Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


Nira Yuval-Davis (1999) 'Institutional Racism, Cultural Diversity and Citizenship: Some Reflections on Reading The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 1, <>

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Received: 22/03/99      Accepted: 23/03/99      Published: 31/3/99


The paper discusses some of the issues emanating out of reading the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report and thesurrounding media reports. In particular, the paper looks at the ways the notion of 'cutural diversity' has been incorporated to the Report's recommendations on racism awareness training. This is linked with the fundamental problem of the inclusion of Britain's racialized minorities into its citizenship body in a way that would reflect differences and differential positionings. The paper ends with a note on a particular kind of active citizenship - that of political motherhood and the way Doreen Lawrence has been constructed in the British national imagination.

Anti-Racism; Blackness; Citizenship; Cultural Diversity; Difference; Political Motherhood; Racialization; Racism; Multi-Culturalism


Reading parts of the Macpherson Report is like revisiting old haunts. In so many ways not much has changed since the late 1980's when Floya Anthias, Harriet Cain and myself carried out research on ethnic and gender divisions in South London (Anthias and Yuval-Davis, 1992; Cain and Yuval-Davis, 1990). Even some of the names of those mentioned in the Report as responsible for fighting against racism in the area (like Harcourt Alleyne from the Department of Race Equality of Greenwich Council and Dev Barrah from GACARA (the Greenwich Action Committee Against Racial Attacks) are the same names. So many of the same issues, the same frustrations, the same horrors - I remember the horrific pictures of injured women, of rooms full of graffiti and human excrement that one found at the offices of GACARA.

And I remember spending days at the Eltham Police station, going through their lists of racial incidents. (I wanted to look also at lists of domestic violence incidents, but they were not available then - a pleasant policeman 'explained' to me that really the police find it impossible to intervene - the women always change their stories afterwards....). Unlike domestic violence, racial violence did exist formally in the police records. It had been given recognition in the aftermath of the Scarman Report - another 'watershed' in the relationship between the black community and the police (to use the Home Secretary's term when discussing the Macpherson Report in Parliament).

I remember going through the police lists - much shorter, for the same period of time, than those of GACARA. The rate of subsequent arrests was almost non-existent and there were even fewer convictions documented. But the worst thing was the number of times police attendance at incidents of racial harassment ended up with the police finding some reason to arrest one or more of those who had called them for help. A clear illustration of what so many testimonies in the Inquiry were about.

There is a lot of discussion in the Report on the 'canteen culture' of the police. But one does not need to go to the canteen in order to understand where some of the racialized stereotypes of the policemen come from. One of the things I was shown in the Eltham Police station in 1987, by a Community Relations Officer, was the 'Ident Code Key' which police officers were required to use when reporting any criminal incidents. For the purpose of ethnic monitoring, the police, rather than asking how people identify themselves, used the following categories by observing the people involved: '1. White-skinned European types; 2. Dark-skinned European types; 3. Negroid types (can be light or White-skinned [sic!]); 4. Indian or Pakistani types; 5. Chinese or Japanese types; 6. Arabian Egyptian types.' Hardly a way to transcend racialized constructions of society! [I wonder where I would fit into these categories - would I be classified as a 'dark European type' or as an 'Arab-Egyptian' one...]

I do not know whether the police are still using this Ident Code Key and if not - what replaced it. I wonder whether the authors of the Macpherson report would include this kit as part of what they call 'institutional racism' and or 'unwitting racism'. One of the problems with the Report is that, unlike in other definitions of institutional racism,it equates the two, and thus collapses together systemic and subjective racisms. One of the strenghts of the Report is that many of its recommendations call for new institutional and legal measures to fight racism, both in the police and in society and state in general. However, given that it is so much easier and cheaper to add on service days for the police rather than to change the structures within which they operate, there is a danger that undue emphasis would be put on training during implementation. This makes it even more important to examine the kind of training the police force is going to receive, especially as the Report makes it a point to state what is the kind of training that is required.

In this paper I want to look at the ways the notion of 'cutural diversity' has been incorporated to the Report's recommendations. I want then to connect this to the fundamental problem of the inclusion of Britains racialized minorities into its citizenship in a way that would reflect its ethnic,gender, class and other social divisions. I end the paper with a note on a particular kind of active citizenship - that of political motherhood and how Doreen Lawrence has been constructed in the British national imagination.

