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Race Relations In The UK

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5584 words Published: 3rd May 2017

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The concepts of community cohesion and integration have been at the core of UK social policy over the last decade. This renewed race relations approach requires people from minority ethnic communities to mix with mainstream community which will lead to strong cohesive communities.

In order to apply these concepts to critically investigate phenomena in contemporary society there is a requirement to ‘look beyond the stated objectives and public political negotiations and explore the ways in which deeply entrenched processes of discrimination may be resistant to legal and political interventions’ (Solomos and Keith 1989). This exploration requires a critique of race relations approaches within a historical and wider economic and political context, to fully understand and assess the effectiveness of the renewed race relations approach since the beginning of this century.

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In this chapter, I will provide an outline of the key events which brought about change in race relations approach in the UK with the view of placing the contemporary social policy in political, social and economic context, these changes can be viewed in phases. The early phase of race relations had assumed a process of assimilation, where ‘coloured’/ black migrants would settle in, had not worked and this had led to a change. The second phase in race relations is commonly referred to as the multiculturalist is viewed to have failed due to its divisive nature with result of different ethnic communities becoming inward and not interacting with the wider community. The contemporary phase, community cohesion and integration are at the heart of the very public debate in the UK on how best to integrate immigrants in the post-immigration phase. It is believed this latest approach to race relations will build stronger and cohesive communities. While this is the political rhetoric a deeper examination would reveal there are social and political factors which are required to be equally considered to understand the effectiveness of the renewed approach to race relations. Certainly, a view of the discourse on the community cohesion agenda reveals there is much criticism of the concept which may limit its effectiveness. The agenda may not address the problem of unrest and disturbances within communities. Rather than bringing communities together, the policy may have the opposite effect of dividing communities.


To understand the race relations approach in this period, the political and economic situation requires to be considered.

Following the post war II period Britain faced a shortage of labour, and initially the labour of ex POWs, Polish and Italian people was employed. The archival research of parliamentary papers on immigration in the 1940s/1950s by (Joshi and Carter 1984) have revealed the ethnocentrism and racist assumptions by some government officials that the jobs were suitable for ‘white’ workers as it was alleged the similarities of ‘white’ cultures would not cause problems of assimilating cultures that were different.

However, (Sivanandan 1982) argues that the British government wanted cheap labour, with sensitivity to demand and unnecessary labour contracts. Thus it suited Britain to import the workers it needed from the British colonies and ex-colonies; it was the quickest way of getting the cheapest labour at minimum (infrastructural) costs. Thus ‘coloured’ people from the West Indies were encouraged to travel to Britain largely to fill the jobs. However, from the first stages of the arrival of black workers to Britain they were perceived, both within and outside the government, as a ‘problem’ (Sivanandan 1982); (Solomos 1988). Particularly with reference to the social and ‘racial’ conflicts which were officially connected with their arrival. (Solomos 1988) maintains that the media publicity given to the arrival of 417 Jamaicans on the Empire Windrush in 1948 and the subsequent arrival of groups of West Indian workers helped to focus attention on the number of ‘coloured’ immigrants and this obscured the fact that the majority of immigrants came from Ireland, white Commonwealth countries and European countries.

The consequence of this attitude was that from the early stages of black migration process there emerged a debate about the implications of the growth of black settlement for the host society, particularly in relation to immigration, housing, employment, cultural differences and the emergence of ‘racial’ conflict’ (Solomos 1988 p31). No such concerns were raised about ‘white’ immigrants. Having set the precedent that black migrants were ‘alien’ and ‘cultural differences’ would lead to racial conflict, future government policies were largely based on such assumptions (Solomos 1988).

