Race Matters

David Lammy: We've come a long way but the fight isn't over

The best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Race Relations Act is to keep fighting, says David Lammy, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on race and community

It may not have the same global recognition as the Rosa Parks incident in Alabama in 1963, the anniversary of which was celebrated last week, but the Bristol Bus Boycott of the same year marks a transformative moment in race relations in this country. It�s important to remember that those boycotting in Bristol were doing so not for some grandiose desire to be part of history but because in the face of a labour shortage on the buses in Bristol a policy of barring �coloureds� from being employed was in place. Inspired by Parks� and the Montgomery Bus Boycott�s in the US, a four month boycott led to the Bristol Omnibus Company backing down. These were people who, like my father of the same generation, had come to this country to make a better life for themselves and their families through honest work. But like my dad in London, those in the St Paul�s community in Bristol suffered public humiliation and discrimination particularly when seeking housing and employment. And it was public. It�s hard to imagine now but this was a time when �No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irishmen� signs were prevalent in establishments across the country and even when they weren�t displayed, the sentiment prevailed. But it wasn�t only signage. This was an ingrained, institutional racism and discrimination that was endemic in British society. It would have been easier for those activists and community representatives that fought against this discrimination to keep quiet and get a long as best they could. But they didn�t, they took a stand and fought a fight that ultimately lead to the Race Discrimination Act. We, as the generation that have benefitted from their struggle, should never forget their contribution. It�s as a result of their actions that hundreds of thousands of Black, Asian and ethnic minority Britons have been able to fight discrimination in housing, employment and take their cases to tribunals knowing they have core legislation and case law that supports them and the eradication of discrimination. However, while huge leaps and bounds have been made we are a long way from achieving true equality and there remains much work to be done. In a sense, where the Race Relations Act of 1965 dealt with overt discrimination in public places, we still face significant covert or private, cultural prejudice and inherent structural inequalities in our society. The reality of the data never fail to shock us and show the challenges our generation still have to take on. One in four black men between 16-24 is unemployed. A disproportionately high number of those admitted for serious mental health difficulties are from BAME communities. And even in relation to discrimination in employment � which the Race Relations Act was ostensibly meant to tackle � sting operations have highlighted flagrant racial bias in the recruitment of companies meaning African and Asian sounding names are far less likely to get responses that �white sounding� names. While of course we must celebrate the �British� Bus Boycotts in Bristol and the resulting pivotal legislation that emerged it is important to remember we still have a long way to go before we reach full equality in the UK. Surely the best way to mark the anniversary of the Race Relations Act and celebrate the legacy of those who fought to bring it about is to keep on fighting. David Lammy MP is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community. He tweets at @DavidLammy
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