Monday, 14 January 2013

Dr Martin Luther King: Have we achieved the dream of race equality in Britain?

January 15th is the birthday of one of the most celebrated human rights icons the world has ever seen, activist, academic, politician, and Christian religious leader, Dr Martin Luther King.  His commitment and activism in the cause of justice remains an inspiration to billions of people across the globe.
Today in the United States and celebrated across the world people will be remembering that most unique gift of love and justice, bequeathed to the world by African Americans who led the struggle for race equality in Jim Crow apartheid America.
That unique gift, paid for by the blood of many who were brutally murdered, many in acts of bravery and self-sacrifice, seeded the struggle for civil rights and justice across the world.
The US civil rights struggle has, over time, became the moral standard against which all subsequent struggles for freedom and justice are judged. From Native American Indians to the sweltering heat of the Barrios, to the raw visceral struggle of the Palestinian people against the apartheid of Israel, Dr King and the international song of freedom “We Shall Overcome” resounds from the mouths of the oppressed everywhere.
For Dr King, the struggle against racism could not be divorced from the struggle for economic justice. In the later years of his short life, he began to make the connections between racism, poverty, and war, social and economic injustice at home, in the US and throughout the world.
It is without doubt that the US civil rights struggle and Dr King in particular made an invaluable and enduring contribution to the cause of international human rights, peace and justice.

MLK50: Equality in Our Lifetime.

 August 28th 1963 saw the largest civil rights demonstration ever in American political history. The iconic March on Washington for Jobs and Justice led by Dr Martin Luther King saw the consolidation of what became a global campaign against American Jim Crow segregation and racism take shape. It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Dr King delivered what is now considered to be one of the greatest public articulations of human rights of all time, known today as Dr King’s “I have a dream” speech.
That world famous speech came to epitomise a vision of a world where skin colour matters less than the colour of your eyes. A heady intoxicating vision of a world where racism is confined to the murky dustbins of history.
Who could not be moved by the prophetic Christian radicalism of Dr King’s speech? That dream, of a post racist world, continues to this day and Dr King became a global icon for human rights, peace and justice. The speech is as powerful today as it was in 1963. This year, 2013, is the 50th anniversary of that most momentous event in history.
In honour of this historic occasion, Black Activists Against Cuts (BARAC) UK has planned to make 2013 a year of celebration, reflection, and opportunity to assess just how far the vision of Dr King’s dream of a world without racism is a reality today. In remembrance of that historic occasion, we have declared 2013 the year of MLK50: Equality In Our Lifetime providing an opportunity for a national conversation about the state of race equality in Britain.
On 21st January 2013 we will be launching the year long celebration and campaign on this important theme on Dr Martin Luther King Day at 7pm at the House of Commons, Portcullis House Victoria Embankment in the Betty Boothroyd Room.
We here in the UK are at a critical stage of our struggle for equality and justice. The harsh economic effects of austerity have led to a serious increase in the economic effects of racism on black communities.
Unemployment, poverty, economic exclusion, racism in the workplace, racism in sport, racial attacks, stop and search, deaths in police  custody are all on the increase threatening to consign future generations to a Britain where the debilitating effects of racism will be much worse than it is today.
That reality ultimately leads us to the critical and in some sense perpetual question that defined the US struggle for civil rights, how long? How long will it take to achieve the goal of true race equality in the UK?

Race equality in Britain today.

In 2010, Operation Black Vote organized a huge election rally “Black Britain Decides”, where for the first time all major political figures from all the major parties attended. The rally made history, never before had an election rally been held for Black communities that had been accorded such importance by all the political parties.

The event broke new ground and the assembled audience was addressed by a phalanx of some of the biggest names in British politics all of whom were unsurprisingly evangelical about race equality.
With over 1500 people in attendance, this was the largest election hustings in the UK during the 2010 general election. The prospect of a tight election in the offing resulted in mainstream parties,  who historically dispatch minor political figures to such events, lining up some of their biggest hitters to attend in order to court the black vote.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the meeting of his personal commitment to prioritising race equality both within Government and the Liberal Democratic Party. He said:
“I want this election to mark the beginning by real change in Britain I don’t want to live in a society where a child’s life fortunes are still determined by the circumstances of their birth, where if you’re from an ethnic minority you’re still more likely to be out of work, more likely to be on low pay, more likely to be hassled by the police when you haven’t done anything wrong.”
He outlined three policy initiatives that he pledged to deliver in Government:

1.    An extra £2.5 billion spending on tackling disadvantage in schools.

2.     A crack down on race discrimination in the workplace through the introduction of blind job applications and statutory pay audits.

