Wednesday 21 March 2012

Tackling Institutional Racism

I had the great pleasure this morning of meeting and listening to Imran Khan (as he joked, no, he’s not that other famous Imran Khan, the former legendary Pakistan cricketer and ex-husband to Jemima Goldsmith), the highly regarded human rights lawyer probably best known for representing the family of Stephen Lawrence, the black young man who was murdered by racist thugs in South London in 1993.
That eponymous and long struggle to achieve justice brought to the fore the deep rooted institutional racism that was endemic in London’s Metropolitan police force.

I won’t reproduce Imran’s entire excellent speech at this morning’s conference on racism in Dublin, but he made some very salient points, on how to deal with and tackle institutional racism, most of which you could say are a given, but always worth repeating and emphasising every now and then.

The following ten points (in bold & italics), he believed, were essential in tackling and challenging institutional racism wherever and whenever it reared its ugly.

I suppose in certain parts of Africa, particularly Southern Africa, where I’m originally from, you could also easily substitute racism with tribalism, which is another societal and social scourge that needs to be tackled.

1) Recognise and acknowledge that racism exists: In some countries, especially here in Ireland, there has been an apparent reluctance at official/political level to publicly acknowledge that racism exists at all or that it is a problem. In fact some very ill informed and feckless politicians, who do grudgingly admit that racism is a problem in Ireland, have the brass neck to imply that racism only became an issue when black people started migrating to Ireland in the 1990s.

2) Adopt a reality spectrum: Understand and acknowledge the lived reality of those who suffer directly from racism. Suspend the disbelief.

3) Treat people according to their specific needs: It shouldn’t always be about treating everyone equally. Nor should it ever be about tolerance either. Once you tolerate others, the implication is that there is something negative about them, that your tolerance is showing them a kindness.

4) Introduce affirmative action: This always divides opinion which sometimes is based on gender or racial lines. Usually those who are vehemently opposed to affirmative action insist on a meritocracy that conveniently ignores centuries of white (usually male) privilege which totally ignores the considerable barriers that black people (and women) have faced for centuries and in many cases still do. I personally am not a fan of blanket affirmative action, but realise that it may be necessary in certain circumstances as long as capable and qualified minorities are given a chance to progress.

5) Good Leadership: Especially at political and at service provision level (police, immigration, health service, etc). Good leadership sets the tone on how the rest of society deals with racism.

6) Diversity/anti-racism training: Basically ensure that people are aware how detrimental and debilitating racism is to the victims and generally raise awareness. Promote the positives about diversity in society but also develop ways with which to deal with the issues that may cause misunderstandings and conflict between different cultures and races.

7) Exert your rights: Challenge racism wherever you find it.

8) Adopt human rights agenda: We are all entitled to our human rights.

9) Institutions must learn to acknowledge mistakes: No matter how big or powerful, institutions, especially those that are there to serve the public (police, health service, social services, etc) should have the humility to acknowledge mistakes and not be prone to cover-ups.

10) Integrate equalities in everyday life: Equality should not be an abstract concept.