ROTA blog

Social integration report: more questions than answers

Last week, the APPG on Social Integration led by Chukka Umunna MP, released its interim report, centred on 6 principles.  Some of the recommendations are welcome, but it left us with more questions than answers. More clarity is needed on what the recommendations would look like in practice.

Welcome news

The inquiry suggested government create a national integration strategy, which can be tailored to be responsive to local needs. This strategy should acknowledge that integration is a ‘two-way’ street – everyone is responsible for creating a cohesive society, the white majority included. This is a welcome break from the Casey Review, which faced widespread criticism for its undue focus on the South Asian and Muslim community.

Equally, the strategy should outline how antidiscrimination and equalities legislation can be used to aid integration and assess migrants’ access to employment. This is vital – our work has shown that employment opportunities and robust antidiscrimination laws are the most effective integration measures.

Show me the money

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), was given a lot of attention in the report, as an important lever to aid integration. We wholeheartedly support increased funding for ESOL classes that are flexible and can fit around unsociable working hours. However, ESOL classes faced a real terms cut by the Skills Funding Agency last year.  It seems unlikely that government would commit to funding compulsory ESOL for all new migrants via an Integration Impact Fund.

Similarly, it may not be viable for local authorities to have a duty to promote integration and draw up local integration plans. The repeated cuts and pressures on local authority budgets have been well documented, with many struggling to process the increase in hate crime. It is unclear how they would be able to deliver this strategy without increased funding.

Regional migration policy: a cause for concern

The proposed regionally-led migration approach is concerning. At face value it’s a good idea – giving local authorities control over migration could make them more responsive to local economic and social needs. In practice, the unintended consequences could be wide ranging. Without more detail, it leaves us with more questions than answers. Would a migrants’ visa be tied to one location only? Could they live in a neighbouring county and commute to work? Would they need permission to apply for a promotion in another part of the country? And aside from visa related bureaucracy, how would government ensure the system was not open to discriminatory abuse? The inquiry notes that areas with a low number of migrants tend to be more hostile towards migration, whilst the opposite is true of areas like London. It is likely a regional policy would encourage prejudice to triumph over logic, with immigration virtually banned in the areas that need it the most economically.

What’s missing?

Settled communities, both established ethnic minorities and the white majority, are barely mentioned in the report. Established ethnic minority communities still face significant inequalities in employment and education. It is essential that these groups are included in the proposed national integration strategy going forward. And if integration is really a two-way street, then the white majority should be given more space in the report too.  

Redefining Narratives on Integration

"ROTA has for many years been concerned about how to improve the life chances of black and minority ethnic populations in the process of settlement and adaptation into British society and how that society also adapts to ensure that their presence and experience is positive and that racism and discrimination is challenged. This process is sometimes called "integration" though this term is not one that everybody is happy with as it is often confused with assimilation and is seldom seen as a two way process where the host society also needs to change and adapt to increasing diversity by challenging its own racism and xenophobia. The recent publication of the Casey Review has brought all of these concerns about integration to the forefront.

As a volunteer blogger for ROTA Hanna Stephens attended a Runnymede seminar shortly after the Casey Review was published. The seminar challenged many of the assumptions in the review. Here is Hanna's blog:"

In December Dame Louise Casey released a report entitled, “The Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration”. The report has been criticised for its focus on Muslim communities and also in the ways in which it reproduces victim-blaming narratives of integration. It suggests that the responsibility is on new communities to integrate themselves into wider society and that difference and diversity must be corrected rather than accepted. This places an unfair burden on the already marginalised to adapt to the often strange and new UK environments, all the while dealing with the racism and xenophobia that the society they are supposed to become a part of is riddled with.

The Casey Review’s report summary alone raises many red flags. For example, the report highlights the fact that self-defining Christians, although still the vast majority, have declined from 70% to 59% whilst the Muslim population has risen by 72% between 2001 and 2011 (even though it still only represents around 5% of the population).  The particular statistical focus and comparison of Christian and Muslim populations is not apolitical. There is a long history of pitting these two religions against each other, with Christians representing the virtuous self and Muslims, the devious other. Ironically at the heart of this report is a framework that reinforces division rather than seeking to overcome it. Although one can argue that statistics represent factual truths, facts do not exist in a vacuum and the way in which they are framed and delivered should be reconsidered in the context of rising Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. The use of the 72% rise statistic also works to reinforce fears that the scale and pace of migration (specifically of those identifying as Muslim) is a key cause of societal inequality.  It points fingers towards migrants instead of towards any governmental failures. This victim-blaming persists throughout the report. It implies that greater ethnic diversity naturally equates to lower societal cohesion and legitimises fears that migrants are taking resources and that they represent a barrier to economic recovery.