(Solomos and Back 1996) contend that from the 1950s onwards political processes and institutions have played a key role in the construction of racial and ethnic questions in British society. This can be viewed in the way successive governments in the UK have responded to racial discrimination with two measures – with legislation to reduce discrimination and new legislation to reduce the immigration numbers of black people (Sivanandan 1982). The assumption being that if the gates were closed to black migration the “race” ‘problem’ would be resolved. These types of social policy and attitude ensured that subordination and the exclusion of black migrants were set in place. For e.g. following the “race” riots in Nottingham and Notting Hill in 1958, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 was introduced to curb further black immigration. After this period there was a racialisation of immigration legislation (Miles and Phizacklea 1984); Solomos 1988).

The belief that immigration was essentially an issue of ‘race’ was consistent with the view that a) the growing number of black citizens was a potential source of conflict and b) it was necessary for the state to introduce measures to promote the ‘integration’ of immigrants into the wider society (Solomos 1988) . The linking of immigration controls with integrative measures was a significant step, since it signalled a move towards the management of domestic ‘race’ relations as well as legitimising the institutionalisation of firm controls at the point of entry. These two sides of state intervention were seen as inextricably linked, the reasoning behind the link was the idea the fewer immigrants (especially black ones) there were, the easier it would be to integrate them. Miles and Phizacklea argue, that a central ideological consequence of this was that the notions of ‘race’ and ‘immigration’ became interchangeable, and so, whenever, ‘immigrants’ and ‘immigration’ became the centre of debate, the reference was in fact to ‘coloured people’ regardless of their place and not to all people entering Britain (1984 p22).

The fear that the social exclusion of racial minorities in Britain could follow the violence and disorder of the civil rights movement in the US led to the government in changing the approach to race relations in the 1960s (Solomos 1988)

Multiculturalist / Integration Plus

The 1960s is broadly viewed as the second phase in race relations approach. The fear that the social exclusion of racial minorities in Britain could follow the violence and disorder of the civil rights movement in the US subsequently led to the introduction of the Race Relations Act of 1965 which aimed to prevent racial discrimination. However, it was a weak piece of legislation and only spoke of discrimination in specified ‘places of public resort’, such as hotels and restaurants, as being illegal. A new act was introduced in 1968 in which provisions were extended to cover housing and employment in the UK (Deakin et al. 1970). Under the terms of the act, the Race Relations Board was set up in 1966 which set up the Community Relations Commission to promote “harmonious community relations (Deakin et al. 1970). A few years later in 1969, the UK government chose to ratify the United Nations Convention on Racial Discrimination, with a reservation in respect of the Commonwealth Immigration Acts so it could continue with the racialisation of immigration to the UK (Sivanandan 1982). These, and subsequent immigration controls have continued to have implications which range much wider than one aspect of law. Firstly, because internal immigration controls affect not only immigrants but all black people in the UK, they reinforce the division in society between black and white people, and secondly, this had and continues to have, serious implications for the civil liberties and rights of the population in general (Gordon 1985).

This period saw a shift in race relations to ‘integration plus’. In this period there was growing recognition of the legitimacy of black and minority ethnic people to be different especially with regard to issues around language, religion and the wearing of school uniforms (Gilroy 1987); (Brah 1996). It was thought that identities and values represented by immigrants could be accommodated within a “multicultural” framework and the recognition and acknowledgement of different cultures could coexist with mutual respect. In 1966, the then home secretary, Roy Jenkins, announced:

I do not regard [integration] as meaning the loss, by immigrants, of their own national characteristics and culture. I do not think that we need in this country a ‘melting pot’, which will turn everybody out in a common mould, as one of a series of carbon copies of someone’s misplaced vision of the stereotyped Englishman… I define integration, therefore, not as a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.

The multicultural policy appealed to white British population, as it fitted in with their universal liberal democratic principles, they were confident to welcome people from Commonwealth countries. It was also about cultural value, that British did not regard their culture to be superior to those of the immigrants, at least not at a personal level. It was anticipated the differences in cultures would mainly be restricted to the home, and would involve mainly differences in traditional dress and cuisine, festivals and religions (Solomos and Keith 1989)

In the public sphere, a variety of policy initiatives and programmes were based on the premise of providing equal access to employment, education, housing and public facilities generally. However, from the start the policy of ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘racial equality’ caused confusion for many reasons and led to the policy to have little effect. Firstly, as Solomos (1989) notes, the notions of ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘racial inequality’ are embedded in value judgements; thus there is not an agreement what on what ‘equality’ constitutes in relation to the public good.

