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Labour’s ‘Victory’ over Racism: A Premature Pat on the Back?

January 14, 2010

Today, in an unusually proud statement by Communities Secretary John Denham, Labour proclaimed its near victory over racism, making the point that the United Kingdom not enjoys the most culturally-aware and accepting population ever seen on the island. The statement, coupled with the release of a report entitled “Tackling race inequality: A statement on race” was intended to not only highlight the multitude of efforts by Labour MPs over the years to recognised these problems” and “legislate against racism” but also as a way to erode away the racist platform upon which UK’s nationalist parties stand, particularly the BNP.

However, this pat on the back might be a little premature. Although the UK is more exposed on a wider-scale to some Caribbean, African, and South Asian cultures, incidents of ethnic violence grew in the 1990s – between 1994 and 1998 there were around 5000 reported racist incidents in the Metropolitan police area. Compare that to over 23,000 between 1999 and 2000 (Institute of Race Relations). Additionally, racist terms continue to be employed by youth as well as adults in the cities, to refer to those of immigrant backgrounds especially South Asian and East Asian descent. Take into account as well that less than 2% of the population in London is of East Asian descent (UK ethnicity cards denote either ‘Chinese’ or ‘other’ for East Asians) and NOT a new immigrant, which means exposure to East Asian cultures and peoples is extremely low.

Mr. Denham was making the case that in the UK today, class is the first impediment to education, job acquisition or housing, not race. The steps that Labour have encouraged to bring the UK system to this place are good steps, but they are only preliminary. Additionally, attitudes towards different cultures in the cities centers are in stark contrast to those in the countryside (as is true of most countries). More needs to be done and the small steps over the past few years cannot create a sense of complacency in the issue. But if Labour is going to the lengths it is in to push the publication of this new paper to the detriment of the BNP, it seems action is on the minds of the government, and hopefully it stays there.

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