Cameron: racism should ‘shame our country’

March to freedom: Thousands gathered last year for the International Day Against Racism. © PA

The UK’s prime minister has written a sharp attack on his country’s inequalities. Universities and the justice system must ‘dig deeper’, he says. How should Britain fight racism?

In The Sunday Times yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron painted a rosy picture of Britain. It is a ‘grown-up country’ which is ‘largely at ease’ with the diversity of its people, he said. The children of migrants ‘sit at the cabinet table, run world-beating companies and win Oscars, Turner prizes and Olympic golds.’ It is ‘the most successful multiracial, multifaith democracy on Earth,’ he concluded.

Then came the bad news. Beneath the surface of Britain’s open and tolerant society, inequalities still lurk. ‘If you’re a young black man,’ he wrote, ‘you’re more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university.’

That was not all. Only 4% of chief executives in Britain’s top firms are not white. In 2014, Oxford University accepted just 27 black men and women. And it is ‘disgraceful’, said Cameron, that black people are more likely to be jailed for their crime than white people. To tackle this problem, he announced a review into racial bias in the courts, and asked universities to publish more details about their applicants’ backgrounds.

So is Britain really a racist country? It has been 50 years since the Race Relations Act outlawed discrimination on the grounds of ‘colour, race, or ethnic or national origins’ in public places, a law which helped to abolish the ‘No Irish, No blacks, No dogs’ signs often displayed in the windows of B&Bs. Today, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their race at all.

And yet race-related hate crimes rose by 15% last year. Meanwhile, the number of British people admitting to racial prejudice climbed from 25% in 2000 to 29% in 2013.

Things have come a long way since the 1960s. But in December, the sociologist Kehinde Andrews lamented that racism is still ‘alive and well’ in Britain. In fact, he said, it is ‘coded into its DNA.’

Race to the top

David Cameron wants to shame universities into accepting more minority students. It is not enough to ‘simply say you are open to all,’ he said. You have to ‘really show people’. Many others agree; racism is a personal attitude, and everyone has their part to play in tackling it. If we all worked together to challenge prejudice, it could be stamped out once and for all.

But others fear that this approach is too simplistic. There are ‘too many’ disadvantaged children who underachieve at school and receive bad advice, said the director-general of the Russell Group. In other words, the game is rigged from the start. The students who are most likely to reach Oxford are the ones with a good education and supportive families — people like Cameron himself. It is not enough for individuals to speak up. The entire system must be changed.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with David Cameron’s portrayal of Britain in the story’s first paragraph?
  2. Is positive discrimination (such as allocating a certain number of jobs for ethnic minorities) the best way to tackle inequality?


  1. With a partner, discuss your experiences of racism. Have you seen it in your school? In your town? In the news? Report your findings to the rest of the class.
  2. Read the MP Diane Abbott’s history of multiracial Britain under Become An Expert. Write a short story from the perspective of someone from an ethnic minority during Britain’s past.

Some People Say...

“Racism springs from ignorance.”

Mario Balotelli

What do you think?

Q & A

I’ve never experienced racism. Are you sure it still exists in Britain?
Unfortunately it does; the police recorded 42,930 race hate crimes in 2014-15.
But not everyone is racist.
Of course not. But some kinds of racial prejudice can be very subtle. For example, people like Kehinde Andrews argue that Britain suffers from ‘structural racism’. This refers to the ways that society puts ethnic minorities at a disadvantage, even if people themselves are not racist at all. It is hard to know what to do about this — but it is still important to think about how it might affect the world around you.
What should I do if I see racism?
If you see racist bullying, you should report it to a teacher. If you’re not sure, try offering support to the person being bullied, and asking them how they feel.

Word Watch

The UK’s top government ministers, including the prime minister. Each member is in charge of a specific department, such as defence or education.
The 2011 census showed 86% of British people are white, 3.3% are black, 7.5% are Asian and 3.2% are mixed or ‘other’. London alone is home to more than 270 nationalities and over 300 languages.
In 2011 the census revealed that 59% of the country is Christian. The next largest faith is Islam, representing 5% of the country. A quarter of the country list themselves as having no religion at all.
Hate crimes
From the Home Office data for the year 2014-15 compared to 2013-14.
Racial prejudice
Figure from the British Social Attitudes (BSA), published in 2014. In 2011, the number of people who reported being ‘very’ or ‘a little’ racially biased reached a high of 38%. Of course, it is difficult to know how well these figures reflect true attitudes, as not everyone is comfortable admitting to racial prejudice.
Russell Group
A body which represents 24 of the UK’s top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.

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