The last three weeks since the murder of George Floyd have seen a justified rage express itself amongst our communities. The Black Lives Matter movement has seen the black community, supported by others, out on our streets reaffirming that enough is enough and demanding change.
But we’ve been here before.
George Floyd being unlawfully killed by a police officer is not the first time such an injustice has taken place either in the USA or the UK. It is not the first time it took widespread condemnation and protests for appropriate action to be taken against the police officers concerned. And it is not the first time the widespread inequalities facing black, Asian and minority ethnic people have been the subject of so much comment and debate.
The weariness of those who have trodden this path many times before has received a renewed vigour from the energy of a new generation realising the limitations widespread inequalities places on their lives. And not for the first time either.
It is this cyclical and generational realisation, despair, rage and call to activism that is perhaps the biggest injustice of all.
We live in a society in which we are constantly reminded of our common progressive values. A society where we’re assured of the importance and value of diversity, where hard work is encouraged as the key determinant of social mobility, where laws are passed and a whole industry exists to eradicate discrimination. A society where promises are regularly made to learn from such tragedies and fix the system.
Yet the reality remains very different.
Unequal treatment of black, Asian and minority ethnic people continues. In our criminal justice system, in our prisons, in sentencing by our courts, in numbers of stop & searches, in arrests and in deaths in custody. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are still more likely to be in low paid and insecure work, more likely to live in overcrowded accommodation, and in neighbourhoods with poorer environment and amenities and to have lower life expectancy.
Immigration is still treated as a political football in a discourse that allows the injustice of Windrush and enforces second class status for those with differing immigration status even if they are key workers.
There remains a lack of black, Asian and minority ethnic people amongst decision makers at all levels – in boardrooms, amongst elected representatives, in the media, amongst senior staff and amongst those appointed to key roles.
Outcomes in our health and education services for those from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities remain imbalanced. Our education system continues to deliver the lowest attainment in schools to children from minority communities including black boys. These same children are the most likely to be excluded from school and denied access to ‘elite’ universities. Alongside longstanding health inequalities, we now know of the disproportionate numbers of deaths of those from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities from Covid-19 both in our communities and amongst our NHS workers, with no adjustments made to protect them.
These inequalities have existed for decades and successive generations have been moved to fight against them. Yet, it seems not much has changed.
We need significant cultural change.
There is much already said about accepting and accommodating diversity within our institutions and society. We need to go further. We need to rise to the challenge of really embracing diversity.
Diversity is not just about ensuring our workforce or decision makers have diverse faces; its about accepting that diversity really is the true natural state. Our world is diverse but so are our smallest family units – no two people are the same. Homogeneity is the artificial imposition of small mindedness: of lack of ambition and of fear. An openness to difference is essential. We must break down the resistance that exists in our minds and in our institutions, to move towards difference and diversity.
And successfully embracing difference and diversity isn’t just about having more black, Asian and minority ethnic people at all levels, or about fixing the longstanding inequalities described above or addressing outcomes – it is all of this and more.
It is recognition that, in a changing world, our statues, monuments and public sphere belong as much to those from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities as to anybody else. And just as they speak to the history of this country and to those who can trace their residence here over several generations, they similarly speak to those of us more recently arrived and our own community’s historic experience – often at the hands of those cast in bronze! But most importantly, they speak to all of our children and their collective future as friends, neighbours and colleagues.
It is an understanding that a curriculum that teaches our children about their community’s history and language and allows for diverse cultures isn’t about negating or devaluing the Anglocentric view. It’s a recognition of the importance all parents put on teaching their children about their background, which in turn leads to real inclusion and our children’s ownership off of their future.
It is ensuring that considerations in respect of black, Asian and minority ethnic people are not secondary when formulating policy but that policy making is for all Britons. It is making sure that the pronunciation of an individual’s name, the colour of their skin or their family history are not factors when appointing, selecting or electing. It is accepting that aspiration and social mobility are rights for all and all must be achievable through hard work.
But most importantly it is recognising that these challenges have existed for too long and too many generations have had to fight for change. The rage within our communities over George Floyd’s death is justified. It didn’t begin with his death; ending the rage requires us all to accept that inequality and racial discrimination are still very real.
We all need to work to eradicate injustice and discrimination to create a more equal future. We must emancipate all our children from the never-ending fight for equality.
Gurinder Singh Josan CBE is a businessman and HOPE Not Hate trustee who sits on Labour’s National Executive Committee and the West Midlands’ Strategic Policing and Crime Board. He tweets @gsjosan