Anti-Racism and 'Valuing Cultural Diversity'

When recommending training, the Macpherson Report (1999) does not just call for racism awareness training. In many places, and in particular in recommendation 49, the Report calls for there to 'be training in racism awareness and valuing cultural diversity' for 'all police officers, including CID and civilian staff'. In addition, Recommendation 52 calls for 'the Home Office together with Police Services' to 'publish recognized standards of training aims and objectives in the field of racism awareness and valuing cultural diversity'. Recommendation 53 calls for an independent and regular monitoring of that training.

The Report, however, does not elaborate anywhere what its authors mean by 'cultural diversity', how one should value it and who would have the authority to determine what it means. This question is especially important, as the Report warns us many times against ethnic prejudice and racial stereotyping which are evident in contemporary police 'canteen culture'. Obviously this is one culture the Report wants to change - but what are those other diverse cultures the police and society are called upon to value?

The debate about the role of 'culture' in anti-racist struggles has been going on for many years. The policy of multiculturalism was developed as a more tolerant way of integrating new minorities, rather than full assimilation into 'the British way of life'. It was first adopted in education and also developed as a tool of social policy. Its most ambitious version in Britain and other western countries, was aimed at reforming the project of the welfare state, to suit the needs of ethnic minorities as an integral part of society (Rex, 1995; Scheirup, 1995; Yuval-Davis, 1997b).

The multiculturalist project has been attacked from both Right and Left. While the Right saw in it a threat to national cohesion and culture, the original Left's critique saw in it a way of divide and rule, keeping the different ethnic minorities apart by emphasizing their different cultures. Instead, the anti-racist movement called for the racialized minorities in the UK to unify as blacks, around their common experiences of colonialism and racism. It also called the fight against racism to concentrate on issues of power relations and minorities representation, rather than just on questions of identity and culture (Mullard, 1984; Sivanandan, 1976).

After the Brixton riots and the Scarman Report (1981), these two major approaches to fight racism have combined, to a large extent, in the 'Race Relations Industry' of the 1980s. On the one hand, more attention has been paid to representation and ethnic monitoring, and on the other hand, the category 'black' has come to gradually replace the category of 'West Indians' or 'Afro-Caribbeans'. 'Asians' generally resisted being subsumed under the category 'black'. The term 'Asian' remained in use to signify people from the Indian sub-continent (Anthias and Yuval-Davis, 1992; Modood, 1988; Solomos and Beck, 1996).

The renewed emphasis on culture in the 1990s has had a somewhat different articulation from the 1970s and 1980s. This was partly as a result of the growing politicization of Islam, both as a mode of organization and as a focus of racialization, which followed the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Rushdie Affair and the Gulf War. Partly it was a result of the growing incorporation of the UK into Europe, where a lot, if not most, of the racialized discourse concentrated on issues of migrant workers and refugees, 'unassimilable cultural minorities' (Lutz et al, 1995) and was not usually articulated in terms of black/white. This has brought renewed interest in what Modood (1992) and others have called 'cultural racism'. At the same time there has been a surge in Europe of racism against 'old' ethnic minorities, such as Jews and Gypsies.

The challenges to multiculturalism in the 1990s from the Left have come from new directions, both theoretical and political. There has been a rejection of essentialist reified notions of fixed cultures and identities, which have characterised both multiculturalism and antiracism (Bhabha, 1994; Rattansi, 1992; Anthias and Yuval-Davis, 1992). Under the influence of post-structuralist and post modernist theories, cultures have come to be seen as dynamic, syncretic, contested domains. Concepts like that of diaspora space (Brah, 1996; Gilroy, 1993) challenged and decentered the basic assumption of multiculturalism in which 'normality' is the hegemonic majority culture, and it is only the minority communities who have separate - but compatible - cultures of their own:

There is no longer a prevailing sense that what is British constitutes an ideal to which black culture might want to aspire or assimilate. Thus it is the very meaning and stability of Britishness itself which has been influenced by black culture (Hall, 1998: p. 40).

In addition, feminists groups like Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF) rejected the inherent assumption in multiculturalism that all minority cultures are homogenous and that the relationship of all members to their culture is the same (Sahgal and Yuval-Davis, 1992). Above all, they challenged the notion that patriarchal community leaders should be given the authority to determine what is the 'real' culture and tradition of a specific community, arguing that the state was colluding in creating the space for a rise in new fundamentalist leaderships. They extended the original charge of the anti-racist movement against multiculturalism - that it ignores the relations of power between White and Black communities. To this, they added the challenge of insisting that internal power relations within these communities should also be taken on board.

