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What has the Race Relations Act achieved 50 years on?

The Voice asks: What has the Race Relations Act achieved 50 years on?

TWO WEEKS ago Britain’s leading independent think tank on race, The Runnymede Trust held an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Race Relations Act.

The one-day event, Equal rights for all? The Magna Carta & the first Race Relations Act, was held in Kings Cross on July 29 and featured a number of high-profile speakers.

Well at the conference, The Voice asked visitors: What has the Race Relations Act achieved 50 years on?

“I don’t think the Race Relations Act has the same weight and the reason I say that is because if you ask young people now, a lot of them wouldn’t be able to tell you what their rights are, how it affects them and could help them. When it came out, it held a symbolic reverence that everyone knew and wanted to protect. Now I think people are getting complacent and apathetic but I think now more than ever we need to reflect on the work that needs to be done and resurface as a politicised people.” - Ayo Sanusi, 22, Tottenham, equality and diversity consultant


“The Race Relations Act has been very important. At each point that the legislation has changed it has been useful. It hasn’t been as effective as perhaps many minorities would have expected but I think the big thing that came out of today’s discussion is about the importance of teaching young people the language to empower themselves. What would be nice on the 50th anniversary is to recognise that the fight continues. Our rights have not yet been achieved; we are still disenfranchised and disadvantaged. We need more representation, we need the community and individuals to speak and understand that empowerment comes from collective action and activism, without it you have no rights.” - Sharon Williams, north London, social enterprise owner


“Unless we look at the Race Relations Act as something that was only meant to be a fig leaf for the injustice we still face...if that was its purpose then it’s achieved that because it’s made us complacent. If we look at it as a genuine attempt to improve race relations in this country and to end racial inequality then it’s completely failed because here we are 50 years later facing the same problems.” - Kwesi, 31, Nine Elms, community worker


“I feel like we’ve come a long way from the beginning but we have an even longer way to go. I feel like we’ve become complacent and I believe there’s a degree of denial when it comes to race relations in the UK. We say, ‘Oh, we’re not as bad as America’ and it is that kind of mentality that has us stuck where we are. It’s an underlying problem that needs to be given more attention. Fifty years on, its hard to think of how far we’ve come when we’ve still got so far to go." - Lateesha Osbourne, 23, Hackney, MA Student

“We’ve heard a number of points today about time lag and how it takes a long time for change to settle in, in particular how the decision makers are 30, 40 if not 50 years behind. They were brought up in an era before the Race Relations Act so there’s a lot of societal factors that still haven’t been changed. I’d say the law has been a massive step forward but potentially its our mistake of not going beyond the law but simply using the law as a stepping stone to say, now it’s recognised that this is unlawful, let’s go and educate people about why it’s unlawful and why we need the law and how we change attitudes within society.” - Peter Kumar, 43, south London, discrimination activist

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