 The revelation that half of all black youngsters between the age of 16 and 24 are out of work, compared to one in five among their white counterparts confirms that whatever employers say there is still a colour bar operating.
There have been recent instances of racism on the football field, These come despite a number of high profile efforts from the authorities to kick racism out of football.
Vice chair of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice Haynes Baptiste thinks little has changed since the McPherson inquiry. He believes the racism is still there, just better hidden. “The racism is still there, efforts may have been made to address racism but they clearly have not been effective,” said Mr Baptiste. “Racism has simply been put under the carpet. The changes of recent years have just made racism more difficult to find.”
Mr Baptiste also believes that little has changed in the Catholic Church. At the time of McPherson, the Church said it would also be looking to its structures to see whether institutional racism existed. No doubt there must have been some sort of audit process brought in across the Church to assess the success of the implementation of such policy but on the surface little seems to have changed.
The Church in Britain has traditionally been a migrant Church, never more so than in recent years with the inflow of migrants coming to work in the UK. These migrants have brought a real burst of vitality to churches up and down the land. But have the migrants been integrated or assimilated as part of parish life - still outsiders?
Certainly in London, there is incredible diversity of races but in many areas it is still the ageing white priest who administers to the flock. And as Mr Baptiste has pointed out, there is still no bishop from a black or ethnic minority background.
Things need to change in the Church and society as a whole. There needs to genuine root and branch change of the type recommended by McPherson. It is no good simply putting together a lot of public relations babble, designed to give an impression of change, only to be later caught out as the truth seeps out in a variety of different ways. The Church could offer an example in this area by ensuring that its structure is truly representative of the increasingly diverse congregations that sit in the pews.

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