From Macpherson to the rise of the BNP: Race Today?

Sunday 1 November, 12.30pm until 1.30pm, Student Union Lunchtime Debates

It is 10 years since the 1999 Macpherson Report in response to the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Equalities and Human Rights Commission Chief Trevor Phillips has said the Metropolitan Police is no longer ‘institutionally racist’ and that Britain is ‘by far the best place in Europe to live if you are not white’. There certainly seems to be less everyday racist violence and abuse now than there was 10 years ago. The Macpherson Report led to an explosion of ‘official anti-racism’, codes of conduct and race awareness training throughout British institutions. People can now be charged with ‘racially aggravated’ offences; race-hate is illegal; multiculturalism is on the school curriculum. More informally, those who exhibit what Macpherson called ‘unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping’ – whether they are Big Brother contestants, politicians, or TV presenters – are often hounded out of public life.

Yet many still worry that racism is a growing problem. The recent mini-upsurge of support for the far-right British National Party, and the election of two BNP MEPs, has caused concern, especially in the context of the recession. In July, the Home Affairs Committee contradicted Phillips by accusing the Met of continued ‘institutional racism’. Black people are even more likely to be stopped and searched by police today than in 1999, while 30% of black men are on the National DNA Database compared with about 10% of white men. Government ministers and teachers unions have launched campaigns against an alleged increase in racist bullying in schools, especially of Muslim children. Trevor Phillips himself argued Barack Obama would never have been elected prime minister in this country because of ‘institutional racism’ in the Labour Party.

Is racism on the rise and taking new forms, or is it an exaggerated bogeyman? Is the solution to prejudice and inequality legislative, is it cultural, or is it individual? If racism really is ‘unwitting’, then might we all unknowingly be (in Macpherson’s word) ‘infected’ by the disease? Is ‘racial awareness’ counterproductive?

Karen Chouhan
race equality consultant; founder and director, Equanomics-UK; founder member and board director, 1990 Trust Roots Research Centre

Kenan Malik
writer and broadcaster; author, The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics and From Fatwa to Jihad

Jack Tan
president, Students' Union, Royal College of Art

Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake

Produced by
Dr Shirley Dent communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake
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