How can we expect community cohesion when these narratives continuously define Muslims as “Other”? Later in the report the rise of racist violence and harassment is noted but this is not given the prominence it deserves. At the root of this violence is fear of the “Other”, something that this report leaves unaddressed and even fuels. When individuals move into new or strange environments a necessary first step may be to find a community they feel comfortable and safe in. If they can’t speak English, finding a community that speaks their language is also crucial to the practicalities of settling in successfully. This should not be taken as a sign that they don’t want to integrate, rather that they may not know how and given the rise in hate crimes following Brexit they may even feel unsafe in doing so.

It is therefore important that new ways of thinking about integration must emerge, making the Runnymede Conference on “Redefining Integration” particularly timely. What is needed  is a concept of integration that is inclusive of ethnic diversity and that places responsibility both on existing communities and newcomers to adapt to living with one another  The conference began with Laurence Lessard-Phillips from the Institute of Research into Superdiversity discussing the importance of understanding integration as a multi-dimensional concept. Instead of ethnic diversity being taken as a cause of disintegration, her framework identified neighbourhood diversity as one marker of integration. She also discussed how integration and exclusion were not so binary; for example, one could be spatially integrated in terms of living in a diverse neighbourhood yet be culturally and politically excluded due to language barriers and unemployment. Therefore solutions must be holistic and involve a diversity of approaches.

Silvia Galandini spoke on the importance of redefining integration as a two-way process, where newcomers make changes to adapt to their local environments whilst settled communities respect the different cultures, ways of life and perspectives that these newcomers bring. Under this definition, extremism, whether amongst newcomers or existing communities, cannot be tolerated. Mainstream media narratives often focus on the statements and actions of a small subsector of Islamic extremists.  However, what‘s largely missing are the barriers that racism and Islamophobia present towards working towards an integrated society. Overcoming this is no easy task. This was highlighted by Adam Elliot Cooper in an example he gave about the use of separate categories to label crimes committed by people of colour. He discussed how the use of “gang related” crimes for black men and “terrorist” for Muslim people shows how we constantly construct racialised individuals in separate categories. This highlights the insidious nature of racism and how the ways we think must be addressed to accommodate the inclusion of racialised people. Silvia also identified the need to address issues in different spatial scales. As issues that different communities may face are context-specific, it is important that they are addressed at the local level. However, structural barriers such as participation in the labour and housing market and education are barriers to integration that require a national focus. We therefore need a more concerted effort to unpick and challenge these narratives to change minds at the local community level as well as the national governmental level.

How does this materialise in practice? A recent Guardian article highlighted some case studies involving schools welcoming refugee and asylum seeking children that seem to fit the conference’s redefinition of integration. Spires Academy in Oxford assesses children on arrival to understand the support they need and places them on a six week programme of English language classes. The school also pairs newcomers with sixth form students who spend time with them at lunchtime and help them with their homework and English. Staff at The College of North West London receive training into issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers and the school has built partnerships with charities for mental health support for refugee and asylum seeker children. Both examples show a multi-dimensional approach to integration, whereby factors such as language, education, community belonging, cultural awareness and wellbeing support are considered. They also highlight the two-way process of integration, whereby newcomers must adapt to new school environments by learning English and attending classes as part of the national curriculum, but also how existing teachers and students must be aware of their needs. However, these case studies also highlight how strategies of meaningful integration tend to be led by local leaders with non-governmental support and how support from the government remains limited. 

Sustainably redefining integration involves reframing the narratives and attitudes that inform integration policies. We must move away from the toxic presupposition that immigrants are dangerous and are the cause of the decrease in social service provision as this type of thinking itself presents a barrier to integration. We also must challenge racial prejudices that make even those racialised minorities who are born and raised in Britain feel like outsiders. It is only then that marginalised people and communities will get the support needed, both at local and national level, to feel “integrated” into society. 

Researchers reveal that diversity is good for your health

It has become a commonplace idea that the more ethnic diversity there is in a society the more conflict and ill-feeling there is. Difference and diversity are seen as negative and dangerous rather than as positive and engaging. Actually this assumption is highly questionable, but of course the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express expend thousands of column inches a day to try to reinforce this assumption. Along with politicians they have ensured that the dominant prejudice of the age is the fear of the “Other”. This prejudice can then be used to swing votes and win referendums. It is one thing to promote racism, xenophobia, prejudice and cynicism as these newspapers do everyday. It is quite another (and a far more dangerous) thing to do to then justify this prejudice as being natural and inevitable - part of “commonsense”