Furthermore, the definitions of and guidance on these concepts were not forthcoming from the government. As a result of this fundamental constraint, local authorities did not know how to implement ‘equality of opportunity’ as an effective measure against discrimination and were using terms and concepts in a confused, arbitrary and contradictory manner (Sooben 1990). Ouseley (1984) questions, how far can ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘racial equality’ are achieved without incorporating into the established channels of decision-making the political interests of the black and minority communities

It is also significant to note that at the introduction of the race relations legislation successive governments did not seek to use the mainstream Government departments to tackle this issue. While the Home Office was directly responsible for the enforcement of strict immigration controls, the responsibility for enforcing the legislation was given to regulatory agencies and judicial system. From 1965 to 1975 successive governments left the issue of tackling racial discrimination to these bodies and there was little direction or support provided by central government itself (Solomos and Back 1996).

By the early 1970s there was much criticism of the limits of legislation and critics were calling for a new and more effective strategy to tackle racial discrimination particular in such areas as housing and employment (Solomos and Back 1996). At the same time research on aspects of racial discrimination by a number of bodies showed that high levels of discrimination persisted and this was taken to imply that the efforts of successive governments from 1965 onwards had produced little or no change (Solomos and Back 1996). More critical studies took their cue from this evidence to argue that race relations legislation, particularly when linked to discriminatory immigration controls, could be no more than a gesture or symbolic political act which gave the impression that something was being done while in practice achieving very little (Solomos and Back 1996)

The shortcoming of the existing legislation, and particularly the powers available to the Race Relations Board and the Community Relations Commission, were becoming increasingly evident by the early 1970s. A major government investigation was launched titled ‘The Organisation of Race Relations Administration in 1975’. The report helped to put a number of important points on the agenda (a) The need to go beyond the narrow definition of discrimination used in the 1965 and 1968 Acts, in order to include institutionalised or unintended forms of discrimination; (b) The need to strengthen the administrative structures and legal powers of the Race Relations Board in order to allow for a more effective implementation of antidiscrimination policies, including penalties for those found guilty of discrimination; (c) The need for a more interventionist stance from central government departments, particularly the Home Office (Solomos and Keith 1989)

The Labour Government which came to power in 1974 therefore proposed reform to the legislation and in 1976 the new Race Relations Act was introduced. This new act was wider and significantly it incorporated direct and indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination was defined by the act ‘where a person treats another person less favourably on racial grounds than he treats, or would treat, someone else’, however, indirect discrimination was defined as consisting of ‘treatment’ which may be described as equal in a formal sense as between different racial groups, but discriminatory in its effect on one particular racial group’ (Miles and Phizacklea 1984).

The second recommendation, to strengthen the administrative powers of the race relation bodies led to the setting up of the Commission for Racial Equality. The Commission was seen as having three main duties: (a) to work toward the elimination of discrimination; (b) to promote equality of opportunity and good race relations; and (c) to keep under review the working of the Act and draw up proposals for amending it (Miles and Phizacklea 1984).

However, within a decade of the 1976 Act the disjuncture between the objective and its actual impact was apparent. This was clearly stated in Lord Scarman’s report on the urban unrest riots in Brixton in 1981 when Scarman stated that racialism and discrimination against black people – often hidden, sometimes unconscious -remained a major source of social tension and conflict [1] . Almost all the academic research that has been done on the effectiveness of the 1976 Act, has pointed to three ways in which policies have proved to be ineffective in tackling racial inequality. First, the machinery set up to implement the Act has not functioned effectively. Second, the policies have not produced the intended results. Third, policies have failed to meet the expectations of the black communities (Solomos and Jenkins, 1987).

