I thought about Stephen Lawrence most days in the year of the public inquiry into his death, writes Sunder Katwala. His murder had changed the way that we talk about race in Britain.
That still resonates down the years, so “Stephen Lawrence: Did Britain Change?” was the question that ITV sought to answer last night to assess the state of the nation on race today.
I was living on Eltham’s Well Hall Road, not ten yards from the memorial plaque where Stephen had fallen, bled and died some six years earlier. The blur of hatred which had seen Stephen murdered in a few frenzied seconds – killed for the colour of his skin, while hoping to spot a number 161 bus that might get him home to Plumstead – contrasted so bewilderingly with the mundane busy suburban normality as I trudged up the road past the local co-op and curry houses from Eltham station each evening.
The killing of George Floyd echoes the impact of that of Stephen Lawrence, though much more rapidly. That excruciating video of the 9 minutes it took Floyd to die spread around the world in days. It had taken four years after Stephen Lawrence’s murder before most people ever heard his name. The swaggering impunity of the prime suspects at his inquest provoked the Daily Mail to run its famous “Murderers” front-page in 1997 before the new government launched a public inquiry. These were far from the only deaths of their kind but circumstances coincided. Many in Middle England then, as across America now, came to see racism differently, as Doreen Lawrence’s campaign for justice for her son and how the police failed him generated empathy with those who may not have thought about racism from the perspective of a black family before.
Moments of change on race are always contested too. White paint was splashed on Stephen Lawrence’s memorial in a racist gesture on the very day that the Macpherson report came out. We ended up with our own doorstep copper for the rest of the week, though his sense of grievance about the case rather undermined the contrition of the police leadership.
Episodic surges of attention after major events have driven the history of race in Britain, with Macpherson’s report in 1999 following that of Scarman after the 1981 riots. Once again, the question this summer is how far that gets channelled into sustained change, or fizzles out.
Did Britain change? “Nowhere near enough” is the clear verdict from black and Asian Britain in ITV’s major new nationally representative poll of 3,000 people, including 1,500 from ethnic minorities, conducted by Number Cruncher Politics. Indeed, ethnic minority respondents are as likely to say that racism in Britain has increased (32%) as decreased (29%) in their lifetime. Almost four out of ten white respondents felt there had been a decrease in racism, while a quarter felt it had decreased and others stayed on the fence.
I find myself in the minority of almost a third of non-white Britain who feel that we did make significant, though incomplete, progress. I could compile a dossier of objective, statistical evidence for that case, though it may matter more that it reflects my own lived experience too. Experiences differ significantly. British Indians now have similar socio-economic outcomes overall to the white British, but that is not true for black British groups, nor for British Muslims, who have felt a sharp increase in prejudice and suspicion since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7. The new research reflects these differences across ethnic groups – while class, politics and education shape different perspectives to race within the white majority too.
Gradual progress has been outstripped by rising expectations. There may be a reluctance to answer that “things got better” given an awareness of how often that is seized upon as an unwarranted vote of confidence in the status quo. Most of those who believe that there has been progress also want to see a focus on what still needs to change.
My children will never hear the volume of overt public racism that I encountered as a teenage Everton season ticket holder. But ending banana-throwing and monkey chants merits few laps of honour. The ITV poll offers a detailed, nuanced account of why most ethnic minority Britons report that racism in their everyday lives is not a thing of the past. The collapse in overtly racist attitudes between different generations is one of the most important long-term changes in our society. Yet I personally get more overt racism in 2020 than I did two decades ago. Racist trolls are now only a click away from anybody who talks about race in online spaces – and they will often find the Twitter platform rules are on their side in tolerating racism, despite the #blacklivesmatter hashtag pinned to its home-page.
Education has seen most progress. Ethnic minority Britons have been more likely to be university graduates than their white peers for several years now. Black 18-year-old school students are more likely, not less, to go into higher education, though less often to the most prestigious institutions. Yet this progress in education will generate rising dissatisfaction if change in the workplace does not now speed up too. The least contested evidence that systemic racial disadvantage exists in Britain is the robust studies showing that CVs with identifiably ethnic minority names get fewer interviews than if sent in under a different name with the same qualifications.