Ironically this is what a number of liberal social scientists have sought to do in the last thirty years. The social scientist Robert Putnam’s views on this have literally become the predominant way of thinking in current sociology and politics. His views on social capital and social cohesion are now accepted almost without question and are now part of the” furniture”. They have become the dominant “paradigm” in social “science”. In fact his views, and much of the social science that has followed from them, is both highly ideological and highly questionable. Professor Paul Collier in his recent book Exodus is just the latest “scientist” to presume that increasing degrees of diversity must automatically threaten “mutual regard” between different ethnic groups. Recent research shows that Putnam’s paradigm (that more diversity in a given society automatically results in less trust and solidarity) is highly dubious and dangerous ideological nonsense. Putnam’s theories start from the notion that ordinary people “confronted by” different ethnic groups (the “Other”) automatically display fear and unease and then in Putnam’s words “hunker down”. Actually Putnam’s argument for this position is quite poor - unsurprisingly as he hardly even attempts to produce any evidence for it. He simply starts by taking it as a given fact without analysing whether it is actually the case.

Recent research in a variety of areas, (but particularly around “contact” theory in social psychology) leads to the opposite conclusion. Miles Hewstone shows that contact with different ethnic groups tends to increase rather than decrease levels of trust. Even more strongly than that, he shows that even without individual positive personal contact with members of other ethnic groups, if you live in an area where others in your ethnic group report positive contacts then this will affect your levels of trust positively. In 2013 some social scientists at the University of Manchester launched a report showing that Britain’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods have higher levels of social cohesion and greater levels of tolerance of each other’s differences. This chimes with what we know, which is that it is areas where black and ethnic minority people have not yet settled, rather than those where they already live, that experience higher levels of fear and intolerance. The report found that ethnic minority people are less likely to report racial discrimination in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods compared to less diverse ones. The research shows that rather than diversity, it is localities with high levels of deprivation which are associated with poor physical and mental health, low social cohesion and increased race discrimination. They assert that race discrimination then leads to poorer mental health, high blood pressure, increased smoking, and lower self-esteem. Ethnic diversity is beneficial, because it is associated with less racism and discrimination, more social cohesion, and stronger social support networks. Professor James Nazroo who directed the research , said: “Our research .... is all about setting the record straight on those diverse neighbourhoods which are so widely stigmatised. So often we read in our newspapers and hear from our politicians that immigration and ethnic diversity adversely affect a neighbourhood. But careful research shows this to be wrong. In fact, the level of deprivation, not diversity, is the key factor that determines these quality of life factors for people in neighbourhoods. So our research demonstrates the disadvantages of living in deprived areas, but the positives of living in ethnically diverse areas.” A recent research study in Germany confirms this. The study shows that the German states with the highest percentages of non-Germans also exhibit the greatest levels of social cohesion. "Apparently many Germans still perceive immigration as a threat," says the report’s author. "We should view diversity as an opportunity instead." Dr Laia Becares from the University of Manchester said: “Increased diversity is beneficial for all ethnic groups so we say the policy agenda should develop strategies for inclusiveness rather than marginalising minority identities, religions and cultures.”

Of course it is no surprise that the Daily Mail, the Express and the Sun want us to identify the diversity of an area as the problem rather than its level of deprivation. They have a political and ideological interest in getting us to confuse the cause with the effect and to blame the victim, the outsider, the “other” rather than the system that perpetuates such inequality and deprivation. Politicians ought to know better, and when they start blaming the victims rather than identifying the real causes – structural inequality and racism – we have every right to treat them with the contempt that they deserve.

Mad World

Guest blog by Hanna Stephens, ROTA Volunteer

A quick Google search defines mental illness broadly as, ‘a condition which causes serious disorder in a person’s behaviour or thinking.’ When we live in a context where a “serious disorder” is often attached to acting and speaking out about racism rather than being racist, we must be critical about our own understandings of mental health and how they have been constructed by those with power.

In 1851, American physician Samuel Cartwright diagnosed black slaves who attempted to flee captivity with a mental illness he termed drapetomania. He argued in Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race that if white slave masters didn’t reinforce their position of power over black slaves but start to treat them humanely, the slaves would develop drapetomania. The prescribed solution for drapetomania was punishment through whipping and even the cutting off of big toes, “until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy.”

In the same article, Cartwright also diagnosed black people with dysaesthetsia aethiopica; a mental illness that explained the, “cause of laziness among slaves”. He believed that all slaves were afflicted with this but that it was also, “much more prevalent among free negroes living in clusters by themselves”. He proposed that this would be fixed by having, “white people direct and take care of them” and through whipping and hard labour. Cartwright’s article was reprinted in the South but largely mocked in the Northern United States and since debunked as pseudoscience.

