Effectiveness of Racial Discrimination Act in the UK
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Published: Fri, 13 Jul 2018
Discuss the relationship between opportunities and outcomes of how successful legislation against racial discrimination has been a failure in the UK
As Blackstone et al. (1998, p247-249) have argued, there have been many legislative initiatives within Britain to deal with the problems associated with racial discrimination. The problem of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ has cropped up on numerous occasions in Britain since the problem of race discrimination was first recognised, officially, back in the 1960s. The progress of these initiatives can be discussed using the lexicon of opportunities and outcomes, a lexicon which has in many ways and often justifiably been regarded as failing to incorporate legislation which deals adequately with the problems relating to race discrimination in Britain.
In historical terms discrimination against people of difference race, for example; Jews, Gypsies, Black People and Irish People had been a feature of everyday society prior to and during the 1960s. Speaking of racial difference in a discriminatory and disparaging way and the unequal treatment of foreigners was widely accepted in Britain during the 1960s, when this mentality first started to improve (Ifekwunigwe, J. (2004), p301). As Moore, R (2000, p1) acknowledges, migration to the UK was probably a catalyst for this problem, and in many ways this is still true today. Therefore the threads of racial discrimination, which existed years ago, exist today, giving momentum to the argument that the outcome of legislation in Britain regarding race discrimination has been a failure.
The period immediately following the Second World War also saw huge numbers of foreigners coming into Britain. Even the British government of 1905 shared the prejudice which was rife within society, when it passed the 1905 Aliens Act, which made reducing the numbers of Jewish people in Britain a legislative objective (www.cre.gov.uk, 2006). These attitudes were encouraged by the presence of right wing groups and the fact that certain resources like hospital beds and housing provision among poor people were in high demand amongst both ethnic and British people.
In assessing the background of how the forces of racial discrimination developed in Britain, it is possible to form an argument that the government did not do enough to use the opportunities of progress in other countries to try to ingrain more tolerance in British society, through the use of legislation. This too can be regarded as a failure on the part of the British government. But failure is a complicated matter and as more efforts were made by the British government to deal with racism, the idea of whether the outcome of their efforts was a failure becomes more complicated.
The passage of legislation which prohibited racial discrimination has its main roots in 1965, when the first moves were made within Britain to accept racial discrimination as a problem that should be dealt with by the government. The move happened against the backdrop of a successful American civil rights movement in the early 1960s. 1965 saw the introduction of the first Race Relations Act, which included a definition of what racism was. This definition set down that it was unlawful to treat a person less favourably than another on the grounds of colour, race or either ethnic or national origins (www.cre.gov.uk, 2006).
These steps have been criticised as being very limited, and some critics like Blackstone et al. (1998) have argued that the protections offered by the first Race Relations Act were hard for people to access as they were so difficult to prove. Therefore this piece of legislation can be described as in some ways a failure and in other ways, the somewhat successful outcome of an opportunity in which the government used a legislative tool to deal with problems associated with racial discrimination.
1968 saw the introduction of a new version of the Race Relations Act which made the parameters of making a claim of racial discrimination, broader in scope (www.cre.gov.uk, 2006). This is arguably an example of how Britain used a piece of legislation as an opportunity to address certain problems of race discrimination. However, one must look towards the outcome of this to measure the relative success of any legislation. This is a complicated task.
The 1968 Act provided that it was unlawful for people to be discriminated against on the grounds of race in the areas of employment, goods and services, housing and trade unions (www.cre.gov.uk, 2006). The Race Relations Board which had been formed to ensure that the Race Discrimination Act was implemented appropriately had its membership increased during the late sixties, making the Board a more effective body. Although whether one accepts whether the Board was an effective body is a matter of opinion, indeed it can be argued here that the Board was successful in that it oversaw the implementation of the Race Relations Act, but it was limited in its mandate, as it could not oversee the functions of government or small businesses in its scope.
The 1970s saw the introduction of the 1976 Race Relations Act which in still in operation today. This addressed the continuing problem of racial discrimination in Britain. How well the Act addressed the problem of race discrimination is the subject of much debate, and the answers to this question are rooted in subjectivity. The success of the Race Relations Act 1976 as the outcome of an opportunity is therefore a complex matter. The new Act defined two forms of discrimination, ‘Direct’ and ‘Indirect’. It also further defined the idea of victimisation, which was classified as a form of discrimination which was direct. On the more negative side many exceptions remained and this was not addressed by the Act; examples were, the recruitment process for certain types of jobs and certain roles within government were not covered by the legislation.
Therefore a dichotomy exists relating to whether one can effectively argue how much of a success and/or a failure opportunities and outcomes associated with the problem of race discrimination in the UK have been. Blackstone et al. (1998, p247) have argued that much has been offered in terms of progress by the race relations legislation, yet Blackstone et al. (1998) have also argued;
‘Most of the problems that troubled the early 1980s are still with us. The political climate has, in a number of ways, remained unhelpful….’.
It must be remembered however that the idea of failure is inherently linked with ideas of opportunities and outcomes in this discourse of racial discrimination provision and is also linked with how these processes have overlapped and complimented one another. Therefore, while it is easy to see the many failures of the British government to deal with the problems of racism, the outcomes of many of their attempts to deal with the problem of racial discrimination cannot be regarded as an abject failure, and equally cannot be regarded as a resounding success. The answer to this question, as is often the case, lies somewhere in between these two diametrically opposed positions.
Books and Articles
Blackstone, T, Parekh, B and Sanders, P. (1998) Race Relations in Britain: A Developing Agenda. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: London.
Ifekwunigwe, J. (2004) Mixed Race Studies: A Reader. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: New York.
Moore, R. (2000) Race, Class and Struggle: Essays on Racism and Inequality in Britain, the US and Western Europe. Journal Title: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Volume: 26. Issue: 2. Publication Year: 2000. Page Number: 372.
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