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Daily View: Race and class discrimination

Clare Spencer | 08:53 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010

John DenhamOn Thursday, Communities Secretary John Denham asserted that racism now has less effect on life chances in Britain than poverty and social class. Commentators discuss the merits of this claim.

Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph says that white working-class anger has become a force that no politician can ignore:

"Denham's speech has been seen as a hasty response to the BNP's electoral success. That sounds to me like democracy working as it should. For the past 15 years, the phrase 'working class' - once flung across the Commons Chamber like knickers at a Tom Jones concert - has been almost absent from political debate. Bravo to the voters for forcing it back on the agenda."

The Times editorial agrees that class has more to do with success than race and criticises Labour for not improving the lives of working-class people:

"After 12 years of Labour government, Mr Denham's analysis represents a shocking indictment of failure to achieve the mobility and economic betterment of marginalised sections of society. The fact that all ethnic groups apart from black boys have a better chance of getting to university than white boys shows how much there is still to do. The relevant category for this group, as Mr Denham points out, is not that they are white. It is that they are poor. But, for all his claimed success on race, there has not been much progress on class."

Herman Ouseley in the Guardian reckons racial disadvantage is still thriving, unlike debate about race:

"[John Denham] acknowledged, too, that Britain is far from being a society wholly free of prejudice, discrimination and inequality. That said, he then pleads for the 'debate about race' to move on.
"But what debate about race? The government killed that off a long time ago, and uses the presence of what it calls a black middle class to front its claims of ending racial disadvantage. Maybe they are debating the issues among themselves."

Lynsey Hanley in the Guardian says Labour shouldn't be taking the credit for a reduction in race discrimination; it's just happened over time:

"The fact is that, for most families, racism has died out now that generations of people from different ethnic groups have grown up together. Many of us who once had bigoted relatives with a terror of miscegenation now have black and mixed-race family members. The minds of a majority have opened over time."

Joseph Harker in the Guardian complains that John Denham simplifies the issues:

"One has yet come up with a decent, all-encompassing description of what 'working class' really is. Does a man or woman automatically become middle class the moment they gain an A-level? Or a degree? In which case, class inequality will always be embedded, because the success stories are excluded from the figures - and it will always appear that the working class are worse-off than minority groups."

In the Letters From a Tory blog it is suggested that class was always the main discriminating factor, but Labour never realised it:

"Even your main headline that being black or Asian 'no longer means you will be automatically disadvantaged' is absurd - being black or Asian never meant that you were by definition disadvantaged."

Les Abbey at Labour Home says class returning to the agenda is more traditionally Labour:

"... nothing new to older Labour supporters but for our younger middle-class 'New' Labour members it may come as a bit of shock, so take a deep breath before reading."

Links in full

IndependentJohn Denham | Independent | Tackling racism means tackling all discrimination
TelegraphAndrew Gilligan | Telegraph | John Denham's right
TelegraphTelegraph | Britain is no place for the white, working-class male
TimesTimes | Race to the Bottom
GuardianHerman Ouseley | Guardian | Discrimination is not dead and buried
GuardianLynsey Hanley | Guardian | Racism decline is not Labour's victory
GuardianJoseph Harker | Guardian | Labour has not eliminated racism
Letters from a Tory Letters From a Tory | Labour are still afraid of the BNP
see alsoLes Abbey | Labour Home | Class returns!
LRBWalter Benn Michaels | London Review of Books| What matters

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