Owen Jones: Race hate is still walking our streets

 

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The Independent Online

That two of the racist thugs who murdered Stephen Lawrence have been locked up is, finally, some justice. But this is no moment of catharsis; nor can we say this is the long-awaited righting of an extreme injustice which we can put behind us. The Lawrence family have still been robbed of their son, and some of the other racist gangsters who murdered him nearly two decades ago remain at large.

Doreen Lawrence has been an inspiration throughout her family's 18-year ordeal. And she has a message for all of us that should be a rallying cry in the aftermath of this verdict: "The fact is that racism and racist attacks are still happening in this country, and the police should not use my son's name to say that we can move on." With nearly 40,000 race hate crimes in 2010, it is no time for complacency in the struggle against all forms of prejudice and bigotry.

That is not to gloss over what has already been achieved. Just over 50 years ago, a Gallup poll found that 71 per cent of Britons opposed interracial marriage. The number of people who still hold this view is so small that pollsters have stopped recording the figure. Britain has the highest levels of mixed-race marriages in Europe.

We should also not portray racist gangsters like Gary Dobson and David Norris as emblematic of the bigotry of the so-called "white working class". Racism remains a problem within working-class communities as it does at every level of society. But inner-city areas are far more mixed than many leafy middle-class suburbs. Some 35 per cent of London supermarket workers hail from an ethnic background; the figure is 10 times lower among partners of Britain's top 100 legal firms. In London Boroughs such as Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham, working-class people of all ethnic backgrounds work, socialise and sleep together.

But race and racism continue to loom large over British society. In the aftermath of the August riots, I spoke to a number of young black men about their experiences with the police. Despite never having been charged with a crime, many had endured being stopped and searched by the police since they were as young as 12. Black people are 26 times more likely than whites to be stopped and searched under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

Some parts of the media retain their pernicious role of fanning prejudice. Because of its relentless pursuit of Stephen Lawrence's murderers, the Daily Mail is receiving much kudos. But let's not forget its role in promoting dangerous myths about immigrants and ethnic minorities with headlines such as "Maternity units turn away British mums as immigrants' baby boom costs NHS £350m". This is the kind of reporting that perpetuates the dangerous myth of white Britons being undermined by ethnic minorities – and thus helps inflame divisions within our society.

Some forms of prejudice have actually become worse since Stephen Lawrence was murdered. The Conservative Baroness Sayeeda Warsi was right to say that Islamophobia now passes the "dinner-table test". A study at the end of 2007 revealed that 91 per cent of articles about Muslims in one selected week of coverage were negative. For the British National Party – as is the case for the far-right across Europe – Muslims are now the target of choice.

That's why it's so important that we heed Doreen Lawrence's words. Racism and prejudice retain their ugly presence at every level of society. The fight against it has a long way to go.

Owen Jones is the author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

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