In more recent history, Jonathan Metzl’s book The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease examined the ways in which, during the 1960s, the Ionia State psychiatric hospital in Michigan began to diagnose African Americans with schizophrenia because of their civil rights ideas. 

In both cases we see the diagnosis of mental illness of what are completely understandable and legitimate responses to racism, the first to slavery and the second to a denial of civil rights. This is extremely harmful for the following reasons. It masks what are politically charged situations by presenting them as medical and scientific ones, in this way portraying racist ideas as “objective truth” as a way to justify the silencing of dissent. As well as this, by depicting the victims of racism as mentally ill and therefore not in “the right state of mind”, responsibility shifts from white slave owners or deniers of black civil rights onto the victims themselves. Finally, the idea that speaking out about racism is often labelled “oversensitive” or a product of mental illness is a toxic narrative that can be internalised by people of colour, working to make them feel like their emotions and demands are illegitimate.

These tactics are still very much in operation today. One example is the constant backlash from posting experiences tied to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability on social media platforms. Comments often take the form of telling the authors that they are whiny, over thinking things, too angry etc. This is known as tone policing and ties to mental health as it categorises those who speak out as people with “issues” or irrational thought processes as a way to silence them.

Issues with mental health are so often reduced to genetic inheritance and biology when in reality societal factors are just as important. The diagnosis of mental illness is political in the way it has been, and continues to be, used a way to prevent people from speaking or acting out against racism and other forms of marginalisation. 

The Importance of an Intersectional Approach in Social Research

Guest blog by Hanna Stephens, ROTA Volunteer

“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde

In researching BAMER issues in the UK, it is important not to homogenise racial struggle and instead understand the diversity of identities that are present in different racial groups. For this, it is important that we view things from an intersectional perspective.

Intersectionality arose from black feminist scholarship, the term coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 but conceptually existing much earlier (see for example Sojourner Truth’s 1851 essay Ain’t I a Woman?). It rose as a critique of second wave feminism’s concept of “universal sisterhood” which in reality centred on white, middle-class women, failing to address issues of racism and classism. It argues that individuals can hold multiple oppressions which intersect to produce varied experiences of discrimination. Professor Crenshaw uses the metaphor of a basementfull of people to explain this:

'Imagine a basement which contains all people who are disadvantaged on the basis of race, sex, class, sexual preference, age and/or physical ability. These people are stacked—feet standing on shoulders—with those on the bottom being disadvantaged by the full array of factors, up to the very top, where the heads of those disadvantaged by a singular factor brush up against the ceiling. Their ceiling is actually the floor above which only those who are not disadvantaged in any way reside. Those above the ceiling admit from the basement only those who can say that "but for" the ceiling, they too would be in the upper room. A hatch is developed through which those placed immediately below can crawl. Yet this hatch is generally available only to those who—due to the singularity of their burden and their otherwise privileged position relative to those below—are in the position to crawl through. Those who are multiply-burdened are generally left below unless they can somehow pull themselves into the groups that are permitted to squeeze through the hatch.'

To sustainably place race on the agenda in the UK, we must look at how race intersects with other identity markers to produce the issues we hope to tackle. For example, the discrimination of black women in the workplace for looking “unprofessional” with natural hair is a result of the policing of a woman’s appearance layered with the equation of professionalism with whiteness. The disproportionately high numbers of black men stopped by the police is not simply an issue of anti-blackness but of the perception of black masculinity as dangerous. With regards to sexuality, the heteronormativity in many BAMER communities, often imposed through colonialism, causes sexual orientation to be a barrier to cultural belonging for LGBT+ ethnic minorities. In terms of BAMER wellbeing, we must be aware of how mental health and disability may compound the negative effects of racial harassment or compromise the ability to report it.

To view any of the issues above as simply issues of race would overlook the power dynamics within racial communities themselves. In seeking to overcome race issues, we should be critically aware that some voices and narratives may be louder than others. Without an intersectional perspective, this may result in certain issues within communities being left unacknowledged and overlooked.

An intersectional perspective deepens the understanding that there is diversity and nuance in the ways in which people hold power. It encourages theoretical understandings of identity that are more complex than simple oppressor/oppressed binaries. This theoretical perspective can perhaps even be applied to racial categories themselves to understand the complexity of even having categories such as black, asian and white. Even within these groups there is diversity in the ways individuals experience privilege or oppression. Issues of colourism are such that those with darker skin are seen as more dangerous or less beautiful than those with lighter skin. Further, having mixed race parentage blurs these racial categories and being white Irish or white Gypsy Traveller is a different experience to identifying as white British. Further, there are even issues of racism between differently racialised communities.

