Contrary to the Lawrence inquiry, blacks and whites want to live in a society less aware of race, not moreby Michael Ignatieff / April 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Published in April 1999 issue of Prospect Magazine
For days no one could talk of anything else. The papers were full of editorials saying “Never again.” The Lawrence inquiry was, we were told, a turning point in attitudes towards race in Britain. Now everything has gone quiet. The cuttings are already yellowing. William Macpherson, chairman of the inquiry, has returned to his castle in Scotland. Mr and Mrs Lawrence have gone their separate ways. Stephen Lawrence’s killers are still free.
As with the Scarman report after Brixton, we seem unable to come to any awareness of these issues without a convulsion of guilt-ridden confusion. What is most dismaying, looking back on Lawrence, is that it became a story about just one thing-race. But the central issue was not race, it was justice. Why were we talking about institutionalised racism, when the issue was institutionalised incompetence? Why were we talking about “race awareness,” when the issue was equal justice before the law?
Everyone talked as if the Lawrence family and a larger fiction called “the black community” had been “let down.” The “black community” is no more of a reality than the “white community.” To suppose this is to believe that skin trumps all other identities, that we are only our surfaces. In reality the Lawrence family were denied justice, and because they were denied justice, all of us have good reason to feel anger and shame that we cared so little about institutions which operate in our name.