Letter: Rooted racism

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Although highly disturbing, Dr Oakley's findings of institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police ("Police accused of `racist culture'", 3 August) will come as no surprise to those of us whose explorations of racism takes them into institutional settings, be they open or closed. I chaired the independent inquiry into the death of Orville Blackwood in Broadmoor Hospital in 1993. He was a young Afro-Caribbean offender patient with a history of schizophrenic illness. Two earlier reports into the deaths of two other Afro-Caribbean patients, which were asked to re- evaluate, had found no direct evidence of racism in Broadmoor and many of the witnesses at our inquiry did not believe that it was a problem in the hospital. However, we were of the firm opinion that such views were "based on an interpretation of racism founded on very crude measures" and that the staff and management just did not recognise the subtle ways in which racism could operate.

We concluded that there was racism in Broadmoor, but not on the whole deliberate or necessarily conscious; rather it was an extreme lack of sensitivity to the needs and cultural differences of ethnic minority patients. Of our 47 recommendations, several were directed at ethnic issues. These included the need to appoint black staff at senior management level and to have black representation on the managing health authority. We also offered to return to the hospital to monitor the implementation of our recommendations - an offer firmly declined at that time. Somewhat ironically, a few weeks ago, I was asked to return to Broadmoor to participate in a seminar examining how successful the hospital had been in developing its anti-racist policies and practices! I learnt that there were still no black members of senior management, neither was there any black representation on the managing health authority. It also appeared that there were even fewer black staff working on the wards than at the time of our inquiry. All institutions are notoriously impervious to change; the only way to bring about such change is to make them more openly accountable. Sadly, we still have a long way to go.

Herschel Prins

Loughborough, Leicestershire