At a local government level the policy initiatives actions to eradicate discrimination had developed ad-hoc and taken many forms. Multicultural types of events such as International Women’s Day, fun days, face painting and food, or as (Alibhai-Brown 2000) states ‘saris, samosas and steel bands’. Whilst in the public sector offices there would be ‘cultural awareness’ training events. These initiatives were based on the premise that if the white population were convinced of the legitimacy and values of other cultures then this would eliminate the ignorance, intolerance which had led to previous acts of discrimination and conflict. This approach was criticised by many as it meant the problems experienced by migrants would be attributed to their culture – essentialising all experiences to their culture.

The funding allowed minority groups to set up groups to meet the needs of the minority population. Whilst these may have me the short term needs of people excluded from mainstream services, the fundamental flaw with this method was it was often viewed the town councillors played the different ethnic communities against each other to compete for funding, there was resentment among populations as one community was viewed to be seen to be more privilege than another. (Sivanandan 1982) states this type of multicultural policy resulted in taking the fighting off the streets and into the town halls.

Another criticism of multiculturalism is that the term was not defined and became over time a ‘fuzzy concept’ (Markusen 2003). Multiculturalism came to have many different meanings and became a divisive tool creating separate groups within communities. Rather than integrated communities, different groups engaged in aspects of their cultural identity. (Benhabib 2002) refers to this as ‘mosaic multiculturalism’, that cultures are clearly delineated and identifiable entities that co-exist while maintaining firm boundaries’ (p8).

The tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence, in 1993 and the subsequent complaints and Macpherson Inquiry published in 1999 (Macpherson 1999) about the way in which the Metropolitan police had mishandled the case, is viewed as major benchmark in “race” issues (Back et al. 2002). In this respect the Macpherson Inquiry was a significant marker in racism in that institutional racism was exposed and put on the political agenda by the then Home Secretary Jack Straw (Back et al 2002).

Following the recommendations made in the Macpherson Report in 1999 the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 was introduced. The amendments extended further the application of the Race Relations Act 1976 to the police and other public authorities; “exemption under that Act for acts done for the purpose of safeguarding national security; and for connected purposes; immigration and nationality cases; and judicial and legislative acts” (RRAA 2000).

The act also specified that local authorities adhere to general statutory duty: to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination; and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups. And also specific duties, to undertake positive action to eliminate discrimination, race equality policies were compulsory within public sector organisations.

Whilst racism continued throughout 1980 /90s there were signs of another distinctive form of discrimination arising towards Muslims and Islam. There were anti-Muslim feelings throughout mainland Europe including the UK. It is suggested the roots of Muslim marginality date to The Satanic Verses affair in the late 1980s [2] . Certainly, by the mid-1990s, anti-Muslim feelings were serious enough for the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia to be established in 1996, and the following year the report titled Islamophobia: a challenge for us all (1997) by the Runnymede Trust. The report described the nature of anti-Muslim prejudice and reported the consequence of this prejudice greatly hindered Muslims to play a full part in mainstream society.

It was rather insightful, when Solomos wrote in 1999, ‘if anything the experience of the last two decades teaches us that the ways in which policy recommendations are translated into practice remains fundamentally uncertain, particularly as the nature of policy change depends on broader political agendas. (Solomos 1999: 3.2)


Since the beginning of this century, the race relations approach has moved to a new phase, to community cohesion and integration.

Two significant events in 2001, the ‘race riots’ in three towns in northern England and ‘911’ in the US led to a renewed approach by the government in the UK. While investigations into the disturbances were conducted in the areas involved in the disturbances in Burnley, Oldham and Bradford (The Clarke Report [3] , The Ritchie Report [4] and The Ouseley Report [5] respectively) and the Independent Review Team (Cantle Report) which provided a national overview of the state of race and community relations, Community Cohesion Review Team Report (2001) (Home and Office 2001) that directed changes in government approach.

