Battling Discrimination, Institutionalised Racism and Inequality

Multiple news stories of late have described the extent of racism and sexism across institutions including within policing. Whilst many may read it in shock, for many women like me, we are not surprised, shocked, or outraged. Many of us know these experiences all too well and have sadly almost started to accept their existence. We fight where we can, we stand-up to injustice, but when it is a regular experience, it is exhausting and becomes our norm. I grew up as often the only child of colour in Primary School, then in High School and again when I went to university. I lived in a neighbourhood where we were the only non-white family and then when I started working, I would often find myself being one of a handful of non-white people. I have experienced by share of overt and cover racism, and repeatedly, it makes me question, why those doing the hard work of delivering equality are often the ones experiencing the inequality. The ones calling out the problem, rather than those with some power or influence doing that hard work too.

As a woman in my mid 40s and as a woman of South Asian heritage I have dedicated much of my personal and professional life to tacking racial inequality. Having worked across different sectors and industries almost everywhere I have been, the Diversity and Inclusion agenda has followed me. I have actively tried to avoid working on it at times but somehow it always ends up in my inbox. Almost as if it is our mess to clean-up. Of course, co-production and lived experience matters, but that does not abdicate others of their duty of care or duty to deliver change.

Over the years, I have worked for two conservation charities and on both occasions part of my role was to make local and global nature conservation issues a priority for Scotland’s minority ethnic communities. In these jobs I organised away days to the national park, ran multimedia courses and delivered cool art workshops. We worked with poets, willow weavers and face painters to try and make things more relevant and accessible to different community groups. In addition, I was always trying to find a hook and I thought I found one when I was working to make links between Scotland and global issues to our South Asian communities. For example, the plight of the Asian vulture – where numbers continue to decline due to poor farming practices across the Indian sub-continent or share information about the impact on climate change with the extreme deforestation practices of consecutive Pakistan governments. However well the events were attended or how successful our fundraiser was, I have no real confidence that any of those event participants have changed behaviours or attitudes to nature conservation. I also can’t see the charity sector, having the means to continue those levels of engagement – change takes investment, and there are just too many competing priorities. I notice how quickly important initiatives of this kind, became periphery when resources were tight. They were the first on the chopping block, reinforcing that these were “nice” things to do, rather than necessary things to do. 

Upon graduation, I moved to London and became a civil servant working within the UK Home Office. Here I joined the Police Leadership and Powers Unit. One of my first projects was providing the Secretariat to the Stephen Lawrence Enquire subgroups. The subgroups were working to look at how the English and Welsh police forces could deliver the findings of the Macpherson Report and look to the development and creation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I was a junior member of these teams but could again see how deep institutional racism ran and how it acted as a brick wall, preventing any real change. I was often left exasperated, wondering how these working groups would ever be able to break these down. Fast forward to 2023, and the same conversations, the same issues are making the headlines from The Met to Police Scotland. Such is the power of historic, institutionalised racism and inequality.

Stephen Lawrence

I now work for a Tier 1 contractor in Scotland, and I am heavily involved in the social mobility programmes we offer. Again, I am working with others to identify what the barriers are for minority groups from wanting to pursue careers in the construction and engineering sectors. We have lots of different campaigns including Value Everyone and Right to Respect, both of which are fantastic mixture of online training and face to face sessions.

I really want these to work, but to do that I think the sector needs all parts of society and all spaces of power to be open to hearing the ugly truth and making it priority. We hear the need for equality often, but what we don’t see is that being followed with the sustained efforts and investment it takes to make it happen. Until we see that, this critical work will continue to be sidelined and left for the pieces to be picked up by those who feel the discrimination the most. 


Comments (4)

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  1. SteveH says:

    Identity politics at it finest.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    “Such is the power of historic, institutionalised racism and inequality.”
    Indeed. There is a kind of superficial diversity focusing on skin colour but hiding anything deeper. We now have a black Doctor Who, but since the reboot have we ever had a green one? When has the Modern Doctor ever confronted the institutionalisation of British racism? Which is even more glaring an omission, since the TARDIS is now a fully-functioning time machine, the writers have no interest in alien societies, and the action largely takes place in London and Cardiff (sometimes as far away as Sheffield). When the Doctor drooled fanboyish over Charles Dickens, did he approve of Dickens’ public and sometimes extreme racism? When the Earth is threatened in Modern Who, is non-human life routinely ignored, when the Doctor explicitly states its population as merely the number of living humans?

    These serious omissions in the BBC’s flagship family show, now getting rave reviews in the Daily Mail/Telegraph with its repeated featuring of alien terrorists (evil foreigners) should raise a clamour of alarm bells. But its fokeness (fake wokeness) finds significant support among a fanbase perhaps unaware of their own rightwing leanings, who are as eager for self-pleasing myths as their Mail-reading counterparts, and as resistant to calls for change.

    1. Derek Thomson says:

      That last line made me chuckle.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Derek Thomson, it is certainly possible to have a Pride-friendly storyline that still effectively addresses wider social and ecological issues, as the recent DC Poison Ivy graphic novels/Harley Quinn animations do. And there are surely few more woke graphic novels than Wake.

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