Legislation has helped reduce incidents of racism in Britain

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am


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Agnes Ming Yuen's letter ('Anti-racism law hamstrung by colonial past', April 3) about my article ('A real world city needs a racial discrimination law', March 18), requires factual correction.

There was no taboo on calls for a race discrimination law in the colonial period. I campaigned for such a law in the early 1990s, and Anna Wu Hung-yuk introduced a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill in Legislative Council in 1995 with the support of many community groups. Regrettably both colonial and post-colonial governments opposed such a law for many years.

The race riots Ms Yuen refers to in Brixton and elsewhere were far less serious than the earlier massive riots there in 1981, or the recent race riots in France, which lags far behind Britain in tackling racial discrimination (11 years behind Britain, for example, in appointing its first government minister from an ethnic minority this year).

The 1981 Brixton riot was caused by a saturation police stop and search operation, which targeted black people and led to some individuals being searched on the street up to eight times. Then, unlike now, there were almost no black police officers, and London's Metropolitan Police had what Lord Macpherson later called a culture of 'institutional racism'. Brixton (like Liverpool's Toxteth and Bristol's St Paul's, which also rioted that year) was a black ghetto. White people also lived there, but it was hard for black people to move elsewhere because of 'red-lining', a widespread practice whereby estate agents put a red line around some areas on a map and did not show properties for sale outside those areas to black people.

Both police racism and red-lining are substantially less prevalent in Britain as a direct result of enforcement action taken under Britain's discrimination law. Most people also agree that there is less racism in Britain now than 40 years ago, whether suppressed or otherwise.

There is still much room for improvement, but it is rare indeed to find a person from the ethnic minorities who would rather not have the protection of the law.

Paul Harris, Central