Viewed from this perspective, the question of cultural difference needs to be seen within the wider context of citizenship rights and responsibilities. The important question is how the recommendations of the Inquiry Report could help transform Britain into a society in which different citizens, with all their differences, in and outside their communities, are treated equally.

The Racialized Boundaries of the British National Collectivity

Before pondering the ways this goal can be pursued, one of the questions that needs to be asked is what has brought about the exceptional - if delayed - success of the Stephen Lawrence campaign (to differentiate from the utter failure to bring his murderers to justice). The tragic plight of specific families has long been used as foci of anti-racist campaigns in Britain, especially in the immigration area (WING, 1985). However, the impact of the campaign that grew out of the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the way it was handled by the police has far transcended any such previous campaign. Part of it is due, no doubt, to the determination and tenacity of Stephen Lawrence' parents, especially his mother, and those who supported them, to continue to explore all legal and public venues to pursue their case and not concede any ground. The change of government, of course, has also played a major role as well. The Inquiry Committee would not have come to be under a Conservative government.

However, the success of the campaign is also partly explicable as part of a more general shift in the contestation for racialized boundaries of the British national collectivity. It can be argued that the continued criminalization of young British middle class black males goes against the grain of a growing acceptance of black into the 'Union Jack', to use the title of Paul Gilroy's (1987) classic book.

As Floya Anthias and I have long argued (eg Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1983, 1992), the hegemonic discourse in Britain on racism, what is known as Britain's 'Race Relations' Industry', has tended for many years to be constructed around a specific focus that failed to encompass the whole range of racisms in Britain. It was aimed at what in the 1965 Act was called 'the Commonwealth immigrants' and later on the NCWP (New Commonwealth and Pakistan) category.

As in other European cultures, the British heritage of racism, (that is, of constructing categories of 'others' with immutable boundaries in order to exclude, inferiorize and/or exploit them) has included Christian traditions of hatred towards Jews and Muslims as well as other traditions of racism towards Blacks and Gypsies. The rise of 'scientific racism' and Nazism in the early part of the 20th century targeted Jews as the primary object of racism. However, unlike most Western European countries, and in common with other Anglo-Saxon countries, Britain was never under Nazi occupation (except for the Channel Islands). It therefore never became a central formative experience in its construction of the nation (Silverman and Yuval-Davis, forthcoming). Racialized discourses in Britain developed mainly around notions of 'race' and 'colour' and were closely connected with its historical experience as an empire. As Miles (1987: p. 35) points out, the notion of 'race', as it emerged in the 19th century, served a dual object: to explain both the hierarchy of interdependence between the English and the colonial races, and the difference in productive relations and material wealth between England and much of the rest of the world at this time.

With the decline of the British empire, racialized discourses which were used to dominate abroad came to be used to establish boundaries within. Paul Gilroy points to the patriality clause in the British immigration law of 1968 as a common articulation of British nationalism and racism, codifying the 'cultural biology of 'race' into statute law as part of a strategy for the exclusion of Black settlers' (Gilroy, 1987: p. 45).

British Race Relations legislation, especially the 1965, 1968 and 1976 Acts, were passed specifically in order to combat racism. However, there is a paradox inherent in the legislation: the Acts called for the elimination of various forms of racial discrimination while, at the same time, accepting the assumption that the population is indeed composed of people of different races, and also that racism affects predominantly (if not exclusively) these races. The members of these races were identified in laws such as Section 11 of the 1966 Local Government Act as members of the NCWP (New Commonwealth countries and Pakistan). Other forms of racism, directed against other racialized minorities such as the Gypsies, the Irish or the Chinese, were mostly excluded from this discourse, as too were Jews and Arabs.

The category of 'NCWP' was replaced in the 1980s by the category of 'Black' and then of 'Black' and 'Asians'. This official shift towards the use of the category of blackness highlighted two developments: the increased importance policy makers attached to the second generation born in Britain, and the relative success of the promotion of the term 'Black' by the anti-racist movement inspired by the American Black Power movement. The boundaries of these groupings, as stated above, do not embrace all the racialized minorities in Britain, even though they have begun to include a growing fascination with 'mixed race' people. Not even all those designated as part of the former NCWP category itself were necessarily included in these categories. For example, the Maltese and Cypriots, who officially belonged to the Commonwealth, were not automatically included in Britain's Black population. As Michael Banton (1988: p. 2) pointed out 'the British were never sure whether they should consider dark-skinned Mediterranean people as white or coloured'.

