Attitudes to race really have improved

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's concerns over whether attitude change is really impatience with racial complaints are legitimate, but the research does not bear them out

Share
Related Topics

“What kind of question is that to ask?” asks Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, of British Future’s new report which explores how the two decades since Stephen Lawrence have changed how Britain thinks about prejudice. She fears that a poll finding people feel racism has declined over a generation could just reflect denial in a country “impatient with racial complaints”. That is a legitimate concern, but well-designed attitudes research could also help to investigate whether it stands up.

The British Future poll reports that 40 per cent of ethnic minority Britons perceive racism as having reduced over twenty years; 26 per cent that it is broadly similar; and 15 per cent that things got worse. White Britons are mildly more optimistic: 19 per cent say racism got worse, and 52 per cent that it has fallen. The “denial” thesis would surely predict a much wider gaps. Instead, both black and white Britons express sensible caution about over-claiming how fast things are changing, particularly on hate crime and policing. We also spent two days holding an Eltham citizens' jury, to hear from 38 year olds who grew up at the same time as Stephen Lawrence and today's 18 year olds, who were confident they shared a “good diversity” which had seen off the racist reputation of SE9 and far right stirrers. None of them, across racial lines, had much trust in the police.

As there is limited data on attitudes to prejudice in the 1990s, our 2013 survey conducted by Britain Thinks mirrored the questions which the authoritative British Social Attitudes study had asked then.

In 1991, the BSA asked people how much prejudice they thought there was against blacks and Asians. 58 per cent felt there was a lot of prejudice against Asians and 50 per cent against black Britons, with a further 35 per cent and 40 per cent finding some prejudice against these groups.

In 2013, we extended this question to ask about the major ethnic and faith groups, both majority and minority. Most people think there is a lot of prejudice towards Muslims (54 per cent). Today, 24 per cent say there is a lot of prejudice against blacks, and 29 per cent against Asians. If that simply reflects racism fatigue, it isn't clear why three-quarters recognise that prejudice against blacks and Asians persists. Just 7 per cent find almost no prejudice against Muslims, this research finds “impatience at complaints” would be directed more often at claims of Christian persecution. 11 per cent perceive a lot of prejudice against Christians, or white Britons. Majorities find “hardly any” prejudice against majority groups.

The BSA found 44 per cent of people in the 1990s said they would be uncomfortable were their children to marry across ethnic lines. That is now 9 per cent in 2013. This everyday tolerance has resulted from greater contact in a more diverse Britain. Maybe some people try to give a ‘correct’ answer, but the change over the decades shows how that ‘norm’ shifted.  When one in ten people live in a household where people tick different ethnicity boxes on the census, integration isn’t only a matter of surveys.

Nationally, three-quarters of people salute the campaign for justice led by the Lawrence family. A surly 4 per cent refuse. We may yet be less “hopelessly divided” on issues of race and identity than Yasmin Alibhai-Brown fears. There are so many areas – crime, justice and jobs – where more needs to change. We called our report “The Integration Consensus” because it captures how most  people share more common ground - on an inclusive identity and against racism too - than our polarised public debates usually reflect.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot