The Cumberland Lodge conference, Race in Britain: Inequality, Identity, Belonging, felt timely for me in ways both large and small.
Against the weighty backdrop of a year of anniversaries - the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Race Relations Act, the 70th anniversary of the arrival of Empire Windrush, which brought Caribbean British citizens to the UK, and the 50th anniversary of Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, to name a few – this gathering provided an opportunity to reflect struggles past and present.
And on a smaller, more personal scale, Cumberland Lodge provided a warm and welcome retreat to step out of day-to-day pressures and draw inspiration from colleagues in this field.
'Racism without racists'
Across the seminars, some themes emerged – the importance of language and how it is contested, the UK’s proxy debates on race, the invisibility and hypervisibility of ethnic minorities in a time of “racism without racists” and the importance of data, coupled with an acknowledgement that the UK narrative on race and citizenship are not shaped by facts alone.
One call was made repeatedly – a plea for tough conversations; for authentic, uncompromising conversations on race instead of the perpetual and often circular proxy conversations that tend to occur, particularly on immigration. Framing matters. When we don’t have the difficult conversations we vacate space for the far right to frame the narrative on race.
There was a powerful reminder that the proxy debate about immigration risks reinforcing stereotypes, and that the government policy of a “hostile environment” for migrants, now rebranded as the more Orwellian and “compliant environment”, is no less problematic for migrants or race relations.