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Structural racism and the future for race equality

Alba Kapoor Guest
Published date
In recent months, the Runnymede Trust has been sounding the alarm about the situation facing Britain’s Black and ethnic minority communities.

Indeed, we find ourselves in the midst of a legislative agenda set to pose the most significant and sustained threat to the rights of ethnic minority people in recent memory.

The Queen’s Speech that took place earlier this month rubber stamped plans to introduce a new ‘Bill of Rights’ to replace the Human Rights Act, which will add further barriers to justice and limit the powers of Black and ethnic minority groups to enforce their rights when they are violated. It also includes the introduction of new protest powers which will act as an extension to the draconian stifling of dissenting voices entailed in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.

These new plans come alongside the Nationality and Borders Act described by leading human rights lawyers as the “biggest legal assault on refugee law in the UK”, which includes strengthened citizenship deprivation laws that will disproportionately impact ethnic minority communities.

On top of this, the local elections that took place up and down the country last week were the last in which there was no requirement to show your ID at the ballot box. The Elections Act, recently passed in Parliament, will further marginalise ethnic minority voters who are already less likely to have their voices heard in our democracy.

It certainly is a grim picture. But the response to our concerns? A crackdown on civil society voices and a sustained attack on organisations in the race equality sector daring to speak out about structural racism.

A recent survey by the Sheila Mckechnie Foundation found that more than three quarters of charities said they felt politicians were hostile to civil society campaigning, with the majority of charities concerned that attacks by politicians and the media stifled their ability to speak out.

Alongside this, race equality stands at the centre of the weaponisation of language of ‘impartiality’ and ‘balance’ to suppress ongoing work seeking to dismantle structural racism. This has spread from the repeated attack on civil society organisations as ‘politically partial’ for speaking about race, to the introduction of new guidelines for teachers in schools - which bans teachers from ‘politicising’ the teaching of empire and campaigns for racial justice.

The Challenge of Structural Racism

Daring to say that racism is part of the structures of our society, that it is built into the fabrics of our institutions, continues to be seen as a threat to those fighting against structural change. As Sanjiv Lingayah puts it, structural racism is rejected by the elites because of the “scope and scale of change that it demands.” Indeed, “it demands a fundamental rethink about how we organise and distribute society’s resources, benefits and sanctions.” This is because recognising the existence of structural racism means acknowledging that outcomes at school influence outcomes at work, that inequalities in housing have an impact on health and that transformative change is needed to end these disparities.

Collectively, we are facing huge and difficult challenges - to our work and to articulating the urgency of dismantling structural racism. Our priority at this moment must be building a strong movement, capable of withstanding the pressures that we are confronting. This means ensuring that we have the infrastructure for the organisations, communities, activists, campaigners, and trade union representatives doing vital work to support ethnic minority families and workers as the cost of living crisis bites.

It also means supporting those who are doing work to advance race equality every day. This includes the students petitioning their teachers to teach race, migration and empire in the classroom, the teachers doing incredible work to make that happen and the countless people campaigning for change on the grassroots level.

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