3.    End the systematic abuse of civil rights by;

ending the harvesting of black men’s DNA on the national DNA database; reforming Counter Terrorism legislation that place entire communities under suspicion.
Vince Cable told the meeting that having a Dad who was, I quote 'a white supremacist' and eventually marrying an Asian woman in the early 1970s and being the father in a ‘mixed race’ family, he was personally committed to tackling racism and discrimination. He lamented, as did Clegg, the failure and the stunning lack of progress made by his party on ensuring black representation. He said:
“I know there are still problems the worst thing I could possible do here is to be complacent, there are still problems, there is still discrimination which prevent people fulfilling their potential but my background gives me a sense of hope that we can deal with these problems”.
He went on;
“I want in conclusion to affirm my belief that we can overcome prejudice and discrimination and want to make it absolutely clear that I commit my party to that end and to make sure we’re properly represented with you as a part of it.”
Both Clegg and Cable committed to leading the debate about tackling racism in Government.
Tory George Osborne followed and told the meeting that both he and Cameron and his party were implacable opponents of racism and in Government  he would be focused on removing the last remaining barriers of discrimination faced by black Britons.

He said;
“I think we can all agree on this: we have become a county that is fairer, more equal, more tolerant, less prejudiced and we should all be proud of that progress but while we have come a long way there still is a distance left to travel. Immense barriers remain; the question is how do we bring about that change?”
He added;
“Well first of all I believe we need a full frontal assault on the remaining discrimination and prejudice. It will not be tolerated by Conservative Government and we want every child, irrespective of their background or the colour of their skin to have the best possible chance in life and  there is a powerful leadership role that political parties could and should play.”
Fine words designed to entice black communities into believing that both the Tory and Lib Dems understood the black condition and were determined to tackle race discrimination
A lot has happened since that hustings. In 2013 and as part of the MLK50: Equality in Our Lifetime campaign we want to now assess what progress has been made and where we go from here.
Race has been dumped off the Government’s political agenda.
The Coalition Government has a stated committment to achieving the goal of an equal society, where all citizens, regardless of race or faith enjoy equal rights and protection against unfair discrimination under the law.
The Government’s Equality Strategy was published in December 2010.  Home Secretary Theresa May wrote in the forword,
“Equality is at the heart of this Coalition Government. It is fundamental to building a strong economy and a fair society; and in these difficult economic times equality is even more important. As we rebuild our economy, it is essential that we make sure we benefit from the talents of everyone in the UK. As we take the difficult decisions necessary to tackle the UK’s record deficit we are determined to do so fairly, protecting the most vulnerable and prioritising equal opportunities for all”.
In the concluding section the Government states:
“We will put equality at the heart of government, ensuring that we lead by example, embed equalities across all departments and work in partnership with business, community groups and wider society to deliver tangible results.”
The Coalition’s recent publication of their “midterm review” was an opportunity to assess, to what extent Cameron and Clegg had delivered on their key election promises and their Equality Strategy.
It’s important to ask the question whether this Government is meeting the needs of Britain’s increasingly diverse citizenship.  What is immediately noticeable is the fact that the specific issue of race equality is noticeable by its absence. More generally, on equalities, however the Government had this to say;

“Every citizen has the right to be treated with dignity and respect and to full equality under the law. Over the years huge advances have been made in protecting people against discrimination on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age. This Government is determined to continue that progress.”
The warm words of Cameron and Clegg gave way to the harsh and cold reality over the next two years. Contrast these words with the stark reality of this Coalition Government that has embarked on an ideological attack on the concept of multiculturalism and anti-racism.

2010 Budget

Chancellor Osborne’s October 2010 budget failed to meet the requirements of the Equalities Act. This was despite their apparent commitment to race equality when it came to the first big policy test.
Osborne, Clegg and Cable simply ignored the legislation that required them to produce an equality impact assessment identifying the potential for racial discrimination within their budget proposals. As a result of massive public sector cuts we have seen rates of racial inequality increase. Both adult and youth employment have seen huge increases as a result.
Black women and young people felt the initial brunt of spiralling rates of unemployment compounded with an increase in University fees and the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). As a result we have seen an increase in rates of poverty, unemployment and indebtedness. For a community where race discrimination had resulted in profound economic and political marginalisation and that was disproportionately affected by racism prior to the economic crash, austerity has simply magnified the intensity of racism and its effects.

