Time to ‘move on’ from ‘race’?

This February, The Policy Press is publishing Understanding ‘race’ and ethnicity , a much-needed textbook combining historical and theoretical approaches to the issue of ‘race’ and ethnicity within welfare provision. In this blog post, co-editor Gary Craig questions whether it really is time to ‘move on’ from ‘race’ in the context of the recent outcome of the Stephen Lawrence trial:

“It’s time to move on from ‘race’. Or so argued John Denham, outgoing Home Office Minister in 2010. His thoughts were echoed by the incoming Prime Minister who argued that multiculturalism was dead – i.e. that there was no need to expect any adjustments from the white British population to the increasing diversity of the UK population (likely to include roughly a 16% minority population when the results of the 2011 census are published). And by the current Home Secretary, Theresa May, who believes that ‘equality is a dirty word’.

None of this will give comfort to those who battled long and hard for 18 years to see justice done in the Stephen Lawrence trial. Although the Lawrence family and those close to them argued that the outcome of the trial – with two men convicted of Stephen’s murder from a gang of six after two failed trials and years of botched investigations – could only be regarded as a cause of partial satisfaction, many public figures rushed to argue that this ‘proved’ that justice in the case of racism was working well.

There is another story. Despite the provisions of the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, which incorporated many of the findings of the MacPherson Inquiry into Stephen’s death, many public agencies have still failed to implement effective race equality provisions, even to the point where they barely engage in the most basic ethnic monitoring. Private agencies of course are not covered by the legislation and can engage in the most horrendous abuse of minorities, as a series of reports on forced labour are beginning to show.

Since Stephen’s death there have been around 100 racialised murders including, it appears, the death of the Indian student in Salford earlier this month whilst the Lawrence trial was coming to an end. And for minorities living in rural areas, the position is deteriorating. Although the number of racist incidents has begun to decrease slowly in many urban-based police forces, this is not the case in many rural forces. In North Yorkshire, for example, the number of racist incidents has increased by 25% over the past three years. Because of the remote nature of the county and the scattered settlement pattern of the minority population, this is likely to be an understatement of the true picture. A few years ago, a study of students entering the medical school found that 25% of those of ethnic minority origin had either witnessed or experienced racist abuse or assault. And it remains the case that Black and Asian young people are disproportionately – sometimes by a factor of ten – more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than young white people.

Politicians and those close to them may feel it is time to ‘move on’ from ‘race’: but the experience of most minorities is that if we ‘move on’ from ‘race’, they will be left further behind in the struggle for equality.”

Gary Craig is co-editor of the forthcoming book, Understanding ‘race’ and ethnicity, also edited by Karl Atkin, Sangeeta Chattoo and Ronny Flynn and published by Policy Press in February. You can order your copy now.

We’d love to know what you think – you can leave a comment using the button at the top of this blogpost.

2 Responses to “Time to ‘move on’ from ‘race’?”


  1. 1 shamsher April 9, 2013 at 10:39 am

    I agree with the comments that there is still a long way to go in relation to tackling racism and that the RRAA2000 provisions have mainly been ignored by many public bodies. What I also think is needed is a calibration of where we are with anti discriminatory practice. I think its time to consider how we ‘frame’ the equalities debate in a more meaningful and inclusive way. Thats where i think the challenges really are.

  2. 2 Matt Scott April 9, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Time in fact, to move on from a venal self serving political culture that blames the victims of oppression whilst rewarding failed bankers with bail outs – a welfare state for the rich and a demonisation of the poor a la Philpots. Whilst race as a category as historical / biological racist overtones the legacy of oppression with regard to ethnicity demands action; and such action of a kind that is and would be uncomfortable for established elites – our market state has a lot to lose, hence it would much rather move the debate on and away from such a focus and pretend we are all in it together


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