by LAUREN CODLING
THE impact of everyday so-called racial “unconscious bias” has come to light in a new survey, as leading politicians and policy makers urged the British public to change their attitudes if they wish to live in a fairer society.
Findings have revealed the bias which influences routine tasks, including renting property, passing driving tests and finding employment.
The ICM poll, commissioned by The Guardian, found renters with Muslim names received fewer replies from landlords while ethnic minorities were twice as likely to have encountered abuse or rudeness from a stranger in the past week.
It also showed that when taking tests to obtain a driving license, black women had the lowest pass rates (32 per cent) and white men the highest (56 per cent).
The Guardian associate editor and commentator Hugh Muir told Eastern Eye on Tuesday (4) that although people say they want an equal society, they must think about their actions otherwise it is unobtainable.
“Even if it doesn’t come naturally, we all have a responsibility to think: ‘Am I treating this person fairly?’,” he said. “At the end of the day, everyone wants a fair society.”
Muir added that he was shocked by the scale of the findings, although not by people’s
The journalist, who is of Jamaican descent, admitted he was not surprised if he was followed by a security guard when out shopping. Muir had heard anecdotes about other’s
negative experiences of being automatically judged by their ethnicity, he said, but it was
important people began to address it.
“You get used to slightly differential treatment,” the columnist noted. “But you shouldn’t have to.”
In other significant findings, the poll found almost half of people from a minority background felt they had been disregarded for a promotion in a way that felt discriminating
in the last five years, and two-thirds of all minorities quizzed believed the UK had a problem with racism.
Minorities were also found to be eight times as likely to have been thrown out of or refused entrance to a restaurant, bar or club in the past five years.
In response to the findings of the survey, Labour MP and shadow secretary of state for equality and women, Dawn Butler, said society has a responsibility to tackle the issue.
Describing the findings as a “wake-up call”, Butler said more needs to be done to build a more equal civilisation.
“We cannot ignore this any longer – unconscious bias and all forms of racism and discrimination need to be tackled to ensure that everyone, no matter their background, has a fair chance in life,” she told Eastern Eye on Monday (3).
Butler, who represents the diverse constituency of Brent Central in north London, said she often hears stories of people from various professions who are mistaken for cleaners or serving staff, or are paid less than their white counterparts.
“I recognise the results of this survey from my own lived experience,” she added. “At all levels across society we all have a responsibility to tackle it, and the right targeted training and comprehensive education can play a huge part in this.”
When prime minister Theresa May was elected in 2016, she referred to curbing “burning injustices” including minorities being treated more harshly in the justice system and women being paid less than men.
Last October, in addressing these matters, May launched a racial audit which showed data
about disparities within employment, health, educational attainment and housing.
It was the first time a country had published a report on how people of different ethnicities are treated in various public services.
Sunder Katwala, the founder of think-tank British Future, said although the racial audit showed acknowledgment from the government, others still needed to implement change.
All organisations need to show that they don’t just pay lip service to principles of fairness, he told Eastern Eye, but scrutinise their practices and adopt policies that can be shown to work.
He added: “The level of expectation among the next generation is to raise the bar higher – that they should not have to put up with the mix of opportunities and discrimination that their parents and grandparents faced. If integration is to mean anything, it must mean accepting that is an expectation that deserves to be met.”
Naz Shah, Labour MP and shadow women and equalities minister, told Eastern Eye that
everyday racism holds communities back.
Admitting she had experienced racism in her adult life, Shah stressed more work is needed to create a society which “puts equality at its heart”.
“We need to work on educating people about the impacts of their unconscious bias and how it affects lives,” the representative for Bradford West said.
“Moreover, that also means robustly challenging the hidden bias in workplaces, our law enforcement or wherever it occurs without fear of reprimand.”
Rosie Carter, the senior policy officer for advocacy group HOPE not hate, called the poll results “depressing”. Referring to HOPE not hate’s own research, she said that although it showed Britain had become more comfortable with immigration, this attitude shift was not being felt by minorities in the UK.
“These figures also reflect a hardening of attitudes towards Islam and Muslims in Britain which we have seen in our polling,” Carter said.
“We have found that the majority of the British public see Muslims as distinctly different, with just 10 per cent saying they feel Muslims are similar to themselves.”
Remarking that the figures reflected a “divided Britain”, Carter highlighted more still needed to be done in challenging racial bias and anti-Muslim hatred.
In another move to curb racial inequality, it was announced on Tuesday that an inquiry was being launched to investigate racial harassment in universities.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission claimed there is a “growing body of evidence”
which has indicated that racism is affecting students and staff at educational institutions.
This comes after several stories related to racism have hit the headlines, including an incident at Nottingham Trent University earlier this year when male students were filmed shouting “we hate the blacks” outside a student’s dorm room.
“Racial harassment of any kind is abhorrent, divisive and entirely unacceptable,” said David Isaac, the chair of the commission.
“There’s no place for it in society and the level that we have seen occurring within universities is particularly concerning.”
Asad Dhunna, the founder of The Unmistakables, believed minorities would not be surprised by the poll’s findings. However, the difference is that the bias they see every day has finally been “quantified with fresh statistics”, he said.
“What is different is that it is the scale of the investigation [which] gives us the power to move from speaking about ‘lived experiences’ to using data points that are statistically significant,” he told Eastern Eye. “The importance of this cannot be overstated in terms
of how much more useful it is to influence and change opinion.”
In response to the poll, author and activist Shelina Janmohamed said we cannot ignore the inequality which clearly exists within our society and beyond.
“Racism affects every part of people’s daily lives,” she told Eastern Eye. “It is not an abstract concept and it’s not something that people raise in order – as they are often accused – to ‘play victim’.
“Instead we see here stark evidence that from driving to employment to living arrangements, people’s lives are radically affected by racism which pervades our everyday life. We can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist.”