Recognising racism in our everyday lives

Racism can be seen as both an ideology and a set of practices. The racial prejudice and race discrimination that it entails, is associated with privileging some people and oppressing others.

The Equality and Human Rights Act 2010 says that people must not be discriminated against on the basis of their race. However, racism persists and there continues to be a lack of recognition of the consequences that it has for everyday lives.

Overt or covert racism?
  • Racism can be overt or subtle in how it manifests itself
  • Examples of overt racism include; negative racial stereotypes, verbal abuse, hate crimes, racial profiling
  • Covert racism can be ambiguous and more difficult to recognise. Examples include; glass ceilings at work, informal barriers to progression

What is institutional racism?

Organisational policies, procedures and practices can serve to discriminate. This is often referred to as institution racism. While racism can be visible and overt, this is not always the case.

For example, ethnic minority people working in the UK's National Health Service are disciplined more often than White British people.  Monitoring data can help to identify this kind of discrepancy and feed into discussion of adverse treatment as well as action planning to help address racism in policy and administrative processes.


Racism and racial injustice in the UK

The racially motivated murder of the teenager Stephen Lawrence on 22nd April 1993, as he waited for a bus in Eltham, triggered discussion of policing and racism. The ensuing Macpherson Inquiry into Stephen’s death, exploring the lessons for investigation of racially motivated crimes and helped foster greater discussion of institutional racism in the UK. In 1999 the Inquiry made recommendations which aimed to foster zero tolerance for racism in public bodies.

One outcome was the 2000 Race Relations (Amendment) Act which placed a positive duty on public bodies to promote race equality. This public duty is now part of the Equality and Human Rights Act 2010.

Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (2021) Chaired by Dr Tony Sewell

A later Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell, published its report in 2021. With a broader remit than the McGregor-Smith Review, the Commission looked at education and training employment, fairness at work and enterprise crime and policing health.

It concluded that while racism and racial injustice still exist in the UK, a range of other factors have an impact on life chances. Geography, family influence, socioeconomic background, culture and religion were all argued to be salient intersecting barriers to equal opportunities.

The report has been divisive, with some observers (including organisations that submitted evidence to the Commission) conveying that the report was a missed opportunity to engage with the realities of racism and racial injustice and foster fundamental change. The Guardian newspaper covered the fallout in an article entitled Bodies Credited in UK Race Review Distance Themselves From Findings.

Read the independent report on the UK Government website entitled The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

The Colour of Money: How Racial Inequalities Obstruct a Fair and Resilient Economy (2020) The Runnymede Trust

In 2020 The Runnymede Trust, which is a leading UK think tank, published a report focusing on how economic and wider social inequalities affect ethnic minority people in Britain. The report provides recommendations for policy changes that might help address those inequalities.

Visit the Runnymede Trust website to read the full report The Colour of Money: How racial inequalities obstruct a fair and resilient economy.

Race in the Workplace, The McGregor-Smith Review (2017) Report for Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

In 2017 The McGregor-Smith Review of Race in the Workplace conducted by Baroness McGregor-Smith considered the issues affecting ethnic minority groups in the workplace.

The McGregor-Smith Review reported that ethnic minorities in the UK continue to feel that discrimination and exclusion from social networks act as barriers to career progression.

The recommendations from the review indicate that organisations need to do much more to gather and monitor data on ethnic minorities in the workplace, and be more transparent in their action around this; embed accountability for equality in assessments of organisational performance, raise awareness of diversity issues, critically examine and change processes, including around recruitment and progression, to encourage greater diversity.

Visit the published report on the UK Government website, entitled The Time for Talking is Over. Now is the Time to Act: Race in the Workplace, The McGregor-Smith Review 

The Ethnicity Pay Gap (2017) Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a public body with responsibility for the promotion and enforcement of equality and non-discrimination laws in England, Scotland and Wales. 

In research for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Joseph Rowntree Foundation researchers Malcolm Brynin and Simonetta Longhi, from the Institute for Social and Economic Research, highlighted the tendency for ethnic minorities to be over-represented in some low paying sectors.

Almost all ethnic minority groups move into lower paid work than the white British majority. Ethnic minority employees are also likely to be over qualified for the work that they are doing.

Visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission website to read the full report entitled The Ethnicity Pay Gap.

Racism in the higher education sector

The murder of George Floyd on the 25th May 2020 and the Black Lives Matter social and political movement has been a catalyst for anti-racism activity in the last couple of years. For example, protest marches, footballers taking the knee and organisations setting up working groups to address inequalities. At the University of Essex a working group entitled Tackling Racism was formed in the summer of 2020 and this led to an University Action Plan.

While there is much focus on racism, globally, there is also discussion of the importance of recognising the whole person; engaging with both race and intersectionality. A combination of different aspects of an individual’s identity, for example race, gender and age can form a different mode and experience of discrimination. This is often described as intersectional discrimination which, like institutional racism, embodies structural factors.

Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged, read the report  from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2019)

In 2018 the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched an inquiry into racial harassment in publicly funded universities in England, Scotland and Wales. The following year the inquiry reported on findings from a public call for evidence, interviews and surveys with staff and students and roundtable discussions.

Visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission to read the report Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged (.pdf)

Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education, read the guidance from Universities UK

Universities UK is an advocacy organisation for universities in the United Kingdom. In 2020 the Universities UK Advisory Group on tackling racial harassment in higher education published guidance and recommendations on tackling racial harassment in universities.

To develop the guidance the Advisory Group consulted university staff and student panels, exclusively involving people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups. The Advisory Group also consulted external expert advisers to scrutinise and challenge the guidance.

Visit Universities UK to read the guidance on Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education (.pdf)

Staying Power: The career experiences and strategies of UK Black female professors, read the report by Professor Nicola Rollock

Professor Nicola Rollock undertook the first UK study of the career experiences of Black female Professors and their efforts to reach professorship.

Taking a qualitative research approach, through one-to-one interviews, Professor Rollock explores the experiences of 20 (of the then 25) UK Black female Professors of African, Caribbean and other Black background.  

Visit the University and College Union website to read Professor Nicola Rollock's report Staying Power: The career experiences and strategies of UK Black female professors (.pdf)

The Role of Allyship in Building an Anti-Racist Curriculum, read the report by Advance Higher Education

Advance Higher Education is a British charity and professional membership scheme promoting excellence in higher education. Scottish tertiary institutions have produced a useful resource on the role of allyship in building an anti-racist curriculum.

Visit the Advance Higher Education website to read the report on The Role of Allyship in Building an Anti-Racist Curriculum (.pdf)

The press on racism:

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Contact us
Essex End Everyday Racism Dr Maria Hudson, Principal Investigator
University of Essex
University of Essex Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, Essex