Intersectionality therefore encourages us to look more holistically at the ways in which racism operates. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have charities or organisations specifically focused on BAMER issues, as ethnic minority marginalisation undeniably exists and requires devoted attention. However, in tackling issues of integration and respect for racial and cultural diversity without assimilation, we must also consider the diversity of abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations and economic backgrounds that intertwine with the racialised experience and present further barriers to meaningful inclusion. Without this consideration we cannot properly weed out the root causes of social and racial marginality.

Post Referendum Racism

Pandora’s Box has been opened by the Brexit referendum and it is difficult to see how the evils that it has allowed to escape can be put back in the box. Already there are reports of increasing race hate crimes – many directed at Polish and other European migrants but also directed at Muslims and other migrant and minority groups.

Although many who voted for Britain to leave the European Union were not in themselves racist the campaign itself was riddled with dog whistle politics about migrants and foreigners. At times the sound of the whistle was obvious and audible (as with the disgraceful  Farage “Breaking Point” poster of a line of refugees at the Slovakian border).  Groups such as Britain First and the English Defence League are now capitalising on this climate and trying to provoke disorder, racist attacks and appeals to “send them home”.

Anti racist and anti fascist reporting sites like Hope not Hate and Tell Mama will have their work cut out in monitoring the increasing outrages that are likely over the next few weeks and months. The notion that immigrants are to blame for most of the ills that confront less well off members of society has now become the received wisdom, repeated over and over again by politicians, pundits and the press. Former Tory Party chairman Sayeeda Warsi has warned that “immigrants and their descendants (some who have been here for three, four or five generations)  are being told to leave Britain” in the wake of the “divisive and xenophobic” Brexit campaign.

In the midst of this dangerous atmosphere the government is now set to enact dangerous legislation under the Immigration Act. This legislation will compound the process of demonization of all migrants as well as wider minority ethnic communities. The Immigration Act will force landlords and other public officials to profile service users so as to identify those who do not have the correct paper work and permissions to work, rent, drive and receive other services . The Government is also set to try to do away with the European Convention on Human Rights which is one of the few protections against the worst excesses of  such racism and discrimination.

Against this dark climate we must all work together to rebuild trust and defend our different communities. We must ally together against the Immigration Act giving free rein to landlords and many public servants to profile and single out minority ethnic people in ways that we thought had disappeared since the 1960s. We must defend the European Convention on Human Rights and continue to challenge all the areas where there discrimination and racism continue to scar our country  – whether this is in employment and education, stop and search,  the penal and policing systems and other areas of gross inequality.

Even more important than the EU is the question about  what sort of country Britain wants to be, and that question will continue long after the referendum.  Do we want to continue to be a positive, tolerant society capable of challenging inequality and discrimination and addressing our differences in a civil manner? Or are we going to respond by retreating even further into our enclaves and spitting hostility at each other across the growing divide? The great US Black thinker WEB Du Bois said that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” Whether  we can learn to live together better and address racism and inequality effectively will be the problem of the twenty-first century. And we have not got off to a good start.

We Told You So!

In my blog of 6th March 2014, I forecast that the Immigration Act would make private landlords into unpaid and untrained Immigration Officers. The Immigration Act would become “in effect, a charter for racial and other forms of harassment and abuse where people encounter rogue decision-makers (e.g. rogue landlords)”.

We have just been proved right with the Government’s publication of the results of their own pilot, see Guardian 7/8/15 article which showed that the use of private landlords to crackdown on “illegal immigrants” has been a complete failure. Even more serious was the finding that the scheme seems to have encouraged discrimination against non-British prospective tenants as we had anticipated.

In spite of these worrying findings the Government has already gone ahead to roll out this dangerous and vindictive scheme on a country-wide basis. This is further evidence that when it comes to immigration, sensible policy making and  a measured political approach to a complex problem goes straight out of the window. The Government would far rather be seen to be unpleasant to newly arriving migrants then make sensible policy decisions that actually work.

The readership of the Sun and Daily Mail and those people inclined towards UKIP are the real drivers of Government policy. Considerations of a humane and sensible approach to migration - let alone fair and good government policy that actually works - come a long way behind.

Being nasty to migrants may get the Government some approval from the tabloids and the bigots but there is no evidence that it deters any desperate refugees from making their terrifying journeys across the Sahara desert and then the treacherous Mediterranean Sea.



“Things We Won't Say About Race That Are True“ Trevor Phillips

In his controversial and misguided programme “Things We Won't Say About Race That Are True“ Trevor Phillips argues that white people are so afraid of being called out as racists if they criticise black people or minority ethnic communities that they would prefer to stay silent even when serious abuses are taking place. He argues that this "political correctness" stops us telling a number of truths about race and racism and goes on to suggest that this is why there has been a growing UKIP style backlash.

