The Report : Part Two - Issues and Institutions

Police and Policing
In a recent speech to chief constables and chairs of police authorities the Home Secretary described the police service as ‘ a can-do organisation’. The description is an accurate one. Chief constables are oriented towards doing rather than thinking carefully about and clarifying the ideas that inform their policies and actions. His description, however, could have the unintended consequence of sustaining a very undesirable situation in which the police do much but understand little about the ideas underpinning their actions.

From a presentation to the Commission

The values of community, citizenship, social inclusion and human rights, and the balance between cohesion and difference and between equality and diversity, discussed in Chapters 2–7, can all be either sustained or undermined by the way in which a country arranges and runs its criminal justice system.

In the context of this report, the system comes under the microscope in two particularly sensitive ways. On the one hand, it must deal with racist crime with the utmost vigour; on the other, it must engage in its own processes with the utmost professionalism and fairness, and with the minimum of damage to wider relationships and public trust.

This chapter discusses the impact of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry on the police service, notes criticisms of many forces made by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, and makes practical recommendations about the use of discretionary powers, the need for a better complaints system and better training, and the need to reduce deaths in custody.

The Wider Criminal Justice System
Notoriously, more young black men in the USA now go to prison than go to college, and in some cities the percentage of young black men under criminal justice system control has reached levels of 40 per cent. What has happened is not that crime has disappeared from the streets of America but that a whole generation of young black men has become inured to the experience of imprisonment. Although UK penal policy is not (yet?) as draconian as that of the US, and although the figures of black male imprisonment are not so massive, some of the same trends are apparent here. There has been the same tendency to substitute penal policy for social policy …

From a presentation to the Commission

There is a growing body of data (albeit collected almost exclusively in England and Wales – the British Crime Survey, despite its name, does not cover Scotland) which shows that black and Irish people are differentially treated at all stages of the criminal justice process, and that they are disproportionately likely to be imprisoned.

This chapter discusses the response of the criminal justice system to racist crime, considers the role and responsibilities of the prison service and the Crown Prosecution Service, notes that certain American approaches to penal policy currently being adopted in Britain are likely to have harmful effects, and discusses the likely impact, from the point of view of race equality and cultural diversity, of a range of new government measures and initiatives.

‘What’s wrong with you, miss? Why are you always smiling?’ the students at my black-majority school ask me. ‘I smile because I see you,’ is my habitual reply. But what I want to say is something like this:

‘I smile to salute you, to salute all the learners here, who continue to hold tight to their dignity and self-belief in the endless and ugly face of racism, rejection and poverty. I smile to salute our teachers who work more hours than there are, before and after school, in holidays and at weekends, to struggle beside our students to try, through mentoring, after school classes, residential courses, to restore the balance and open the doors in a closed and unbalanced world.’ That’s what I hope they hear in my smile.

But even that ignores the poignancy of their question, their subtext that says a smile – respect, recognition, affirmation – is so unexpected as to be a symptom of illness, of deviance, their message that announces that there is nothing to smile about.

From a correspondent in London

A country’s education system is a gateway to employment and to participation in political, social and cultural affairs. Also, it equips children and young people – or fails to equip them – with the essential understandings, skills and values which they need to play a substantial role in the building and maintenance of Britain as a community of citizens and a community of communities.

England, Scotland and Wales have different educational systems and curricula, but in each there are individuals and institutions engaged in fine work in relation to race equality and cultural diversity. Also, however, there is a lack of commitment and leadership on these issues from the respective government authorities.

Monitoring by ethnicity is inadequate or non-existent; there are substantial inequalities affecting in particular pupils and students from African-Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities; there is insufficient official guidance on the content of the curriculum; teacher training – both initial and in-service – needs to be improved; and the inspection systems are insufficiently rigorous and authoritative.

Arts, Media and Sport
Acts of racism, racial violence, racial prejudice and abuse do not exist in a vacuum. They are not isolated incidents or individual acts, removed from the cultural fabric of our lives. Notions of cultural value, belonging and worth are defined and fixed by the decisions we make about what is or is not our culture, and how we are represented (or not) by cultural institutions.

From a presentation to the Commission

The cultural fabric of a society expresses ideas of who ‘we’ are. To the extent that it is inclusive it gives all people a sense of belonging, and makes a strong stand against racism. Cultural fabric has many strands, but of particular importance are the performing, visual and literary arts, the print and electronic media, and a wide range of representative and recreational sport.

This chapter discusses issues of programming, staffing, bias and representation in the arts and media, and in sport at all levels. It cites specific examples of good practice, including an exhibit at the Royal Maritime Museum at Greenwich, the play The Colour of Justice, a book of oral history, a number of anti-racism projects in professional football, and the constructive way in which one newspaper responded to a complaint about bias.

But the overall message of the chapter, in the words of a specialist who gave evidence to the Commission, is that ‘the arts and media sectors do not see any implications for themselves in the Macpherson report’, for they do not recognise that institutional racism needs urgently to be addressed within their own domains.

Health and Welfare
Mainstream British people seem to believe that non-English speakers and different dress codes are inferior. In mainstream health and social services there are little or no provisions for language interpreting. Not only children, but also cleaners are often used for interpreting in serious matters of health even in major hospitals ...

