My Foreword to An Agenda For Action: Reducing Racial Inequality in Modern Britain

“Every time I read my name, every time I write my name, every time I hear my name, every time I say my name, I am reminded I am descended from slaves.” That is how one apolitical British Caribbean lady explained to me why Black History Month matters to her. The experience cemented in my mind the vital importance of seeing the other person’s point of view.

Today’s debate on race is characterised by unhelpful polarisation. People free of race hate but who perhaps do not appreciate the issues faced by people who are not white can seem to take for granted that ours is not a racist country and move on. This will seem complacent to many people who suffer discrimination and disadvantage today.

Similarly, when I tried to reclaim the plain English meaning of “white privilege”, the backlash was immense. For those of us who want to defuse the race debate by promoting a classical liberal conception of moral equality, political equality, equality before the law and equality of opportunity, there is plainly no point trying to recapture the language of those who have adopted divisive ideologies of injustice. Too many white British people lead lives of struggle and disadvantage to accept that somehow they are privileged by their skin colour. We ought not to ask anyone to apologise for who they are.

That is the crux of the problem of the race theory of those who no longer want to talk to white people about race. We seem to have imported from the USA their ideas and vicious conversation about race without ourselves having the same context. Perpetuating that mistake would be unwise not least because not all racism is perpetrated by white people. One only needs to reflect on the appalling inter-ethnic conflicts around the world to know that intolerance, injustice, persecution and hatred are sometimes perpetrated on a mass scale between non-white peoples. To suppose otherwise seems to privilege white people as uniquely wicked. That too is a terrible mistake.

Collectivist ideas about justice will not prove a solid foundation for our future. We need a new narrative of morally, politically and legally equal individuals acting justly in the complex dynamic network of relationship that is society. No one should be held back and no one left behind. No one should be blamed for the consequences of actions taken by others.

If we can navigate these tricky conversations in a spirit of goodwill, somehow containing malign political actors exploiting division for electoral ends, the prize of a better society in which the colour of one’s skin matters no more than the colour of one’s eyes will be within our grasp.

It is a prize worth having. I hope this work contributes to that end.

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