The Black Lives Matter protests have given a renewed voice to the endemic marginalisation of black people largely unquestioned in society for too long. As a committee we’ve thought long and hard about its implications. Now the media storm has somewhat abated, we want to continue the conversation and not let this moment be simply just another moment.
BLM poses huge questions to the status of human rights in our society, stemming from a long history of systemic social exclusion. Roberto Cuéllar surmises well:
“First, they are deprived of the legitimate aspirations to which they are entitled, such as an adequate standard of living, labour force participation and social integration. Unable to attain these conditions, they are barred from the lifestyle that a person expects to enjoy in a democratic society, including the exercise of human rights, whether civil and political or social, cultural and economic.”
The protests have given voice to the distinct and lived experiences of disadvantage, caused by systemic social exclusion of black communities. They have shown that injustices are not always tangible or easy to convey.
In this sense, it is promising that people of all backgrounds are speaking out and talking about what racism feels like and what it is to black people. But we need to harness this momentum channel it through to concrete action, long after the protests reside.
There is not one solution. But now is the time to invest policies that take into account the lived experience of discrimination and inequality. This demands a radical reworking of how society operates and the civil, economic, social and cultural rights that underpin it.
Addressing injustice in the justice system
We need to drastically reform policing and the criminal justice system. The rhetoric of law and order cannot be used to defend racism in wider society.
- Despite making up just 14% of the population, BAME men and women make up 25% of prisoners, and 40% of young people in custody.
- In London, black people are more than nine times more likely to be targets of stop and searches, despite committing no offence.
- 51% of people from BAME backgrounds born in England and Wales believe that the criminal justice system discriminates.
These are not just numbers are not just numbers on a page. Numbers are wasted lives, anger and mistrust. The figures are products of covert, overt and unconscious bias, which require multiple solutions: greater training, greater scrutiny and greater penalties. We urge the Labour Party to work to reinstate access to justice that has been decimated by LAPSO cuts, address the lack of diversity among in the penal and legal sectors, and pursue greater rehabilitation and support of offenders in the community. This would begin the journey to addressing the root causes of an ‘us and them’ culture.
Challenging preconceptions, addressing inequalities in education
Education should challenge preconceptions and properly teach the UK’s colonial history. Critical thinking at school will produce citizens who are all aware that they are part of a global human society and puts the onus on the individual to work to become anti-racist and call out others too. There is no quick fix.
At the same time, we need to make efforts to eliminate discrimination and provide equal access to engagement in the education system and provide meaningful career paths. A report from the Department for Education is telling: black Caribbean children, in particular, are three and a half times more likely to be excluded than all other children at schools. At a higher educational level, BAME students are underrepresented and feel unheard in the university community.
Meaningful work, adequate housing and public health
The pandemic, alongside other atrocities such as Grenfell and the Windrush scandal have brought into stark focus that BME are disproportionately at sharp end of exclusive and hostile policies and practice.
Figures from UCL suggest BAME people are two to three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the general population. This illuminates how we need to make sure the NHS is funded and resourced to cater for the varying needs of a diverse population and ensure a substantive right to health.
Yes, people from BAME backgrounds are more likely to have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, work in roles where they are exposed to it and live in conditions in which it is more likely to spread. But as Sadiq Khan commented “the depth of inequalities is being laid bare in stark fashion”.
To address racial inequalities, we must also radically reimagine our society, putting human rights front and center of policymaking. We need to protect workers, value those in key roles, ensure all have safe and adequate housing, and provide equal opportunity for training, and development that rewards everyone with meaningful lives.
Injustice in all its forms must be listened to. Lived experience of discrimination must be taken in account. If this pandemic has revealed the human vulnerability that interconnects us all, we are all responsible for radically reworking society so that all can flourish. Human rights are grounded in a person’s inherent human dignity, this demands all have a voice and are listened to.