The biggest contrast between ethnic minority and white British respondents is in perceptions of how much still needs to change. That 77% of black respondents still see a culture of racism in the police was described as “devastating” by Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball in last night’s programme. The NHS has the strongest reputation for treating those of all backgrounds fairly – but black citizens are twice as likely as white people to see a culture of racism in the justice system, corporations and Parliament. A majority of ethnic minority respondents feel that the press has a culture of racism – with only one in five confident that they do not.
Ethnic minority Britons do have a fairer share of voice in public life than twenty years ago. How many people noticed that Tony Blair and Jack Straw led an all-white Cabinet when they received the Macpherson report into Stephen Lawrence’s death? There had never been a black or Asian Cabinet minister – so the absence seemed entirely normal. There were only nine ethnic minority MPs out of 650 – and no Asian woman would reach the Commons for another decade. So the shift from one in 65 ethnic minority MPs to one tenth of the Commons today is an opportunity to put race equality onto the agenda. Ethnic minority citizens may also ask how far those who do make it to the citadels of power will have the confidence or permission to address race inequalities.
Nine per cent of the white British say they would not want an ethnic minority Prime Minister, while 32% think it would be a positive development. The most popular white answer – from 51% – is that the ethnicity of the Prime Minister isn’t relevant at all. Yet ethnic minorities are more likely (45%) to say it would be positive than that it is irrelevant (36%) – while few say it would matter more if asked specifically about a Prime Minister from their own group.
The ITV poll illuminates what we agree about too. The importance of education about Empire and its controversies in schools is common ground spanning ethnic groups and political perspectives – even if views differ when we debate what to do about specific statues and inscriptions.
That racism in America is worse than it is in Britain generates a strikingly broad inter-ethnic consensus – with 72% seeing racism in America as worse, including almost two-thirds of black British and ethnic minority respondents, and 5% thinking racism is worse in Britain. Anti-racism protestors are highlighting what needs to change here – not claiming that the issues on both sides of the Atlantic are identical.
Another contrast with US attitudes may prove more important for action to tackle racism. Asked which groups face prejudice in our society, there is a broad convergence of views. Black British people see significant levels of prejudice against their group – and perceive a similarly high level of prejudice against Muslims. Almost two-thirds of white people, too, feel there is prejudice against black people and against Muslims – a perspective shared across other minority groups. Just 16% of white respondents say that the white working-classes face prejeudice. So the idea that most racism is anti-white these days, a grievance frequently pursued on the internet, is much less common in Britain than America.
If these results are surprising, it should be a reminder that ethnic minority views are invisible in most opinion polls published in this country – still not being a standard demographic break in polling. The polling industry will need to step up to the challenges of polling ethnic minorities properly, as Matt Singh wrote recently. So this poll’s publication – and a nuanced ITV prime-time discussion of where we are on race – was important. Sustained change will depend on finding the common ground on race equality – but we can’t make a start until ethnic minority voices count equally too.
Sunder Katwala is Director of British Future. He chairs “Let’s talk about race,” an online panel discussion with former Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Lord Simon Wooley, Lisa Eigbadon and Andrea Als of PWC, next Thursday 23 July.
More findings from the ITV News/Number Cruncher politics poll
How much racism is there in Britain today?
– Half of respondents across groups (49% of black, white and all BME respondents) think there is “a fair amount” of racism in Britain today.
– 23% of ethnic minority respondents and 14% of white respondents see “a lot” of racism in Britain today, rising to 33% among black British respondents.
– A quarter of the white British say there is “not much” (23%) racism in Britain today, or none at all (3%). – 20% of ethnic minority respondents and 10% of black respondents say there is not much racism in Britain today.
America and Britain
72% of respondents – including 63% of ethnic minority and 63% of black respondents – say there is more racism in America than Britain. 5% of respondents, including 8% of ethnic minorities and 6% of black respondents, see more racism in Britain. 19% of ethnic minority respondents, and 24% of black respondents, perceive similar levels of racism in America and Britain.
Has the Black Lives Matter movement improved race relations?
56% black respondents say that it has done so, while 23% say that it has not and 22% don’t know.
