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Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK


Racism rife 25 years on

Sukhjit Parma suffered years of racial taunts from fellow Ford workers

Nearly 25 years ago, the Race Relations Act made it illegal to discriminate against anyone on grounds of race, colour, nationality, or ethnic origin.

Yet last year, the inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation sent accusations of institutional racism rocketing through the Metropolitan Police.

The Fire Service has been given 18 months to weed out racism, sexism and homophobia.

And now an employment tribunal has forced car giant Ford to apologise to Indian employee Sukhjit Parma, whose colleagues taunted him with images of white-supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

Kamaljeet Jandu, policy officer for the Trades Union Congress (TUC), says racial discrimination in the workplace is not always as overt as in the Ford case.

[ image:  ]
"Most people can understand direct racism - in terms of comments, assaults, not being selected for a job. That's very direct and in your face.

"Indirect racism can be conscious or it can be unconscious. For example, in order to become a train driver, you need to have English language skills. But when you think about driving a train, you don't need that.

"The step on from that is the idea of a culture of racism, a workplace culture that doesn't censure racist comments, racist jokes, racist perceptions."

Complaints to the union range from white workers at a national food retailer dressing up in white sheets and pretending to be slavers, to a Muslim foundry worker having half a pig's head shoved in his face.

"[Institutional racism] is like what happened to Stephen. Two cops arrived and all they saw was a mugger, a drug dealer, a gangster, not a victim - they didn't get beyond those negative stereotypes of young Afro-Caribbean men."

Wake-up call

The Lawrence inquiry made a number of other institutions take a long, hard look at their workplace culture.

[ image: Health professionals say institutional racism is rife in the NHS]
Health professionals say institutional racism is rife in the NHS
Ethnic minorities working for the NHS, the manufacturing sector, the Church of England, and parliament were among those who found their employers wanting.

The Church of England hopes to recruit more black and Asian clergy after the Right Reverend John Sentamu, one of only two black bishops, said at the 1999 Synod that the church had failed to monitor racism or create programmes for change.

The church is also struggling with homosexuality.

Its official line amounts to saying that lay members of the church can have faithful same-sex relationships, but that the clergy do not enjoy such latitude. They must either marry someone of the opposite sex, or remain celibate.

In the health system, medical staff also complain of institutional racism.

Networks for black nurses are springing up across the UK, to discuss their concerns and get up to speed on government strategies for equal opportunities. They say they are seldom groomed for management

And Dr Sam Everington, a GP in East London, claimed that simply having an ethnic minority-sounding name halved a person's chances of getting into medical school.

Daily occurrence

A damning report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that racism is an everyday experience for many people in the UK.

A number of the people interviewed waited until their lives became intolerable before lodging a formal complaint, often waiting up to 18 months.

Many complained of stress and anger, depression and insomnia. One woman said she suffered a miscarriage, brought on by the stress by racial taunts.

Zero tolerance

Mr Parma, of Ford, has been on sick leave since August, and forced to take extra security measures on the advice of police.

Ford - which has a zero tolerance policy on harassment - has sacked one employee and demoted another over the abuse.

Despite such policies being commonplace, the Commission for Racial Equality says the number of racist incidents is on the increase.

[ image: Fire service:
Fire service: "Racist, sexist and homophobic"
Since the 1980s, the ratio of black and Asian people who are unemployed compared with the white population has risen sharply.

There are still disparities in figures for stops and searches by police, permanent school exclusions, and detention under the Mental Health Act.

In June 1997, the commission issued a challenge to chief executives to take action against discrimination. About 300 organisations have since signed up.

And the three main political parties are backing the commission's scheme to encourage Asian and black people into politics - 22 candidates will shadow MPs.

However, the New Statesman says the makers of the Race Relations Act are as guilty as the lawbreakers: "To look at the House of Commons itself, to say nothing of Whitehall, you would never believe it.

"You could wander from department to department, office to office, and see no black or Asian faces whatever.

"Unless, that is, you got in early, when you would see lots of black cleaners".

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23 Sep 99 | The Company File
Ford apologises to race victim

16 Sep 99 | UK
Fire service 'sexist, racist and homophobic'

13 Jul 99 | UK
Church to confront racism

21 Jun 99 | UK
Racism 'an everyday experience'

25 Sep 98 | UK
Black officers tell of police racism

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