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It is Time To Have a National Conversation on Race in Britain

It is Time To Have a National Conversation on Race in Britain

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Published by Alatenumo
This paper calls for a new approach towards improving race relations in the UK through the implementation of a national dialogue whereby the society engages in a frank, honest and respectful dialogue on race.
This paper calls for a new approach towards improving race relations in the UK through the implementation of a national dialogue whereby the society engages in a frank, honest and respectful dialogue on race.

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Published by: Alatenumo on Mar 21, 2013
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It is Time To Have a National Conversation on Race in Britain
 
by
Margareth Rungarara-Keenan and Ahmed Sule, CFAMarch 2012
 
It is Time To Have a National Conversation on Race in Britain
 
by
Margareth Rungarara-Keenan and Ahmed Sule, CFAMarch 2012
Introduction
Britain plays host to different people of different races from different parts of the world, thusmaking it one of the most diverse countries in the world. This diversity has sometimes resulted infrictions among the races, which have been expressed in a number of forms including racism, hatecrime, hate rhetoric’s and mutual distrust. Improving race relations in the UK has been achallenging issue, consequently, in the past couple of decades the government, the public, racerepresentatives, religious and civil societies have carried out a number of positive actions towardsimproving race relations. For instance a number of government officials have publicly condemnedracist actions, legislations have been put in place to improve race relations and a Commission for Racial Equality now replaced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is in place. A number of inquires to investigate racial incidents have been set up, in addition, the month of October every year is devoted to Black History Month. However, despite these efforts, racerelation in Britain is still in a deplorable state.The country eagerly anticipates the Queens Diamond Jubilee Anniversary celebrations and theOlympic Games, which take place later on in the year. These two forthcoming events have beendescribed as a good opportunity for UK to be united as a community. Perhaps the year 2012 couldalso be a starting point to adopt a new approach towards improving race relations in the UK. Inshort, it is time for Britain to have a National Conversation on Race. In this paper, we address thefollowing: Why a National Conversation on Race is necessary? Who should be included in thedialogue? How should the process be structured? What issues need to be discussed? What needsto be in place to ensure its success?
Why Britain Needs To Have a National Conversation on Race
Britain’s relationship with people from other races has evolved over the past centuries. Betweenthe 16
th
and 18
th
century, Britain was a key player in the trans Atlantic slave trade which involvedBritish slave traders invading parts of Africa and taking millions of Africans as slaves to Britishcolonies in North and South America. The 19
th
Century witnessed the establishment of the BritishRaj in India in which the UK dominated India. Britain also established colonies in other parts of theworld including Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Furthermore, British traders engaged ininternational trade with different people in other parts of the world, while a number of Brits chose tosettle in various parts of the British Empire. By the middle of the 20
th
century, the cracks in theBritish Empire began to appear after the independence of India and the Suez Canal crisis. By thelate 1960’s most countries under the sphere of the British Empire had gained independence andthe era of the British Empire was effectively over. After the collapse of the British Empire, Britain began to experience an influx of people of differentraces especially those from a number of its former colonies. Britain is now home to millions of people of different races. Some of these people are descendants of former immigrants and havenow gained British nationalities. Others are in Britain for other reasons such as studies, work or fleeing from autocratic regimes in their home countries. As a consequence, Britain has become amelting pot playing host to people from different races including Blacks, Arabs, Jews, Travellersand Asians.The legacy of Britain’s historical interaction with other races has contributed to mutual suspicionamong the races in present day UK. For instance, due to Britain’s colonial and trans-Atlanticslavery past, people of Asian and African descent living in Britain feel aggrieved about the ill-treatment accorded to their ancestors in addition to the negative legacy of Empire, which continuesto affect their countries of origin; whereas most people in Britain feel that these events happenedin the past and should be forgotten.
 
Furthermore, each race often operates within its own silo. Besides interacting in the offices andsometimes during sporting and music events, people of different races rarely engage with eachother. Most aspects of daily life in the UK are segregated, with people of different races living inseparate residential areas, attending separate educational centres and congregating at separateplaces of worship. As a consequence of these attitudes, there is an atmosphere of racial misalignment as peoplehave little understanding about other races, thereby resulting in mutual suspicion, stereotyping andracism. This environment of racial misalignment often results in the build up of racial tensions,which could remain suppressed for a long period of time. However, once in a while when thesetensions reach an intolerable level, it usually triggers a reaction, which explodes beyond control.For example, some of the riots of the eighties were triggered by high unemployment, poor housingand racism faced by the Black communities.With the current financial crisis entering its fourth year, racial tensions are once again at elevatedlevels and traces of these tensions can be seen in the rise of racism. Black footballers are beingracially abused on and off the field, anti-Semitism is on the ascendency, the far-right is on theincrease, a number of African and Asian men and women have been racially insulted on the trains,there have been a number of hate crimes – in one instance an Asian man was killed inManchester in a racially motivated attack by a white man, while in another case, a white boy wasbeaten up by a group of Asian boys. It is important to note that these incidents though reported inthe press are not isolated incidents and understate the true scale of the suppressed racial tensionsprevalent in the UK.Due to the sensitivity of race matters in the UK, racial matters are rarely discussed; on one hand,some fear that if they express their views regarding other races, they may be branded racists,while on the other hand, some fear that if they complain about being ill-treated because of their skin colour, they may be accused of being too sensitive, using the race card or having a victimmentality. This has resulted in people keeping their views on racial matters to themselves, therebyincreasing the racial tensions. A National Conversation on Race (NCR) would provide a forum for people to express their viewson racial matters and thereby bridge the racial divide by improving racial understanding among thedifferent races and promoting positive race relations in the UK.
Structure, Participants and Success Factors
In the USA, Bill Clinton the former US President called for a national dialogue on race in 1997.Furthermore, Eric Holder, the US Attorney General also called for a national dialogue on race.However, despite these calls, there was no effective structure in place and so consequently, thedialogue did not kick off on a national basis and therefore failed to have any meaningful impact or coverage in America. To avoid these mistakes, the British NCR should adopt a top-down andbottom-up approach. It should involve a cross-section of British society. To get the buy-in from theBritish public, it is important that the initiative is led at the beginning by the Prime Minister. Bychampioning the NCR, the Prime Minister would be sending a strong signal to the public that thegovernment is determined in seeking a lasting solution in improving race relations.The Prime Minister could start the NCR by publicly announcing the programme and directing theSecretary of State for Communities and Local Government to draw up a year-long programme tofacilitate a national dialogue on race throughout the country. After announcing the programme, thePrime Minister could commence the first National Conversation on Race by participating in atelevised town hall format dialogue with a selected number of citizens including but not limited tosenior religious leaders, business leaders, academics, media representatives, racerepresentatives and members of civil society.The NCR should also take place at the grassroot level, covering different parts of Britain.Furthermore, other members of the coalition government (including senior ministers) could visitdifferent parts of the country to discuss issues relating to race. A broad spectrum of participantsincluding people of various races such as Blacks, Arabs, Asians and Whites (including EasternEuropeans, Jews and Travellers) should be encouraged to participate in the dialogue. In addition,members of the far right parties such as the English Defence League and British National Partycould be included in these dialogues; however, the moderators of the dialogue would have toensure that participants do not constitute a disruptive influence during the conversation. Moreover,

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