Ruth Ochugboju advocates for social justice and criticises the comments made by MP Oliver Letwin.
Edited by Isabel Aruna.
In a society as complex, diverse and wonderful as Britain, one would assume that all citizens of the United Kingdom desire and strive to live in a socially just society. This can be described as a society which aims to promote fair treatment to all through actively challenging injustice and valuing the unique beauty of cultural diversity. In such a society, it should not be allowed for any individual to be subjected to “discriminated against, nor their welfare and well-being constrained or prejudiced on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliations, age, race, belief, disability, location, social class, socioeconomic circumstances, or other characteristic of background or group membership” (Toowoomba Catholic Education, 2006). This is the standard of humanity one should expect from every individual in Great Britain, or at least, this is the standard one would expect everyone should be striving to achieve.
Individuals who I would expect to strive to such standards are the people with power, power to create, shape and implement policies in the UK, the people that can bring us closer to this oh-so desired-just society. I personally believe that MPs should be model examples for this humane standard as we progress towards this goal. However, recently the media has highlighted remarks made by Oliver Letwin, the Minister of State for Government Policy; his comments made about black communities 30 years ago, in the wake of the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots were implicitly racist.
The Broadwater Farm riot occurred on the 6th of October 1985 around the Broadwater Farm estates area of Tottenham, North London. Before the riot there was already significant tension between the mainly white Metropolitan Police and the local black youths, but the unjust death of two black women sparked riots. Firstly, the police raided Dorothy Groce’s home in an attempt to find her 21-year old son who was suspected of a firearms offence, but instead Dorothy was shot and killed. This trigged the Brixton riot and contributed to the Broadwater Farm riot. Secondly, Cynthia Jarret died the day before the Broadwater Farm riot due to a heart failure during a police search at her home.
Files released by the National Archives in Kew, South-West London show that Letwin, who was then an advisor in Thatcher’s policy unit, regarded that the riots that had erupted in impoverished areas were due to “bad moral attitudes”. He then went on to mention that “Lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale”. This racist statement implicitly suggests that black people are more inclined to create havoc and demonstrate disruptive behaviour than white people. As horrendous as this statement is he also fails to recognise or present a lack of empathy for the people who endure living in “appalling slums”, which within itself is an injustice. Perhaps his views are due to a lack of insight in to such communities and maybe if MPs had more field work experience with all types of communities, a better understanding would develop.
I believe that when such prejudice and ignorant statements have been uncovered we should tackle these erroneous preconceived ideas head on, rather than dancing around the issue and ignoring racist attitudes that are persisting. Prejudice is not something we should permit in a just society, even when such prejudice is covert, because not only is this bigoted but it is harmful towards the ethnic minorities in Britain who are aware of these attitudes that some hold against them. These prejudices can be developed unintentionally, but once one recognises within themselves that they hold an ignorant prejudice that can be considered hurtful or racist, one ought to make a conscious effect to think in a more progressive, tolerant and accepting way. This is an essential factor necessary in the process of improving the society we live in for the better and for the future.