Transcript of the plenary by Omar Khan at the BSA Annual Conference 2018.
The popular press, our political leaders, and public debate all claim that we have overcome racism. I outline three challenges we need to overcome to get beyond this public and policy denial about racial inequalities. These challenges – of analysis, mobilisation, and policy – are interlinked, as I will explain based on my role as Director of the Runnymede Trust – or more as a ‘practitioner’ than an academic. In particular, the way we analyse race in the UK has wider implications for how people mobilise or create a movement to challenge racial inequalities, and the sorts of policies that might actually tackle those inequalities.
The first challenge is the challenge of analysis. Evidence continues to show significant and persistent racial inequalities in the UK. At the same time changing demographics and the changing evidence on race has led to some confusion regarding our analysis of the cause of racial justice. Confusion regarding if or how to adapt our analysis to respond both to the changing nature of ethnicity in Britain, as well as the continued salience of colour-based racism partly explains why race has moved off the agenda, which is an issue not just of categories and analysis, but of mobilisation and policy.
The shifting analysis described above is partly a response to different mobilisation(s) among various ethnic groups, and so the relatively weaker political power of BME people collectively. As Runnymede learned in its ‘End Racism this Generation’ campaign, it is not easy to build and sustain a common position or mobilisation around race, and some of this is due to different analysis of what it is that we are or should be talking about.
Policy is the third and final challenge for achieving race equality. How we analyse those inequalities, and how we collectively organise in opposition to those inequalities, obviously suggest different answer to ‘what should be done’: what sorts of responses will be most effective and which should be prioritised.
I will conclude by suggesting how we might respond to these challenges, and in particular how sociological analysis on race might better reflect on and support mobilisation and policy to tackle racial inequalities.