Colleen Harris: 'Minorities need greater integration, not separate communities'

From a speech by the Commission for Racial Equality's director of strategy and communications, at the launch in London of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations' Diversity Policy
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The Independent Online

Some people think that the reason for racial equality is purely moral and social justice. Others think it is a business issue. These are good reasons, but they cannot be enough.

Ethnic minority Britons want - even need - something more fundamental and less dependent on others' goodwill. The claim for equality is founded on a simple truth - we are British in every respect. We share the burdens of being members of this society. We should share in the benefits too.

Equality is not a favour - it is a right. It was not so long ago that I was a lone black press officer surrounded by a sea of white colleagues. When I turned up for meetings people would ask if Mrs Harris was away today. I have spent a large part of my career working at the heart of the British establishment - government departments, Downing Street, the royal household - but I was always the only ethnic minority for a very long time, and have many stories to tell, some funny, some painful, of that experience. I am pleased to say that things have improved, and black and ethnic minorities are better represented in public life than ever before. Yet we still don't have a single Asian or black High Court judge, a serving Army officer above the rank of Lt Col, and just one permanent secretary in Whitehall.

We want a society where everyone's life chances are unaffected by what or where they were born. That is, your race should be a random factor in determining whether you are a convict or Lord Chancellor. We don't want separate communities, we want integration, because that's how we avoid conflict.

What is integration? Well, it's about people feeling they have a stake in society, that they belong. It's about accepting different cultures but finding the thread that binds us together. London has been a good example of this over the last few days. People have pulled together against this criminal act.