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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 00:45 GMT
Racism laws 'failing for years'
Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence: the report into his death highlighted racism
Decades of anti-racism laws have failed to tackle the root causes of prejudice, according to a new book.

Written for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, it warns there could be an increased backlash against ethnic minorities because of botched policies.

It argues there has been "much rhetoric but little widespread implementation" of racism policies.

The book comes amid concern over racial tensions in the light of the London bombings and Birmingham's recent riot.

In the book, "Tackling the roots of racism", the authors argue that over 30 years society has wanted to do something about racism, but done very little of practical benefit.

The authors from Middlesex University reviewed British research into the impact of race laws and equality measures, particularly those aimed at tackling discrimination at work and building bridges between different groups.

They found that while policies had arguably made a different to the employment of minorities, they had not necessarily dealt with ingrained prejudices.

In turn, institutional racism, the concept popularised by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, was neither properly understood nor widely enough defined, they went on.

While it has been used to explain how a public body fails to serve a minority, the authors said institutional racism as popularly understood by public bodies did little to explain subtle racism based on differences of class, gender or disability.

The authors criticised local authorities which chose "short-term" solutions like annual multicultural music festivals because these resulted in little meaningful contact between people.

'Unintended consequence'

Turning to employment, the authors warn that methods used to monitor performance or progress of employees could have the "unintended consequence" of compounding prejudice by focusing solely on the performance of black or Asian workers.

Co-author Reena Bhavnani said public authorities needed to do more to tackle the causes of racism.

"The complexity of the way that race issues interact with inequalities arising from class, gender, age and disability suggests that a more holistic approach to tackling the roots of racism is needed," said Dr Bhavnani.

"Patterns of behaviour are ingrained in the British establishment and its structures and in everyday British culture.

"Individuals do not necessarily act in racist ways, but attitudes and ideologies based on ideas about the supposed inferiority and subordination of certain groups are still deeply embedded in British society."

However, the book praises a range of projects, including youth work directly targeting racism among gangs in south London, the national "Kick It Out" racism in football campaign and the Presswise Trust's refugees in the media scheme, a group that helps exiled journalists.

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