Advertisement

Voices: Institutional racism isn’t fake or woke – it’s worryingly real

Now, more than ever, those who believe in equality and human rights must recommit to eradicating racism in all its forms (City Hall)
Now, more than ever, those who believe in equality and human rights must recommit to eradicating racism in all its forms (City Hall)

The publication in February 1999 of the Macpherson report – the product of the tireless campaigning of Stephen Lawrence’s family, especially that of his inspirational mother Baroness Doreen Lawrence – was a landmark moment in the history of British race relations.

In addition to detailing the damning failures of the Metropolitan Police to properly investigate Stephen’s racist murder, for the first time, it provided official acknowledgement of what London’s Black communities long knew to be true: that the Metropolitan Police was infected by institutional racism.

The Macpherson report was a catalyst not only for changes in the law but for a societal awakening about the presence – and pernicious influence – of institutional racism. It opened the public’s eyes to the human cost of this scourge, as well as drawing attention to the fact that institutional racism was likely not confined to the Met and the police but rather a feature of other institutions and organisations too.

While some progress has been made in recent years in tackling institutional racism in the police and elsewhere, a quarter of a century on from the release of the Macpherson report, we have to be honest that we are not where we hoped to be.

Baroness Casey’s review last year found that the Metropolitan Police is still institutionally racist. We know there were disproportionate deaths among our Black communities during the Covid pandemic, there are inequalities in the criminal justice system, and Black women are more than four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women in the UK. It’s all too apparent that institutional racism remains not simply an urgent problem but a matter of life and death for Black Londoners and Brits today.

This is a reality we cannot ignore or equivocate on. Yet, from some quarters, there is a deeply disturbing political trend to downplay or even deny the existence of institutional racism. As mayor, I’m clear that institutional racism isn’t “fake” or “woke” – it’s worryingly real. It’s why I, working together with the commissioner, have acted to set the Met on a path of far-reaching systemic and cultural reform, and it’s why I will be unflinching in holding the police to account as the changes that are desperately needed continue to be made. Londoners have my word that I will not rest until they have the police service they deserve – one that is representative, trusted and truly fit for purpose.

Now, more than ever, those who believe in equality and human rights must recommit to eradicating racism in all its forms, whether in the Met or any other sector or sphere of our society. Twenty-five years on from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and the publication of the Macpherson report, we owe it to Stephen, his family and today’s Londoners to continue this struggle. Indeed, it falls to all of us to ensure that racism – overt and institutional – becomes a relic of the past, not a stain on our present or a blight on our children’s futures.

Sadiq Khan is mayor of London