A few days before the release of the Cantle Report, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett expressed his concerns about the ‘race’ riots in an interview in the Independent

“We recognise there are historic divisions between communities that have separated Asian from White and Afro-Caribbean from Asian and that it will take many years to overcome. We also recognise that racial prejudice is deep-seated and we need to face it head on”. He stated that ‘we have got to develop a sense of identity and a sense of belonging’ if we are to have social cohesive communities. [6] .

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Following the interview, the media focused on one recommendation out of the 67 which the report recommended (Robinson 2005). The result of this was the disturbances quickly became a concern about ‘identity and belonging’ rather than the frustrations of people living in areas of social and economic deprivation, as detailed in each of the local reports. The concept of ‘segregation’ was used in The Ouseley Report, and was placed at the heart of the Community Cohesion Review Team Report and the opening paragraph in the report exemplified this concern:

“Whilst the physical segregation of housing estates and inner city areas came as no surprise, the team was particularly struck by the depth of polarisation of our towns and cities ……Separate educational arrangements, community and a voluntary body, employment, places of worship, language, social and cultural networks, means that many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives.” (p9).

The concern was the lack of interaction between the different ethnicities had led to the ignorance and fear about each other. It was viewed the minority ethnic community had not integrated into ‘white’ mainstream exemplified by the residential segregation of the different ethnicities.

The blame for the existence of ‘parallel lives’ people was considered to be due to multiculturalist policies, these had caused and allowed ethnic communities to be inward looking and had allowed minority communities to self-segregate. The self-segregation debate was fuelled further by comments from unexpected quarters, from the then head of the Commission for Racial Equality who stated that Britain was ‘sleep-walking into segregation’, that this would lead Britain to have American style black ghettos [7] . This public declaration by the head of race relations body lent further support to self-segregation debate.

At the time, policy makers and politicians and sensationalised headlines in the right wing media gave support to and legitimised the claim that it was not racial discrimination that was the problem, it was the ‘culture’ of immigrants, that immigrants did not want to mix and ‘their’ culture was too different to integrate with British culture. Levels of residential segregation also became an indicator of migrant integration and high levels of segregation were viewed as a divisive factor (Phillips 2007).

Although the term’ integration’ is popularly used by politicians and policy makers alike, guidance on policy was not forthcoming and there was confusion as to what the term means (Catney, Finney and Twigg 2011). Most political discussion of integration seems to assume tacitly that it means conformity with a homogenous set of norms and values within a monocultural society. In 2002 a report had been commissioned by Home Office (Castles et al. 2002) had been critical of the use of the term ‘integration’. As a theoretical concept the meaning of the term ‘integration’ ranges from assimilationist to pluralist perspectives, which the authors argued needs to be examined more closely in terms of their application to two-way processes of accommodation between minorities and the broader society. And also the term ‘integration’ is so broad and vague that it can be over-used and invoked without any attempt to establish relevant indicators p118. The confusion over the term was also reflected in the initiative and policies that local government were addressing as part of the community cohesion agenda.

Four years after the term had been introduced, at the launch of the government report (Home and Office 2005) Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society in January 2005, which had been attended by some 500 delegates and distinguished panel [8] , delegate members and many of the panellists questioned what is meant to ‘integrate’ to achieve ‘integration’. Delegates questioned whether it meant ‘going to the pub’ ‘stop praying’ and ‘shaving off the beard’ ‘sharing some common values while not abandoning what differentiates one from others’ and ‘how did we know when a person has integrated’ (Grillo 2007). These types of questions are a reflection of the questioning and great confusion over the meaning of the term integration across the UK.


There has been a strong link made between the integration of minority ethnic groups and their residential segregation by policy makers, media and academics (Kalra and Kapoor 2008).