One hospital was rather surprised when I sent them an invoice following a six-hour interpreting session on a serious case involving complicated diagnosis and treatment. They said they never paid for interpreting as they have no budget for such things. When I asked how they managed with translations, ‘ we use relatives’ was the reply. ‘And if there are no relatives?’ I enquired. ‘We use cleaners,’ said the head nurse.

Letter from a Somali organisation, London

A recurring theme throughout the report is that public bodies should treat people both equally and differently. The need for both equal and different treatment is seen particularly clearly in services providing health and social care.

This chapter reviews the twin roles of the NHS as (a) a provider of services and (b) an employer. The roles are linked in a striking paradox. On the one hand the NHS depends, and for several decades has depended, on the contributions of Asian, black and Irish doctors, nurses, managers and ancillary staff.

At the same time patterns of mortality and morbidity are more serious in Asian, black and Irish communities than in the population as a whole, and there is much insensitivity in the NHS to the distinctive experiences, situations and requirements of these communities.

A lot of employment places recognise equal opportunities, but it’s like just a procedure thing … it’s not really put forward in action.

We came here because they brought us over here to do the jobs that they didn’t want to do and now that we’ve made something of our life they’re cursing us for it. I can’t understand that. They want us to go back because they’ve finished with us … We’re not going to accept that, we’re going to make ourselves better. We’re going to strive to make our community better than what it is already. And we’re always going to do that.

If your name’s Patel and they’ve got Harvey Wrinkleworth-Smith, Harvey’s a couple of steps ahead of Patel. Even if Patel has got greater qualifications. So there it is. The old school network.

From transcripts of the focus group research

Broadly, in the context of this report, there are two large tasks to be undertaken: (a) to reduce unemployment and underemployment for all those who are affected; (b) to eliminate glass ceilings.

The tasks have practical implications for the government at national, regional and local levels; for employers in the public, private and voluntary sectors; for unions and professional associations; and for those who provide financial and advisory support to new business enterprises.

This chapter discusses practical implications, focusing in particular on the role of government, and stresses that there is substantial diversity among and within different communities, and that the labour market itself has changed substantially over the last 20 years.

Immigration and Asylum
I’m afraid that it will, alas, be necessary to make elementary points about the benefits of immigration, given that the atmosphere is once again being poisoned by deeply prejudicial statements about refugees and asylum seekers, taken up first in the media and now (to their shame) by politicians. I understand how tedious it is to have to restate arguments with which all of us are familiar. But since there is currently a vacuum of leadership on this issue, an authoritative statement is all the more necessary.

From a letter to the Commission, April 2000

Postwar British history is littered with legislation and regulations passed swiftly, and by both major political parties, to counter perceived ‘floods’ of immigrants and, latterly, asylum-seekers.

There are two problems with this approach. First, the sense of panic the issue instils, and the subjectivity with which it is discussed, lead to bad law which does not work even in its own terms, giving rise to challenges both in UK courts and among international human rights bodies.

Second, and even more seriously from the point of view of this report, it undermines Britain’s development as a community of communities.

This chapter reviews and criticises immigration and asylum policy over the years and makes several recommendations for short- and longer-term action.

Politics and Representation
The proportion of ethnic minority electors as compared to the total electorate is tiny. But so is the thumb as a physical proportion of your body. But try picking up your pen without the aid of your thumb. It is its strategic position that gives it a disproportionate importance.

From a paper submitted to the Commission

If Britain is to flourish as a community of citizens and communities (Chapter 4), its political leaders will lead, not pander to, public opinion on issues relating to race and diversity. Their legitimate desires to maximise their own electoral support and to diminish the attractions of their opponents will never involve playing the race card, either openly or covertly.

Further, black and Asian people will be more fully involved than at present in the party political system at local and national levels, both as elected representatives and as party activists, as well as fully involved in unelected bodies. Such bodies are representative in the sense of exhibiting a spectrum of perspective and experience.

Both elected and unelected bodies will be strenuously and explicitly concerned with the themes discussed in this report.

Religion and Belief
There was a newspaper ... article about racism. It asked a hundred white people about it – and most hated was Asians, Muslims ... That makes me realise I’m walking around now and people are looking at me in a different way.

From focus group research, autumn 1999

… There is a tendency in western democracies to believe that secular society provides the best public space for equality and tolerance … [but] secular society tends to push religion … to the margins of public space and into the private sphere. Islamophobia and antisemitism merge with a more widespread rejection of religion which runs through a significant part of ‘tolerant’ society, including the educated middle class and the progressive media.

From a letter to the Commission from a Christian organisation, 1998

Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam provides the European Union with a legal basis for action against discrimination based on, among other grounds, racial or ethnic origin and religion or belief. In Britain many public bodies have declared formally that, in addition to their obligations under the Race Relations Act 1976, they will not discriminate on grounds of religion. At present, however, such discrimination is not unlawful.

This chapter considers the importance of religious identities and organisations in modern society; the practical and theoretical problems of introducing laws against discrimination on grounds of religion or belief; whether the Church of England should be disestablished; whether a range of religions and beliefs should be represented in public life; how to balance action against discrimination with the need for beliefs of all kinds to be challenged and interrogated; and ground rules for handling profound differences and disagreements between and within communities.

Help us end racism

As an independently funded charity we rely on the support of generous individuals to continue our work.