Phillips sets up a parody of multiculturalism, a straw man that he then proceeds to burn down with great delight, but achieves little apart from to distract our attention from the real issues that need to be addressed – the structural and institutional racism that continue to infect all of our institutions in the UK.  He selects a number of “facts” and then misinterprets them in a way that a GCSE Statistics student would be ashamed of and he ends up by reinforcing the worst stereotypes including some around black people and criminality that are deeply worrying.

His critique of multiculturalism is based on a confused and confusing notion of integration and his underlying philosophy reinforces a kind of racist essentialism that is a large part of the problem rather than its solution. He suggests that “different ethnic groups commit different sorts of crimes”. Nothing surprising about this you might think. Except that without any attempt to explain why this might be – the social and economic reasons and context for this phenomenon - we are left with merely cultural explanations (which are not really explanations at all, but actually disguised prejudices). This argument ends up not far away from the view that essentially “Black people just are more violent”, “Jewish people just are better at making money” - tropes that are deeply dangerous and irresponsible. To put it another way it should be no surprise that “white collar crime” tends to be committed by white people (because they are proportionately more likely to work in white collar jobs) and “street” crime is more likely to be committed by people from poorer backgrounds (a higher preponderance of whom are likely to be Black or minority ethnic). To fail to factor in non-ethnic variables (in particular class) which might be more helpful in explaining such conditions is just laughable.

Phillips begins his programme by talking about his work heading up the Commission for Racial Equality. He says of his time there that "campaigners like me sincerely believed that if we could prevent people expressing prejudiced ideas then eventually they would stop thinking them. Now I am convinced that we were utterly wrong". Well, if the CRE and then the EHRC really did believe the bizarre notion that stopping people saying something racist would somehow make the thought behind it disappear, then it was far more confused than any of us even realised at the time. As a Theory of Change this is on a par with astrology. In any event, whether or not Trevor Phillips ever believed this, his assumption that other more sensible anti-racists ever believed anything like this is just a rather cheap caricature.

Multiculturalism is identified by Phillips as the leading villain because he insists it differentiates and then divides people on ethnic lines and leaves  them stranded in their own embattled communities, competing for resources with other ethnic groups. This is a very questionable description of multiculturalism, and whilst it may have some veracity when used to describe places like Blackburn and Burnley it is not so helpful when applied to a hyper diverse city like London. It is true that there is a lazy kind of cultural relativism that sometimes masquerades as multiculturalism. This view purports to argue that Police or social workers from one culture cannot and should not make judgements about the views and behaviour of another one.  Phillips characterises this position as political correctness and sees it and the fear of being called a racist as stifling debate and legitimising such appalling outrages as sexual grooming in towns like Rochdale and Rotherham. He thus attempts to blame  his caricature of  "multiculturalism" for many  of the ills of society and for the breakdown of our communities. 

Like many anti-racists, I have never believed in this cultural relativism -  that some communities should be subject to different standards and norms because of their different “cultures”.  If people from any "cultural background" break the law or contravene the basic human rights of their own or other community members then of course they should be brought to book. For a very long time many of us have campaigned against issues such as forced marriage, FGM, and “honour” based violence. We start from the principle that it is human rights that should be applied universally rather than any right to cultural immunity from them. Sexual exploitation and violence takes place in all cultures and racialising its occurrence makes it more not less likely that we will fail to identify it when it occurs in hitherto unnoticed arenas. Incidentally it is worth asking why the appalling activities of Cyril Smith, Jimmy Saville, Gary Glitter et al have not been racialised as peculiarly "White" crimes in similar fashion.

According to Phillips “People prefer segregation”.  After the 2005 London bombings he warned the country was "sleepwalking towards segregation". He says that for many years he has known that “some groups were becoming so isolated that values and ideas which most people would find alien were tolerated and even encouraged.”   Isolation does sometimes occur between communities and greater efforts need to be made to challenge such segregation as well as attitudes that can lead to extreme radicalisation. However it would be helpful if Phillips would look at all the evidence rather than just the parts of it that support his thesis. The fastest growing cohort of young Londoners is those from mixed heritage families. How does this square with the statement that "People prefer segregation"? We would do much better to ask not just why it is that in some circumstances they do prefer segregation but how can we learn from the many instances when they don't.

White people must start talking about race and racism

by Andy Gregg, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda.

Many white people feel intensely uncomfortable talking about race. They say that they are constantly in fear of saying the wrong thing, of “putting their foot in it” or “treading on eggshells”.  Recently a white US rap musician Macklemore put it like this: "White, liberal people want to be nice. We don’t want to be racist. We don’t wanna mess up. We want to be ˜Oh we’re post-racial. We have a black president. We don’t want to talk about white privilege and it’s all good, right?” It’s not the case. We have to get past that ‘awkward stage’ of the race conversation, step up and just have it. As a white person, we have to listen."

