The colour of one’s skin unfortunately still has a big effect on how people are treated. This needs insight and introspection in order to change
It is 70 years since the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury marked the beginning of a postwar migration to Britain from its former colonies. The complex diaspora created by immigration since then is widely recognised to have fundamentally altered society in a myriad of positive ways. This makes the findings of our poll today, which sampled 1,000 people from ethnic minority backgrounds, all the more uncomfortable to read. The inequalities experienced by ethnic minorities and the persistence of racism in daily life are shocking. More than four out of 10 thought they had been overlooked for promotion at work, more than a third had been abused in the last year and two-thirds believed this country had a problem with racism.
These attitudes, behaviours and actions can form the bedrock for bigotry. The most vicious manifestations of racism are overt and rightly condemned. The footage last week of a Syrian refugee being physically bullied sparked revulsion. Yet widespread discrimination is not necessarily a sign of widespread conscious prejudice. Companies and individuals who value diversity react with dismay when they discover they are unconsciously creating a hostile, rather than a nurturing, environment for difference.
The upset is compounded because many think racial discrimination rarely surfaces and when it does it serves only to remind us of a time when society was less at ease with itself. Yet our survey reveals that racial bias exists amid good intentions.
That the impact of race could be so large that white job applicants are found to be 74% more likely to have success in job applications than those from ethnic minorities with identical CVs is shocking for those who think racial prejudice is in decline. But for BAME people who notice the tense expressions or clutched handbags in their everyday interactions with whites, this finding is of little surprise. This year marks half a century since a landmark Race Relations Act was passed. It put in law an important principle: that the state accepted ethnic minorities were experiencing discrimination, and this was wrong, and remedies would be sought. Crucially the 1968 act included housing and employment within its scope.
Since then Britain has taken these ideas further. The paradox is BAME communities often have equality in principle, yet they suffer stigmatisation every day. The Guardian poll attempts to quantify a qualitative experience of being socially isolated: being left out of a social event at work; refused entrance to a restaurant; or being subtly mocked. Social environment doesn’t determine one’s ethnicity; it does, however, determine its significance. Some academic studies suggest publicity that provided evidence of racial bias is enough to bring about meaningful change. The government’s race disparity audit into how ethnic minorities are treated across public services is a step forward. There is a parallel in the behaviour that triggered the #MeToo movement. Some men who practised sexual harassment and abuse say they did not want to, but acted in line with norms they did not endorse. It is the norms that need changing, so that they prohibit rather than permit biased behaviour. This means taking a long, hard look at ourselves as a nation to see how we end up discriminating when we don’t mean to.
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