Legal redress against discrimination.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) under the disastrous leadership of Trevor Phillips refused to prosecute the Government despite launching an inquiry which confirmed that the Government had deliberately and in a calculated way ignored the law of the land. Much good, this spineless act of political cowardice did for the Commission. In subsequent years, they saw their budget slashed, and late last year the Government removed the only active black commissioners.
Trevor Phillips
The EHRC is now utterly ineffective as a statutory regulator and the subsequent ethnic cleansing of Commissioners along with the appointment of a Tory crony as chair will see its eventual demise.
In effect, this leaves Britain’s black communities with very little recourse to statutory protection against racism in law. Failure of the EHRC, closure of local race equality councils, cuts to legal services such as Citizen Advice Bureaus and advice centres means that in effect, there is now no nationally accessible or affordable legal avenue for black people to challenge racism in Britain.
 Welfare reforms will also see thousands of black people targeted as part of the cuts programme. Housing benefit reforms have seen thousands of black families being forced to move as the Government attempts to reclaim the inner cities for the rich whilst pushing out both poor and black communities. Whilst refusing to tackle racism in recruitment black people will be doubly punished as they suffer the consequences of being demonised for being unemployed and then demonised for being poor.

Stephen Lawrence Macpherson Report.
The Coalition Government’s real agenda, apparent to all today, was to reverse the gains made on race equality as a result of the seminal Stephen Lawrence report.
Over the last two years, Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Cable dismantled the entire post Macpherson policy reporting forums and task forces set up to drive the implementation of the recommendations across Government. Alongside their cavalier disregard of the Equality Act the message that went out to Government departments, statutory agencies and local government was clear and unambiguous: “We don’t care about race equality”.
Unbelievably there is no real national policy consultation with black communities. The Coalition Government abolished a dedicated funding stream for work on race equality and dismissed all the black and ethnic minority organisations from a race equality policy forum. In addition, the Government also issued guidance to departments and local government that specific funding for distinct ethnic or cultural groups was encouraging separatism, bringing to an end targeted funding for deprived ethnic groups. The mere mention of the word racism today is seen as divisive.
Racist and religious attacks are increasing and history teaches us that periods of economic decline always see an increase in racism. As this economic crisis deepens so the re-emergence of racism is blindingly obvious.
Suspicious deaths of black men in police custody saw a massive increase throughout 2010 – 2011 alongside large increases in the rates of stop and search andthe riots that took place in August 2011 means we have seen black community police relations significantly deteriorate. The result of post-riot policing has seen huge increases in the number of black youth now in British jails. We have more black young people in jail than in university.
Despite some progress in recruiting black officers to the police service we have seen those gains reversed as more black officers leave the force than join. That’s a net loss of black officers as a result of racism, and cuts to the policing budgets halting recruitment.
Institutional racism within the Criminal Justice system is now unleashed as a result of the ideological opposition of the current Government to the principle of race equality.
 Both Doreen Lawrence and her son  Stuart Lawrence have publically condemned this Government’s vacuous commitment to race equality and these comments reflect the growing anger in black communities.
The rise of racism in football both on the terraces and on the pitch has shocked the nation. Whatever the public reaction the failed prosecution, by the Crown Prosecution Service, of Chelsea player John Terry illustrates the growing normalisation of racism within society at large and in the judiciary in particular. The legal definition of racist abuse now depends entirely on context.


The cuts to Britain’s budget have also led to economic tensions that are being exploited by this Government which is engaged in highlighting the issue of immigration as a means of distracting the public from targeting those responsible for the economic crisis: the bankers.
We can expect increasing attacks on black communities by the media and right wing politicians. Whether through the prism of “terrorism or criminality” the hijab or the hoodie: both will become demonised as the economic crisis continues to deepen.
The racist English Defence League’s violent demonisation of Islam is another illustration of increased rates of racism and religious bigotry.
EDL: fascists and racists


This Government has launched an economic war on working class communities and black communities in particular.
We are in danger of bequeathing to our children a society where racism is much worse than the society bequeathed to us by the Windrush generation.
They fought and sacrificed themselves in the spirit of Dr King to secure the future for their children and future generations.
We are in real danger of enduring a decade of increased rates of racism that will force future generations of black young people to decades of struggle against racism instead of achieving their innate potential.
That is why we are launching this important campaign.
The once mighty and radical black voluntary sector has been decimated and brought to its knees. The black church remains powerful but lacks coherence and clear leadership. The Trade Unions focus their efforts in fighting cuts and combating the extreme right wing rather than fighting institutional racism. The EHRC has lost its way and has become a fig leaf for Government racism. Racism is on the increase and economic injustice prevails everywhere as the Government punishes the poor and rewards the rich.
It’s time to make a change and commit ourselves to a course of action that can secure the future of our children. We posed a question at the beginning of this article asking how long before we achieve race equality in the UK?
The answer may surprise many analysing the rate of progress achieved over the last 50 years here in the UK and taking into account the current Government’s disastrous economic policy on black communities it will be 2513 before Dr King’s dream becomes a reality.
Now the real question to all concerned with race equality in Britain is can we wait that long? If not how do we achieve race equality in our lifetime? Come and join us as we assess our options and discuss what can be done to save the future of our communities.

Lee Jasper