The authors of the Cantle Report had stated “We do not see ‘integration’ and ‘segregation’ as necessarily opposed. The complete separation of communities based on religion, education, housing, culture, employment etc., will, however mean that the lack of contact with and absence of knowledge about, each other’s communities will lead to the growth of fear and conflict. (Section 5.7.3).

An explanation of the term segregation is provided ‘the extent to which different groups are geographically, economically and socially separated, including the impact of housing policies and practice (CANTLE REPORT 2001, p61).

Over the last decade the much sensationalised claim of ‘sleepwalking into segregation’ has been challenged and has been refuted and the segregation debate has been put to rest. Human geographer (Peach 1996, Peach 1999, Peach 2009) extensive empirical work in ethnicities and residential patterns has shown the segregation levels to be very different from the American style ghettos and on the contrary to Phillips (2007) claims, Peach argues the levels of segregation of minority ethnic communities are decreasing (2009, p17). Another extensive work by (Simpson and Finney 2011) Sleepwalking into Segregation: Challenging Myths about Race and Migration. Simpson (2004) argues the evidence did not support the legend of self-segregation. Demographic evidence shows dispersal, supporting the survey evidence of a desire to live in mixed neighbourhoods by most in the South Asian populations.

There has been much criticism of the narrowly focused ‘self-segregation’ claims, which highlight the racialised lens of the debate. For instance, there has been little criticism of the ‘white flight’ process which affected the residential patterns to be obscured in particular areas. Additionally, there is not so much attention, by the media or government, to the segregation of neighbourhoods by class, income and lifestyles or to the increasing trend of gated communities by social elites ((Atkinson and Flint 2004); (Manzi and Bowers 2005). Kalra & Kapoor (2008) point out the pattern of settlement of immigrants requires to be understood in a historical context as immigrants settled in areas where there were historically manufacturing jobs. The concentration of 55 per cent of Muslim households in the worst two deciles of multiple deprivations in England and Wales (Peach 2006) needs to be seen in this context. Studies into the experiences of integration and segregation in the Netherlands and the UK found that current understandings of segregation and integration are too focused on cultural aspects, and overlook structural factors that obstruct immigrants’ integration (van and Liempt 2011).

Whilst the claims of segregation were finally dismissed, alarm over American style segregation persisted from the period 2001 – 2007, and where integral to the debate on the community cohesion and integration agenda.

Communitarianism and community cohesion

In the concern to bring about racial harmony within communities, the New Labour government drew upon American policy makers and concepts. According to Robinson (2005) the language of community cohesion had been non-existent in urban theory or public policy prior to 2001.

One of these was the concept of ‘communitarianism’ which was the work of Etzioni 1995. The idea behind this concept is that ‘communities can serve the dominant moral order by expressing particular moral commitments to which individual members’ assign their personal values and allegiance’ (p1417). Within this narrative, segregation is problematized, as it is perceived that communities that assert order are at odds with the dominant order. Thus, after the 2001 disturbances and questioning in the West of assertive Muslim allegiances post 9/11 the focus on ‘community’ as an area of social control was given credence. According to Robinson, The Cantle Report saw the ‘community’ to be the place where cohesion was to happen, ‘for micro-communities to gel or mesh into an integrated whole’ (p1417).

The Cantle Report in 2001 drew upon the work of (Kearns and Forrest 2000) in relation to cohesion in communities. Their framework for socially cohesive society consists of five key elements, four of these elements were adopted – common vision and a sense of belonging for all communities; the diversity of people’s different backgrounds and circumstances are appreciated and positively valued; and strong and positive relationships to be developed between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods. The fifth element was adapted ‘social solidarity and reductions in wealth’ was replaced with ‘those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities’ (p1013). Thus ‘community cohesion’ is conceptualised as social cohesion at the neighbourhood level and community is regarded as the place where common social values enabling all communities to work together towards common goals can be asserted (Robinson 2005).

The concept of ‘social capital’ which was popularised b


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