In the UK very few white people are ever challenged to think about themselves in terms of their own race or ethnicity.  Race and ethnicity  are things that other people (“minorities”) have whereas they are “just the majority”, the default against whom everyone else is contrasted. Attempts to address racism and discrimination are dismissed as “political correctness gone mad”. In the US a number of white anti racists are starting to challenge this utterly lop-sided view of the world. The Whiteness Project (a series of interviews with white people asking them questions about race and racism) was conceived by Whitney Dow when he was asked by a young girl what was his racial identity. At first he thought he didn’t have one and then it dawned on him that he actually has“the most powerful racial identity in America – being white”.  Stephen Thrasher interviewed Dow for the Guardian and reports him as saying thathe wanted to the interviews to “create something that could help white people have the experience I had” to reflect upon white identity and privilege.

The Whiteness project started by filming a number of interviews with a variety of white citizens of the US town on Buffalo – one of the most divided cities in the US. The interviews certainly showed what we are up against. Many  were full of both overt racist statements as well as a more generalised failure to understand white privilege – a number voicing the opinion that it is actually white Americans who faced discrimination in the labour market as a result of affirmative action!.

Despite the bigoted and sometimes deeply unpleasant views expressed in some of the filmed interviews, the conversation about how white people perceive their own racial and ethnic identity remains a hugely important one – we could do with a similar conversation on this side of the Atlantic.

Is “White Privilege” a useful concept in the current UK context?

by Andy Gregg, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda.

In the United States over the last 30years a useful concept has been developed which we could do with discussing much more on this side of the Atlantic.  This is the concept of ”white privilege”. As a white person I can take a whole range of advantages and privileges for granted as I go about my everyday life in the UK. So much so that I can even fail to notice that I actually have those advantages merely by virtue of being from the white majority. For example I don’t expect to be followed around by security guards whenever I visit expensive shops. I can generally drive my car or walk around anywhere in London without fearing that I might at any moment become the focus of police activity. As a parent of white children I do not expect to have to explain to them why they are continually stopped and searched  or why they may need to avoid any even innocent contact with the Police for their own safety. Nor do I have to explain to them that some people will treat them less favourably because of the colour of their skin, and I don’t have to talk to them about how they should react to such behaviour and how it might make them feel. I can assume that when I apply for a job my application will be treated fairly and that my name or my place of birth or any other signs of my origins or identity will not mark me down. I can reliably assume that when I have to interact with the Police, government  departments,  private sector or any other organisations, I will be treated with due respect and courtesy. "White privilege"  then “refers to the myriad of social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race."[1]

For those of us from the white majority, anti-racism needs to be more than just about “valuing diversity” and marching or campaigning against racism. It also needs to be about us working to unravel our own white privilege. This means working to change our own minds and challenging our own presuppositions. It is also about feeling the assault on our own dignity every time we observe or experience white privilege and fail to challenge it. It is also means starting to understand the connection between my everyday privilege and the institutional racism that both riddles British society and reinforces my own privilege by turning it into a feeling of entitlement.

The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one's own experiences, whilst marking others out as different or abnormal. Seeing non-white people as “ethnic” or “exotic” while perceiving oneself as “normal”. This ability of white people to call everybody else “the other” and insist that whiteness is the default, the “normal” is even more of a problem in the UK than it is in the US. In the US the white community is itself far more often differentiated within itself on ethnic lines than it is in the UK. The US considers itself to be a land of migrants and with the exception of First Nation Americans almost everyone is able to track their heritage back to somewhere outside the US. This is often done by defining ethnic subgroups in the form of hyphenations and applies almost as much to the white as to other population groups. Scottish-American, Ukrainian-American, Iranian-American as well as African-American etc. Perhaps the exception to this hyphenation is the old ruling class sometimes referred to as WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants).

In the Britain quite the reverse is true. Most white people in England[2] see themselves just as English or British and for them their whiteness is so much the norm that they seldom think about it or even notice it. They don’t usually have a strong notion that they have inherited particular cultural traits from elsewhere  - this makes it even more unusual for them to see that their own cultural, linguistic and other behavioural traits are equally as “ethnic” as anybody else’s. Perhaps this is why the concept of white privilege has not taken off in the UK. Most white people don’t even see themselves as white or having an ethnicity but only as “normal”. They resist seeing their identity as being racialised in any way – indeed that is a power that they reserve only to  do to others. This may be one of the reasons why in the UK there is so much resistance both to discussions about race or white privilege and to activities designed to try to end racism.  

