Two-thirds of white people in Britain admit they are prejudiced against at least one minority group, with Gypsies and asylum-seekers the main targets, according to an authoritative study published this week.
The damning report identifies five types of bigotry displayed by whites, ranging from outright aggression to more subtle forms of prejudice that undermine attempts to make Britain an inclusive society.
The findings will be presented to ministers and MPs on Tuesday and will show that prejudice is still widespread, with asylum-seekers, Asians and travellers all regarded as cultural threats to traditional English values. The study, commissioned by Stonewall, the gay rights lobby group, also shows prejudice against gays, lesbians and the disabled.
According to Stonewall, the report revealed "significant pockets of unpleasant prejudice against minorities".
A Mori poll also found that travellers and Gypsies are the most likely target of prejudice, closely followed by refugees and asylum-seekers. Nearly a third of 1,700 adults questioned said their parents were most likely to influence their bigoted views. Those most likely to be unprejudiced were women, people aged between 15 and 44, and those educated to A-level standard or above.
Professor Gill Valentine, head of geography at Sheffield University, and Ian McDonald, a politics and sociology lecturer at the University of Brighton, also carried out separate research for the study, Understanding Prejudice, in an attempt to pinpoint the triggers for bigotry and racism in this country.
The results were based on in-depth interviews and responses from 10 focus groups in three regions - the South-west, the West Midlands and London. The five main types of prejudice displayed were:
- Aggressive - often carried out by racists and backed with threats of violence, usually against asylum-seekers, travellers and Gypsies.
- Banal - unintentional bigotry by people ignorant of political correctness, for example calling gay people "queer", which passes unnoticed.
- Benevolent - this is typified by pitying comments, often by do-gooders, for example towards disabled people, which are intended positively but which label them as vulnerable or helpless.
- Cathartic -prejudice used by people to justify their bigoted views, such as a customer who makes a racist comment because he thinks he has been slighted by an Asian shopkeeper.
- Unintentional - unwitting ignorance that shows a lack of understanding of diversity and rights. Used, for example, by people who think gays are "nice" but do not realise they have the same partnership rights as the rest of society.
Terms such as "invasion" and "not knowing their place" were used by interviewees to justify the cultural threat allegedly posed by minority groups, with South Asians singled out for not showing "respect" for white culture.
Minority groups are also expected to conform to stereotype, with black professionals not officially recognised by people. Gay people are grudgingly accepted, although gay men's sexuality is associated with paedophilia. None of the interviewees or focus group members had any contact with asylum-seekers, yet this was the minority group that prompted the most negative response.
A study published by Stonewall in 2003 revealed a substantial link between different types of prejudice - for example between racists and homophobes - and concluded that failing to identify this link may shift intolerance of one minority group to another.
Stonewall said the new report highlighted the fact that prejudice was "not constrained by cultures or regions or background" and emphasised the urgent need for a single equality commission dedicated to eradicating bigotry.
"People associate prejudice with the sort of violent attacks that saw the deaths of Stephen Lawrence or David Morley, but there is a large amount of casual prejudice about all sorts of minority groups," said Ben Summerskill, Stonewall's chief executive.
"It's all too commonplace among all sorts of people. Britain is growing up and beginning to recognise and celebrate difference but, sadly, there are significant pockets of unpleasant prejudice against minorities which still exist."
Jacqui Smith, deputy minister for women and equality, said that though progress had been made on reducing stigma and discrimination, more work was needed.
She said: "We have made progress in recent years, but we must not be complacent - there is still much work for us to do to achieve the culture change necessary to ensure a fairer, more inclusive society."
Additional reporting by Matthew Tucker
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