43% of all ethnic minority respondents say that it has, and 30% that it has not.
33% of white respondents say it has done so, while 44% say it has not done so, and 23% don’t know.
Experiences of racism and prejudice
The survey asks in detail about different types of overt racism and perceptions of prejudice.
– A third of ethnic minority respondents had personal experience of racist violence or threats of violence.
– 53% of ethnic minority respondents, including three-quarters of black people, believe they have been treated with suspicion in shops.
– 69% of ethnic minority respondents and 81% of black people have been asked “where are you really from?”
– 10% of ethnic minority respondents experienced overt racist abuse frequently, and 49% received racist abuse occasionally, while one in three had not been racially abused in person.
59% of ethnic minorities, including 77% of black respondents, see the police as having a culture of racism. 42% of white respondents agreed.
47% of ethnic minorities, including 64% of black respondents, say the same of the justice system.
45% of ethnic minorities, including 59% of black respondents, perceive the Home Office as having a culture of racism. Only 25% of ethnic minority respondents, and just 15% of black British respondents, say that the Home Office does not have a culture of racism. 28% of white British respondents perceive a culture of racism in the Home Office, while 39% say that this is not the case, and 33% don’t know.
41% of ethnic minorities, including 53% of black respondents, say that there is a culture of racism in universities, while a third of ethnic minorities say that there is not. 24% of white respondents agree about this, while 51% say it is not the case.
15% of the public, including 30% of ethnic minorities, see the NHS as having a culture of racism, while 68% of the public, including 46% of ethnic minorities say that it does not.
50% of ethnic minority respondents – including 58% of black respondents – believe that the Conservative party has a culture of racism. 20% of ethnic minority respondents say that it does not, while 30% don’t know.
31% of ethnic minority respondents say that the Labour Party has a culture of racism, while 35% say that it does not, and a third don’t know.
Among white British respondents, a similar (33%) perceive a culture of racism in the Conservative Party as in the Labour Party, while 38% say this is not the case for either party, while 3 in 10 don’t know.
Which groups face prejudice in Britain today?
63% of people say that there is either a lot or a fair amount or prejudice against black men in Britian today. This includes 61% of white British and 71% of ethnic minority respondents. 56% of the public – including 67% of ethnic minority respondents – think there is a fair amount or a lot of prejudice against black women.
Black British respondents share the perception that there is more prejudice against black men than black women. Among black respondents, 57% perceive there is a lot of prejudice against black men and 27% quite a lot of prejudice. 39% perceive that there is a lot of prejudice against black women, and 40% that there is quite a lot of prejudice against them.
65% of the public perceive a lot or a fair amount of prejudice against both Muslim men and Muslim women – including 69% of ethnic minority respondents, 77% of black British respondents, and 65% of white British respondents.
There are similar perceptions of levels of anti-semitism among white British and ethnic minority respondents. 33% of white British and 33% of ethnic minority respondents perceive that there is a great deal or a fair amount of prejudice. But 10% of white British respondents and 13% of ethnic minority respondents say that there is no prejudice at all against Jewish people in Britain today.
A third of respondents – broadly equally across white and non-white respondents – think there is a lot or a fair amount of prejudice against East Europeans.
16% of white British respondents and 14% of ethnic minorities perceive that there is a lot or a fair amount of prejudice against white working-class men and women. 40% of white British respondents say that there is “not very much” and three out of ten that there is “none at all” in this case.
Who wants to be BAME?
42% of ethnic minority respondents do not identify with the term “BAME”.
24% of ethnic minority respondents “identify with the term BAME and find it useful”. 34% said they did “identify with the term but do not find it useful”.
20% of white British respondents recognise the term and find it useful. 40% recognise it but do not find it useful. 38% are not familiar with what it means
* Poll details: Number Cruncher Politics interviewed 3,065 adult (18+) UK residents online between 3rd and 12th July 2020 for ITV news. The sample included 1,563 white respondents and 1,502 ethnic minority respondents, of which 405 were black. White and ethnic minority subsamples were each independently weighted to the profiles of their respective subpopulations, from which nationally representative figures were derived based on the combined sample, weighted to representative proportions