The term white privilege gained new popularity in academic circles and public discourse in the US after Peggy McIntosh's 1987 essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack". McIntosh suggested that white people need to understand how racial inequality includes benefits to them as well as disadvantages to others. Academic and societal ideas about race have tended to focus solely on the disadvantages suffered by racial and ethnic minorities,overlooking the advantageous effects that accrue to whites.

One of the benefits of white privilege is that it allows the privileged group to represent inequality in terms of outgroup disadvantage(and then sometimes take the next step of blaming the outgroup for its own disadvantage). It allows privileged group members to avoid the negative implications of inequality and the realisation that equality may involve having (and therefore having to give up) some privileges that they have no right to, rather than seeing inequality as a pre-ordained part of the natural order. In the UK everyone is encouraged (and sometimes required) to live by the attributes defined by the privileged. In these kinds of society white people define and determine the terms of success and failure; they are the norm. This allows members of the privileged group to see their successes and achievements as hard-earned and well deserved because of their individual effort rather than as resulting from their pre-existing privileges and the inbuilt advantages these privileges have given them.

Critics have sometimes suggested that the concept of white privilege uses the term "whiteness" as a proxy for class or other social privilege or that it distracts us from deeper underlying problems of inequality. Other critics of the idea point out that the concept of white privilege can lead to us ignoring important differences between and within white subpopulations. Certainly many unemployed white working class young people are unlikely to see their whiteness as being a privilege or as giving them much of an advantage[3]. The least successful white ethnic and cultural groups are often the ones that are disadvantaged the most from any positive action that attempts to take into account white privilege. Despite some of these concerns about the way the concept of white privilege is used,  it is a useful way of challenging white power and institutional racism and it forces us to ask some quite radical questions about the “whiteness” of our own world view.

Here are a few guidelines that I find helpful in trying to address my own white privilege[4]:

1.    Do not assume that there is a common-sense understanding of racism by white people. Do not expect a widespread awareness of race and racism as an issue that needs to be challenged. Society has not educated white people to recognise racism (we hardly talk about it except when we feel we are being accused of it!). Conversely it has trained us not to notice or understand our own race privilege.

2.    Do not confuse racism with other non-racial oppression. Race privilege is never exactly the same as privilege based on class, gender or sexuality. Saying "I know exactly what you mean" to a Latin American man's story about racism - and proceeding to tell him your experience as a gay man - will most likely cut off any discussion of racism.

3.    White people need to "do our own homework". We must never assume that the nearest person of  Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic heritage has either the time or the inclination to educate us. We can learn from the increasing number of books, online discussions,  and literature addressing race privilege, racism, and the realities faced by BAME people in the UK and elsewhere. We need to discuss these issues with other white people rather than expecting Black people to do our work for us. We need to take responsibility for the issue of race rather than expecting our black friends and colleagues to constantly take responsibility for dealing with the race dimension

4.    Expect hard work. Commenting, "I feel so bad about all the racism in British society" is nice, but working to challenge and change it is far better. And this means taking concrete and consistent actions to challenge our own racism and that of all of our own cherished  organisations and institutions. It also sometimes means getting it wrong and being open to criticism that may be painful.

5.    Do not expect to not feel uncomfortable. Race is an uncomfortable issue – if it wasn’t there wouldn’t be a problem. Privilege needs to be faced honestly and consistently with learning taking place from any mistakes.

6.    Be careful. Talking about white privilege can itself, in certain circumstances, turn into a very privileged thing to do

7.    You are doing this for yourself because you have to do it. You are not doing it on anyone else’s behalf or out of concern for or to “help” black people. If you don’t see why white privilege damages both you and other white people then you haven’t got the point.

8.    Do not expect BAME people to celebrate your discovery of  your own white privilege. White people addressing race privilege may be rare, but it is never an heroic act.

9.    Some of these guidelines are much more difficult to hold to then they might look at first sight. Privileged ways of thinking, feeling and behaving always creep back in. White privilege is being constantly reiterated and reinforced in all aspects of the media and everyday life.

10.Dealing with one’s own privilege is a constant process - there is unlikely to be a time when you reach a state where you have completely overcome it. But not to have tried is unforgiveable.


[1] — Delgado, Richard; Stefancic, Jean (2001), Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, New York and London: New York University Press, p. 78, ISBN 0-8147-1931-7


[2] I use the term England here as most residents or descendants of the celtic nations -  who identify as Welsh, Irish, Scottish or Cornish have a rather different and stronger sense of their own heritage and identityidentity

[4] Based loosely on the Guidelines in Jennifer Simpson’s  resource article  Identifying Race Privilege: From One White to Another  1995



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