Guest Blog: Peaks and troughs of addressing racism (while the problem continues)

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By Dr Karamat Iqbal

Recently the journalist Gary Younge reminded us that racism is a system of oppression rooted in history, politics, economics and culture. Our understanding of it should not be reduced to a litany of gaffes and flubs (unless of course they are by people who run our country). I fully agree and have said so on a number of occasions. However this does not mean the personal racist abuse and attacks are any the less important.

During my teens I might have gone to watch football at the nearby stadium to where we lived but we were made aware that this might be dangerous. This was the 1970s when match days was something we visible minorities dreaded and stayed out of the way of crowds of white fans. I am glad to say the situation has improved somewhat, thanks, in part, to work of bodies such as SRTRC. Football grounds are far safer and inclusive.

Our response to, understanding of, racism changes according to the national discussion and prioritisation. I have been an education and equalities practitioner for over 40 years. I have seen the publication of the Scarman, Rampton and Swan reports that placed multicultural and antiracist education on the national agenda. But then I also remember the Secretary of State for Education, Keith Joseph, MP, dissing the Swan Report on the day of its publication. He told us that race and education about it and against racism was not a priority.

With New Labour we did see addressing racism becoming a priority for a short period. The main trigger for this was the tragic and racist murder of Stephen Lawrence and the subsequent publication of the Macpherson Report. This required schools to monitor racist incidents and take appropriate action.

Race was then de-prioritised by the Coalition government. I was informed by the Department for Education that they were now taking a colour-blind approach where everyone was assumed to be the same. Of course, experience tells us that just by making such an assumption has never made it a reality.

We know when addressing racism and promoting race equality are taken off the agenda people then go back to relying on their common sense, involving prejudice and stereotypes based on ignorance. Recent examples of this involve Amber Rudd using the term 'coloured' to describe the black MP Dianne Abbott and Angela Smith, MP, describing black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds as having a “funny tinge”. She has since apologised for this.

Probably the worse example of ignorance was the discussion amongst Young Conservatives about whether the'P Word' was an abusive term. In the context of football recently Millwall fans were using the P word as part of a chant against the opposition fans.

A few years ago I witnessed and experienced abuse at the hands of my senior education colleagues. We worked for the fictional local authority, Rummidgeham, which had more than half of its children from an ethnic minority background. They should have known better, especially as they had been trained about it and also because it was their job to advise ethnically diverse schools.

After some 6 years of thinking about it and processing the terrible experience I decided to write about it: a biography of the word P***. One thing for sure, I explain that the P word is indeed an abusive term and should not be used.