Leading British Institutions Gripped by Racism Rows ; RACE IN BRITAIN

By Verkaik, Robert | The Independent (London, England), March 9, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Leading British Institutions Gripped by Racism Rows ; RACE IN BRITAIN

Verkaik, Robert, The Independent (London, England)

Britain's institutions stand accused of fostering a climate of casual racism after a series of race rows yesterday provoked clashes between MPs, academics and leaders of the black and Asian communities.

David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, was forced to sack his frontbench spokesman on homeland security, Patrick Mercer, because he suggested that being called a "black bastard" was part and parcel of life in the Army for ethnic minority soldiers.

Shortly afterwards the Independent Police Complaints Commission announced that it was to investigate a brutal assault on a black teenager by a white police officer outside a Sheffield nightclub.

In Manchester, a magistrate who was overheard talking to a colleague about "bloody foreigners" in private after a hearing was reprimanded by the Judicial Appointments Commission but allowed to return to work. In Oxford, a university professor was forced to defend himself after students protested at his outspoken comments on immigration. MPs and leaders of Britain's ethnic minority communities said the incidents, though unconnected, painted a picture of resurgent racism at the heart of British society which needed to be tackled. Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: "Racism is sneaking back in to mainstream respectability and this is very dangerous. It is not isolated incidents ... it's been happening for some time. In some aspects, it's coming through on the back of Islamophobia and in other ways, it is mainstream, old-fashioned racism."

Michelynn Lafleche, director of the Runnymede Trust, a think- tank on ethnicity and cultural diversity, said that while significant steps had been made in the fight against racism much of the legislation had failed to make a mark on British life. She added: "The fight against terrorism ... gives people the excuse to step back 40 years in time and say it is OK to say these things when it is not only morally reprehensible but often illegal. We may have the legislation in place, but it is of great concern because too often we are not seeing that permeate into our everyday lives."

Many institutions have tried to implement the recommendations of Sir William Macpherson of Cluny who published a landmark report in 1999 into the death of Stephen Lawrence. But almost 14 years after the black teenager's murder and eight years after Sir William's report Britain is still trying to combat racism in society.

Critics seized on Mr Mercer's comments as evidence that the Tory party is one of many institutions still plagued by such problems.

The Labour MP Shahid Malik said they showed the Tories had not changed under Mr Cameron's leadership. "It doesn't matter what they tell you, they still are the nasty, racist, sexist, homophobic party they have been for many, many, many years," he said. "It is going to take a long time to weed out the inherent racism that actually exists in that particular party.

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