Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced
Debate about race equality in the UK creates more heat than light. Despite a growing minority ethnic population, a long history of struggle against racial injustice, and hard fought for equality legislation; patterns of racial inequality and injustice seem to be regularly ignored both in our media and by decision-makers.
This is not to claim that we never talk about race. From stop and search to the war on terror, from media representation to welfare reform, race remains directly relevant to the formation of public policy. Rather, it is the manner in which it is discussed that fails to advance either our understanding of persistent and emergent patterns of racial inequality, or enable a focus on solutions to the challenges we face.
Instead, media debate tends to see talking about race as a trap into which celebrities and politicians fall. While misuse of language is regrettable, it is hardly the key to addressing structural racial injustice. The portrayal of any attempt to discuss racial disadvantage as being high-risk creates a massive chill factor – scaring public figures from making interventions and allowing decision-makers to easily resist calls to address the inequalities that mar our society.
Rather than addressing problems of racial injustice it is easier in public and in the media to wish them away. We find ourselves in a situation where those who seek to raise the issues of racial justice are accused of being racist themselves, for pointing out that the some of the reasons behind unequal access to opportunities include discrimination, prejudice and injustice. It is unsurprising then that our recent survey found that three quarters of respondents think our media fuel racism
by the way in which they report on it.
We have launched Race Card to model a different way. Race Card will unflinchingly encourage debate and discussion about the patterns of racial inequality in the UK, seek to share the latest research insights and data, connect those seeking to create change, and enable those sometimes difficult conversations on how to create a successful multi-ethnic Britain.
It is named Race Card to directly challenge the suggestion that any mention of race is about closing down debate. The accusation of ‘playing the race card’ is of relatively recent vintage. It was popularized in the late 80s and is used most often in debates about racial justice in the US. It is based on the premise that any mention of race is an attempt to trump all other arguments, avoid scrutiny, or gain an unfair advantage.
The opposite is currently true – any claim made about racial justice is met with a high level of skepticism from commentators who paradoxically seek to prove that we are now post-racial, with evidence that suggests that we are far from it. Those racialised as minorities report experiencing racism while those from majority ethnic groups often deny its existence.
We believe that in the process of decision-making about policy and practice that it is appropriate to consider the impact of those decisions on racial justice. If there are ‘cards’ that influence decisions, race equality ought to be one of them. As James Baldwin reminds us, failing to name the problem of racial injustice in the UK means that we are unlikely to ever address it. Race Card, by naming racism where we see it is a first and necessary step in ending racism.
Rob Berkeley is the Director of the Runnymede Trust
. He is on Twitter @Berkeleythinks