Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Race Relations Act @50-Dame Jocelyn Barrows

Dame Jocelyn Barrows does not need any introduction to those of you who campaign against racism within the United Kingdom. For those of you who have not heard of her, she has been a leading campaigner for racial equality for around 50 years. Dame Jocelyn Barrows was born in Trinidad but arrived in her home country, the United Kingdom in the late 1960's.

Dame Jocelyn has been an academic for all of her life until recently retiring at the young age of 86. She decided to stay for a ‘while’ in England after discovering that Caribbean children were not fitting in or reaching their full potentials in UK schools. Their parents lacked understanding of the UK education system and the schools lacked knowledge of Caribbean school customs. The teachers needed to be taught how to deal with Caribbean children in order to teach the children successfully. Teachers needed to understand that parents and teachers in the Caribbean BOTH instructed children rather than the UK tradition of ‘teachers asking and parents telling.’ In Dame Jocelyn’s speech, she expressed the importance of parents and teachers working together for the children's welfare and education to ensure that both parties have the same aims and objectives. I believe that this continues to be important for children development today, regardless of whether they are used to British customs.

Dame Jocelyn explained that the British government offered incentives to Caribbean people returning to the Caribbean after the second world war to encourage them to return to England to work in labour roles. Nevertheless, there was still a huge amount of racial tension present in the UK. While there have been improvements in tackling racism over the past 50 years, its presence remains, but more discreetly.

It was clear throughout Dame Jocelyn's speech that she has got through life successfully with a good sense of humour to address crass questions such as “where are you from” and “where did you learn English”. She made a joke about how she is proud to tell the staff at customs that she has been British since long before they were born! (As Jocelyn is a British national born in the British Commonwealth of Trinidad.)

Dame Jocelyn moved on to discuss the Race Relations Act 1965. She described the Race Relations Act 1965 as a gesture of good will, with the real changes being implemented in the Race Relations Act 1978. The Dame was part of the Community Relations Commission. In the 1970’s the CRC became part of the Commission for Racial Equality. The Commission for Racial Equality was a non-departmental public body that aimed to address racial discrimination and promote racial equality. Its work has since been merged into the new Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Race Relations Act 1978 allowed people suffering discrimination to seek justice. However, the Dame explained that this was not plain sailing! The Commission conducted research to identify the true extent of racism within the United Kingdom. They selected Caribbean people with high academics and qualifications to apply for jobs in the city alongside white British applicants. However, despite the white applicants having lower academic achievements they were always offered employment over the non-white applicants. Only one Caribbean person was offered employment in the city over white applicants, which was for a job to open up a branch in 'Africa'.

The Dame spoke about the difficulty in seeking justice in cases of racial discrimination because people are reluctant to go to court. However, this results in inequality and discrimination such as racism becoming stigmatic and prevents change. This continues to be a serious issue in irradiating racism today. Particularly since people developed the 'they are playing the race card' attitude when people attempt to challenge racial discrimination.

Jocelyn discussed the media's role in promoting diversity. Initially, programmes aimed at showing people that different races could live together were unsuccessful. For example programmes such as 'Love Thy Neighbour'. Nevertheless, over time, racial acceptance has improved with the increased presence of ethnic minorities on television. Dame Jocelyn discussed the importance of all ethnic people being fairly represented across the board from road sweepers to government. This was similar to the message that Sir Lenny Henry was trying to raise in 2014 when he raised concerns over the racial imbalance that continues to exist on the television.

Nevertheless, with cuts to funding anti-racism is being pushed aside to promote equality for other protected characteristics such as gender and sexuality. (This is something that unfortunately I am all too familiar with from working at Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council.) Therefore, Dame Jocelyn urged everyone to continue to ensure that campaigning for racial equality continues. She wisely stated that there is no reason why the second and third generation of the Commonwealth can not have equal rights and opportunities along with other British Nationals.

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