Munira Mirza introduces a special feature on the failings of multiculturalist policies todayby Munira Mirza / September 22, 2010 / Leave a comment
Munira Mirza outside City Hall, where she works as an adviser: “Race is no longer the significant disadvantage it is often portrayed to be”
Other articles in Prospect’s special feature on the failings of multiculturalism today:
Lindsay Johns on dead white men
Tony Sewell on education
Swaran Singh on psychiatry
Sonya Dyer on the arts
Munira Mirza on her hometown of Oldham
Trevor Phillips, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), believes the term “institutional racism” is no longer relevant in Britain. In a speech last year, he stated: “Our nation is changing dramatically. We are becoming more diverse… The trend is clear: the younger you are, the less prejudiced you are.”
The reaction was fierce. The Guardian journalist Joseph Harker wrote angrily: “With levels of black disadvantage seemingly more entrenched than ever, poverty levels high, massive numbers of black boys in jail… now is not the time to risk taking our foot off the pedal. Institutional racism has not gone away, and we can’t afford to let people think that it has.” Phillips’s speech also contributed to the resignation of three EHRC board members.
How is it possible that such divergent views of racism co-exist? On the one hand, there is a real sense that things have improved and that belonging to an ethnic minority no longer means you are stuck at the bottom of the ladder. Yet anti-racist activists point to depressing statistics, such as an apparent rise in racial incidents, and use terms like “institutional racism” to claim that prejudice is pervasive and far more needs to be done. In the US, a similar tension exists. Barack Obama may have become the first black president, but this, it is said, allows many to remain in denial about the true extent of racism.
At the start of the 21st century, Britain is caught in a confusing riptide of anxiety. Of course racism still exists, but things have improved to a point where many ethnic minority Britons do not experience it as a regular feature in their lives. The prejudice and ignorance which older generations encountered after arriving in this country has declined over time and young people today are more comfortable with diversity. To take one example, mixed marriages are increasingly common and widely accepted. But as a society we seem unable to accept this decline in racism for fear of underestimating the problem.…