Thanks for the Canapés, but Could We Have Some Equality Now Please?

By Hazarika, Ayesha | The Scotsman, October 11, 2017 | Go to article overview

Thanks for the Canapés, but Could We Have Some Equality Now Please?


Hazarika, Ayesha, The Scotsman


R ace is back on the agenda. It's that time of year - Black History Month. This is when lots of beige, brown and black folk get invited to lots of receptions where someone very nice, posh, distinguished, male and pale - normally a Sir or a Lord - makes a genuinely, heartfelt appeal for more diversity at the top of his organisation, everyone quaffs warm wine, scoffs weird moussebased canapés and then everything goes back to normal again.

Diversity champion Jasmine Dotiwala recently wrote that she was tired of Black History Month as it was the same conversations over and over again on a loop. I kind of agree.

Don't get me wrong, I see the importance of Black History Month, or International Women's Day, but it does get exhausting after the decades pass. Every year, we voice the same old hopes and aspirations and the needle barely moves. It's like the Del Boy dream in Only Fools and Horses "This time next year Rodney, we'll be millionaires…" Racial inequality across all aspects of life is still stark. The Prime Minister has just published the Race Disparity Audit which reveals lots of important facts and figures like Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed; black Caribbean boys are three times more likely to be permanently excluded from school; and you are less likely to own your home if you're black.

I applaud this audit, as a crucial first step in addressing inequality is to get the data and publish it. That's why the reporting of the gender pay gap is so important. If you can't see it, how can you fix it? It also throws up important things we may not have realised, like white workingclass pupils have some of the worst attainment. So, it is vital that this data needs to be gathered annually and published to track progress across the whole spectrum.

That's where things get tricky.

How do you actually solve this issue? Analysis and diagnosis is all very good but where's the prescription or the treatment? Britain prides itself on being a tolerant country and I think it genuinely means to be and tries to be. We are horrified to hear the language of Donald Trump and we know who's side we're on when it comes to taking the knee.

But there are still different categories of racism alive and kicking in Britain as any person of colour knows. There's outright horrid racism - "No dogs, no Blacks, no Irish" or being shouted at on the street. But we all abhor any signs of that and we hope that we have moved on.

My brother and I joke about how people would always get our actual race wrong when we were abused on the street growing up on the outskirts of Glasgow. "Go back to China" was a common one and of course we would have to correct them… "It's Assam where the tea comes from in North East India don't you know" and then we'd run away very, very fast. We can all agree that's not very nice.

But then there's hidden racism. This is the biggie. At its best, this is where people are really nice, polite and pleasant to your face but it never quite fits. You never get that promotion. You get stuck. It's just never "your time" and you see your colleagues and friends, who you started out with at the same time, rise with elegant ease and astonishing good luck.

At its worst, hidden racism is where assumed prejudices and lazy negative assumptions can cause absolute misery and have terrible consequences. Just look how the police handled the murder of Stephen Lawrence. I was a young press officer at the Home Office when the Macpherson report into how badly the investigation was handled was published. It was a big moment for race relations. That is the moment where Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, coined the controversial but powerful phrase "institutional racism". …

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