March 21st marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1966 to mark the tragic events on that day in 1960, when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid in South Africa. We must use this date as a reminder to redouble our efforts in fighting all forms of racial discrimination.
The 2019 theme is: mitigating and countering rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies. This is horribly prescient given the horrific attacks that have taken place recently in Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s extremely important to tackle this dangerous and growing threat.
Since 1966 we have made a lot of progress in tackling racism and discrimination, but there is no doubt that there is still a very long way to go. As the UN states: ‘in all regions, too many individuals, communities and societies suffer from the injustice and stigma that racism brings’.
Both here and in the US, we have sadly witnessed a surge of intolerance, a growth in the far-right and increasing hate crime towards minority communities. We must not become complacent in the fight for equality or allow any of our hard-fought rights to be rolled back. Almost every piece of progressive legislation in the UK was delivered by a Labour Government, such as the Race Relations Act, Human Rights Act and Equality Act.
Under the Tories, this progress is at risk. Theresa May’s hostile environment policies towards migrants and the shameful Windrush scandal, which primarily impacted Black people of Caribbean descent, was a clear example of this Government’s institutionally racist policies.
And there has been clear inaction when it comes to equality issues. We know there is a significant race pay gap, but while the Government has only pledged to consult on the issue, Labour is pledging to introduce mandatory race pay gap reporting for large companies, alongside action plans, to encourage businesses to tackle racial discrimination in the workplace.
Meanwhile current legislation means that people can only bring a discrimination claim on the grounds of one aspect of their identity. Our laws should recognise that black women can be discriminated against because they are both black and female, or female and disabled, and so on. To tackle this, Labour will enact Section 14 of the Equality Act so that people can bring forward cases on multiple grounds of discrimination.
But while there are challenges, this is an important date to celebrate our diversity and the immense achievements of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in society. Our diversity is our strength and we should not strive for tolerance in society, but acceptance.
We must also come together to send a message that an attack on one community - whether it is Islamophobic, anti-Semitism, or any other form of racism and discrimination – is an attack on all our communities. Equality is equality, you cannot pick and choose, which means standing up for everyone’s right’s as if they were our own.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr put it well: “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be… this is the interrelated structure of reality.” After all, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are in fact the global majority, meaning we are all a minority at some point in our lives.
I hope that the Government will commit to officially marking this day each year, so we never forget to remember those who gave their lives for equal rights and celebrate the beauty of our diversity. This fight against racism is a fight we must win and together we will defeat it.