Race – immigration – illegal immigration – crime – extremism – terrorism; the six degrees of cultural labelling, scare-mongering and media shock tactics that have deterred us from talking about race equality at a time when we should be talking about it more than ever.
Looking back before apartheid, before the race riots, before the Black Panther movement or abolishing slavery or ‘I have a dream’ the issue was Blacks vs Whites. The issue was that many White people did not want to mix with Black people; many did not want to be friends with Black people; many did not want to be seen with Black people. That was the race issue.
In the 50’s and 60’s there was a labour shortage in the UK and so people from the Colonial Countries started moving to Britain to fill the shortfall. It was a prosperous country, which promised development and adventure and, at first, Britain welcomed their new land-mates. Now there was a subdivision of the population that wanted to work in the mills and the factories and carry out the menial, labour-intensive jobs. They thought the wages were reasonable; the conditions limiting, but manageable. Word got out that Britain was thriving and so more Asian people and some Caribbean people decided that moving was a good idea. What started as a welcome arrival was seen by some as an unwanted invasion. And that too became the race issue.
Then some people started to think that immigrants from the Colonies should stay in their countries of origin and that different races shouldn’t move to countries they weren’t born in.
Some of the more right-wing individuals were so enraged by the idea of mixing with other races that they formed their own groups in protest. Some of the protesting became aggressive and violent. And that too became the race issue. In 1967 the National Front was formed.
The immigration laws had become stricter and stricter over time. This brought about illegal immigration, which in turn brought about organised crime supporting illegal immigration, which in turn brought about negative attention to anyone in Britain who wasn’t White, or more latterly anyone from Eastern Europe, unless they could prove they were born in an NHS maternity unit. And that too became the race issue.
During the 60’s and 70’s three Race Relations Acts were created and policed by local agents to promote racial equality. This legislation made it illegal to discriminate according to race. The Commission for Racial Equality and Race Equality Councils were formed to try and address the race issue.
Over time, opinions began to change and many White people decided that the race issue was ridiculous and that they would mix with and welcome whomever they wanted. Some White people decided that they still did not want to mix with Black people, or Asian people, or East Asian people, or anyone with a different skin colour or culture to themselves. Some Black people and Asian people and East Asian people, who had previously felt excluded by White society, decided that they didn’t want to mix with White people either.
After 9/11 and 7/7, terrorists who claimed to be flying under the banner of Islam brought fear, suspicion and, in some cases, hatred of Muslims. Race and religion had become inextricably linked and a new race issue was generated.
As the most recent race issue was drawn out and misrepresented by the media, people grew tired of talking about it. We had entered a new century – surely there was something more interesting to be discussed.
So where did it all go wrong? Is it the media’s fault that people have become fatigued when it comes to race equality on the agenda?
Although the role of the media is to inform the general public of international and national news, on most occasions (along with the information) an opinion is included. Whether the opinion comes in the form of an obvious spin on the article, a sensationalist headline or a scandalous image, all are intended to influence the reader, which is exactly what happened with the race agenda. Particularly in the case of ‘The War on Terror’, what began as several targeted international incidents of terrorism became a worldwide fear of an entire religion whose followers were mainly non-White. Terrorism as a physical act was given a face and the media perpetuated this image. As the war struggled on, the general public grew tired of seeing this ‘face of terrorism’, all the while hearing about the conscious biases against Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people. It was becoming old news.
Whilst the Equality and Human Rights Commission is still in place, there appears to have been little progress made. Do they believe in the causes they are supposed to be fighting for? What impact have they actually had on race equality? Seemingly nobody wants to speak out about the issues for fear of swimming against the tide. And so, because nobody is creating a dialogue, the conversation has gone quiet at the worst possible time. We now know that quite a number of British home-grown terrorists cited being a victim of open racial hostility as one of the factors that drove them to violent extremism.
Many people believe that we have solved the race issue. Some people believe it’s gone the other way; that some BAME people are being given jobs over White people so that companies can prove they are not racist with the evidence being a more diverse workforce. Lost is the fact that many BAME people feel under pressure to be better at the job so as to verify that those conspiracy theorists are wrong. Lost is the fact that the further you go up the organisational hierarchy, the thinner the air for BAME people.
When we say that race is a diversity issue, many people don’t understand what that means today in 2014. The prevailing geo-political situation means that racists can hide under the cover of the claim (as the EDL officially do) that they are not racist and that their concerns are about Muslim terrorists. They seem to forget that many of those that march under their banner belong to Nazi groups, to Combat 18 and even to the KKK. Their leaders often get caught out – one such leader told his congregation that Muslims would burn in hell.
To be fair, it’s not really surprising that people are confused given how the diversity agenda has changed over the decades. Now, instead of people trying to figure out what the concerns and problems are, they choose not to address it at all in fear of getting it wrong or because they think it’s just not a priority anymore.
So, has it become ‘uncool’ to talk about race? Maybe uncool is the wrong term. The race equality argument is no longer interesting to many because of its long and complicated history. We don’t want to keep talking about old news; we want something new and modern and different. But that shouldn’t mean that race equality is taken off the agenda.
Article by Sam Fisher, who is the PR Assistant at the National Centre for Diversity – an intrinsic values organisation that aims to advance fairness for all in the workplace through Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training services.