Leading Article: RACE RELATIONS - Britain's Four Decades of Progress and Imperfection

The Independent (London, England), December 8, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Leading Article: RACE RELATIONS - Britain's Four Decades of Progress and Imperfection


This day, 40 years ago, saw the introduction of the Race Relations Act, which made discrimination on the basis of skin colour or ethnicity illegal in Britain for the first time. The government of the day wanted to signal that the sort of day-to-day racism that had resulted in black and Asian people being barred from boarding houses, or excluded from jobs, would no longer be acceptable. Four decades on, we have largely stamped out such obvious injustices, but the debate about race in modern Britain is far from over.

Earlier this week, the new Tory leader David Cameron lamented the fact that nine out of 10 Conservative MPs at the moment are white men. We hope he is able to help rectify this situation. But Mr Cameron has " so far " outlined no plans to introduce a mechanism to overrule local selection committees. Sceptics will argue that nothing is about to change.

Indeed, it is not difficult to be pessimistic about the state of British race relations more generally at the moment. Ethnic minority Britons are under-represented in many areas of public life, not just Tory politics. A campaign to do something about the low number of black and Asian curators working in London's museums and galleries was launched yesterday.

It is not just in professional life where institutional racism still exists. Figures made public yesterday revealed that black people are three times more likely to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals than the rest of the population. Last week also saw the jailing of two men for the horrific, racially motivated murder of the black student Anthony Walker.

Troubling, too, are relations with Britain's Islamic community. An increase in the use of stop-and-search measures by police since the September 11 terrorist attacks has caused justified resentment in young Muslims. And the Government's draconian plans for new terror laws, introduced in the wake of the July 7 attacks in London, threaten to exacerbate the situation.

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