Institutional Racism In The Academy by Andrew Pilkington

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On April 22nd 1993, Stephen Lawrence was murdered, “Stephen was stabbed to death because he was black” this highly disturbing and incontrovertible finding emanates from a judicial inquiry, the Macpherson Report (1999), set up in 1997 to examine the flawed Police investigation into Stephen Lawrence`s murder. An investigation marred by a combination of factors most notably, “institutional racism” within the Police. As Professor Pilkington outlines the inquiry went further admitting that “institutional racism was rife in British Society”. Andrew Pilkington utilises institutional racism as a conceptual tool to investigate Midshire Police and Midshire University, an ambitious endeavour producing a stimulating book.

Pilkington unravels the thorny concept of institutional racism a term initially associated with Stokely Carmichael a Black Power critic of USA racial policy. There has been significant resistance in applying this concept to the UK, for example the Scarman Report (1981) rejected the notion. This reticence may be valid given the racial landscape that Carmichael/Hamilton surveyed in 1967, with its heritage of de facto and de jure racism, making direct comparison with the UK difficult. However, Pilkington quoting Carmichael illustrates that, “Institutional racism also has another name: colonialism” a concept in which British institutions are clearly not immune. 

Macpherson`s acceptance of institutional racism is explained and Pilkington reminds us that the inquiry was constrained by judicial precedent to follow the Scarman Report. In this regard the conversation outlined between Richard Stone and Bill Macpherson is a revealing one. More alarmingly, Pilkington describes a systematic retreat from Macpherson and the undermining of the concept of institutional racism. Jack Straw as Home Secretary, presented the report to Parliament and warmly embraced the concept, while his replacement David Blunkett moved away from the notion, after the UK riots in the summer of 2001. In Pilkington’s view Blunkett abandoned institutional racism. The political retreat from Macpherson is evident post 9/11, which Pilkington explains led to an “emerging discourse that saw institutional racism as less significant than the threat of Muslim disorder/terrorism”. Islamophobia is examined by Pilkington and he highlights the implications for Higher Education and Policing.

The speech criticising multiculturalism by David Cameron, 2011 is cited and in Pilkington`s view represents “a radical departure from the approach of previous post-war governments.” This political departure sits uneasily within a legal framework outlined in the Equality Act 2010, the last legislative measure passed by the outgoing Labour administration. However, Labour were hardly covered in glory with Gordon Brown focussing on `British Jobs for British Workers`, as Paul Crofts has commented the Labour Party “unravelled the progressive agenda in a populist right-wing shift to shore up declining support”. Pilkington also points out that Cameron’s critique on multiculturalism undermined the recommendations of the Parekh, 2000 report.

The passing of the Crime and Disorders Act (1998), Pilkington concedes was “only tangentially concerned with racism, it did signal the importance attached to racist incidents.” More significantly and obviously connected to Macpherson`s recommendations is the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which Pilkington points out, “not only declared it to be unlawful for public bodies, including the police, to be discriminatory in carrying out any of their functions but also placed a duty on all public bodies to be proactive in promoting racial equality.” How the Police in Midshire dealt with racist incidents is outlined and explored but the most compelling aspect of this section of the book deals with Police culture and race, where “overt racism has been replaced by covert racism”. There have been advances for Police Officers from minority ethnic communities the emergence of the `Black Police Association` highlights this but also illustrates that much needs to be done. Advances can be compared to the individual testimonies outlined by Pilkington, which are a strong feature of the book, from an Asian sergeant with fourteen-years service and a Black sergeant with twelve-years experience, they make illuminating reading.

Pilkington outlines gaps in Police provision linked to a lack of training and inadequate resourcing and he states, “ideas about race were still central to the occupational culture, with minority ethnic officers continuing to be seen as the `Other` and subject to special tests of loyalty from their colleagues.” His examination of `stop and search` is linked he argues to “pressure generated by performance management to keep the numbers up can lead to police officers to pick on soft targets.” And as he illustrates `soft targets` “are ethnic minority groups”.

Pilkington’s examination of Midshire University outlines the institutions difficulty (and resistance) in complying with the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. The requirements are highlighted and the University when “judged against a template of 26 items, was identified as wholly failing to fulfil its obligations on 24 and only partially fulfilling them on the other two.” Pilkington describes a Higher Education Sector in a state of flux, a widening participation agenda with divergent themes resulting in an increase in recruitment of ethnic minority students. In quoting Curtis, Pilkington adds a caveat, explaining that representation among ethnic minority students is highly concentrated with more Black Caribbean students found in one institution (London Metropolitan University) than the entire “Russell group of nineteen (highly prestigious) universities.” For Pilkington race was “subsumed within an equal opportunities agenda” at Midshire a mantra which dominates his analysis. Pilkington highlights the eventual recovery in Midshire University, facilitated by the arrival of `Diversity Officers` resulting in eventual statutory compliance.

The occupational culture in Higher Education provides an interesting comparison with the Police. The experience of racism described by a young female Indian Lecturer appears in marked contrast with the testimonies of the two Police Officers; more damning of HE is the observation from a highly qualified Black Muslim Asian, overlooked by a panel because “he had no sense of humour”. This disturbing feature of Higher Education may explain the overbearing `whiteness‘, evident at Midshire University.

Pilkington finds that institutional racism is still evident in Midshire Police but he steps back from drawing the same conclusion about Midshire University. His reasons are balanced and rational. But I found this assertion implausible after he had written so convincingly about the “sheer weight of whiteness in the University” especially when he stated that “in this sense the concept of institutional racism has been extremely revealing. And it helps us to grasp why there are some important parallels between the University and the Police.” The fact that Midshire University made progress in eventually complying with the Race Relations Act 2000 does not alter the fact that Midshire is dominated by `whiteness`. Regardless of de jure advances and compliance any institution structured in such a way must exhibit de facto racism. The contested issue of racism is analysed by Pilkington and like the rest of this book deserves to be read and discussed – highly recommended.

Institutional Racism In The Academy by Andrew Pilkington published by Trentham Books, 2011, pages 194


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