The hegemonic paradigm of racialization in Britain started to shift significantly in the late 80's and early 90's even in relation to the black population itself. As Stuart Hall says (1998: pp. 39-40), 'the political resonances of black identity have shifted significantly over the last ten or fifteen years. They have moved in the direction of what we may call the "multicultural"'.

In the comparative research on racialized discourse in the British and French Press which Max Silverman and I carried out (Silverman and Yuval-Davis, 1997), we found out that when the Voice relates to the 'Black Community' it includes Afro-Caribbeans in the UK, in the Caribbeans and in the USA. Other ethnic minorities in the UK, even Africans, would tend to be excluded. Demographically there has been a process of diversification in terms of class and educational achievements and a black middle class has emerged, although a large section of black community is still concentrated under the poverty line.

Unlike the criminalization of white 'football hooligans' and of the Extreme Right, the continued construction of young black males as 'criminals' has not been sensitive to the divisions of class. A typical story reported in the media has been that of the Race Advisor of the Home Office who told how many times he has been stopped and searched. A lot of the public indignation about the way Stephen Lawrence and his family have been treated by the police has been because of the class positions - and even more so - class values, of the Lawrence family. The continued emphasis on the educational achievements of Stephen, his aspirations to become an architect, the dignity of his parents - raises the question whether if he were a school dropout from a dysfunctional family, the treatment he and his family received by the police would have been less objectionable. The other side of the coin, however, is that given that they are of the 'right' class and class values, blacks are now accepted as a legitimate part of the British national collectivity, and crude racialized behaviour towards them is not justified anymore by large sections of the British population. Certain iconic Black British have become national symbols, especially in sports and entertainment. An extreme (and probably still exceptional) example has been Trevor MacDonald, the ITV news reader who has been called in the press 'the voice of Middle England'. This - partial and contested as it may be - incorporation of blacks into the British collectivity is the only feasible explanation for the mass popular support for the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in virtually all the popular press, and in particular that of the Daily Mail, which in February 1997 went out on a limb in naming the five suspects in Stephen's murder and since then has given sympathetic coverage to other cases of racist murder, such as that of Michael Menson.

However, it would be very misleading to assume, just on that basis, that British society has become less racist. The new targets of criminalization are migrants who, unlike the NCWP immigrants when they arrived in Britain, have no legal entitlements or right of abode . The same Daily Mail which deplores racism towards middle class black British, has been among the papers which have come out against Gypsy migrants in Dover who 'are playing the asylum appeals process as a tactic to milk state benefits' and had stories headlined 'Brutal crimes of the Asylum-seekers' (30 Nov 1998, quoted in CARF, 1999: pp. 10-11). Unlike the criminilization of young black males, the criminalization of the 'illegal immigrant' is much less gendered.

This shift of the racialized criminal can be seen, in a way, as one of the symptoms of the growing incorporation of Britain in Europe. A significant factor in the changing politics of 'race' in the UK has been the harmonization of national policies within the EU (especially with regard to legislation on immigration and political asylum), and the construction of what has been termed 'Fortress Europe'. Legally, the important distinction has ceased to be that between a NCWP person and others, but between 'legal citizens' and 'illegal immigrants' (although this policy has had wider repercussions on all 'visible minority' people in Britain).

The relationship between the UK and the EU on the one hand, and the emotional, and often legal relationship of British minorities with their country of origin [or sometimes their imaginary country of origin, be it Israel for Jews or Africa for Blacks] on the other hand, are illustrations of the fact that citizenship - in the Marshallian definition of the term (Marshal, 1950), as 'full membership in the community', cannot simply and unidimensionally be equated with formal citizenship in the 'nation-state'. Norman Tebbit who, when a minister in the Conservative government, demanded solidarity with the English cricket team as part of the 'Britishness' of British Asians, has been delegitimized by the new leadership of the Conservative party. The fact that Stephen Lawrence was buried in Jamaica, where his parents come from, and where they go to escape from the pressures of living in London, has not been raised as a sign that he is not a full member of the British national collectivity.

Citizenship, therefore, needs to be understood as a multi-layered construct, in which one's citizenship in different layers of collectivities - local, ethnic, national, state, cross- or trans-state and supra-state is affected and often at least partly constructed by the relationships and positionings of each layer in a specific historical context. (Yuval-Davis, 1997a; 1997c; forthcoming). When dealing with different citizens, the police and other state and civil society agencies need to learn how to value not just 'cultural diversity' but also the differential power relations - inter- and intra-communal in which the different members of the public they deal with are positioned. The question is not of identity and difference, but more of equality and difference.

Encompassing Equality and Difference - Multi-Layered Citizenship

As Balibar (1992), Young (1989) and Kymlicka (1995) have shown, among others, the classical liberal - and Marxist (1975) - notions of citizenship that adopts an individualist 'universalist' approach in which differences among citizens are seen as irrelevant, becomes, as a result, exclusionary and discriminatory. People's membership in a state, their rights and responsibilities, are mediated by their membership in other collectivities and polities, sub-, cross- and supra-state. Therefore, their positioning in that respect, as well as in terms of their class, gender, sexuality, stage in the life cycle, ability etc, have to be acknowledged in any citizenship project that in principle, at least, would be inclusionary and democratic.

In our introduction to the book Women, Citizenship and Difference (Yuval-Davis and Werbner 1999), Pnina Werbner 'imported' an anthropological theory by Dumont (1972) on 'encompassment'. This theory points out that often (in the case of Dumont he was discussing the Indian caste system), contradictory value systems do not exclude each other socially, but rather encompass each other. Essentialist notions of difference, promoted by ethnic and religious fundamentalist movements, are very different from the notions of difference promoted by those of us who believe in the importance of incorporating notions of difference into democracy. In the first case, notions of difference replace notions of equality ; in the second case, they encompass it.

Notions of difference that encompass notions of equality, are not hierarchical and assume a-priory respect of others' positionings. This includes acknowledgement of their differential social, economic and political power. This is the basis for dialogical transversal citizenship (Yuval-Davis, 1994; 1997a), the 'grammar for democratic conduct' (Mouffe, 1992: p. 238). As the Italians feminists in Bologna taught us, such a grammar has to include 'rooting' and 'shifting' (Yuval-Davis, 1994) - acknowledgement of one's own positioning(s) while empathising with the ways others' positionings construct their gaze at the world.

In transversal citizenship politics, therefore, difference encompasses equality. Perceived unity and homogeneity are replaced by dialogues that give recognition to the specific positionings of those who participate in them as well as the 'unfinished knowledge' (Hill Collins, 1990: p. 236) that each such positioning can offer. Crucial to such an epistemological and political approach is the differentiation between identification and participation as well as between identity and positioning. Group identities - ethnic, national, racial - tend to repress or marginalize differences among the members of the groupings - whether identified as 'us' or 'them'. However, the nature of participation of people in these groupings - their citizenship - is thoroughly affected by their positionings: social, economic, political and legal. Rather than calling 'community leaders' as the 'experts' on 'culture and tradition', it is important that a much wider process of consultation takes place and that people's positionings - as well as their identities - should be taken into consideration.

In an article on infighting among anti-racist groups in France, Michel Wieviorka concludes that an effective anti-racist strategy should learn how to combine questions of equality and difference:

Rational anti-racism has no choice. It has to navigate between the Scylla of universalism and the Charybdis of differentialism and to encourage the continual and pragmatic search for an articulation of the two registers. (Wieviorka, 1997: p. 149).

The notion of multi-layered transversal citizenship in which difference encompasses equality might point the way to how such a difficult task might begin to be achieved. However, whether the Macpherson Report is going to lead government and policy makers in this direction, or whether the multicultural multi-agency pathway to be followed would revisit old blind alleys, is still too early to judge.

A Note on Political Motherhood

I cannot end this short reflective piece without commenting on the special role that Doreen Lawrence has come to occupy in the British political space. This role was highlighted in the televised dialogue between her and Tony Blair on the day the Report was published, culminating in his call to her to help him in the fight against racism in Britain and which she agreed to undertake.

Women in general and mothers in particular have had important roles as symbols of communities and national collectivities (Yuval-Davis, 1980; 1997a; Yuval-Davis and Anthias, 1989). Women as mothers have also played specific important political roles, especially where they have not had easy access to other political venues. As Pnina Werbner (forthcoming) argues, 'women's active citizenship starts from pre-established cultural domains of female power and rightful ownership or responsibility'. Philanthropic activity, whether local or national, has been such popular domain (Prochaska, 1980) and political motherhood has been another. 'Mothers of the Disappeared' and other similar women's organizations have been active in the struggle against military dictatorship in Latin America (Schirmer, 1993), mothers have been central players in the Palestinian Intifada as well as in Israel's peace movement (Mayer, 1994) and it were mothers of Russian soldiers who travelled from Moscow to Chechnya in an attempt to stop the atrocities there (National Peace Council, 1995). It is an open question whether these 'motherist' movements can become transformed into 'proper' feminist organizations which would play transformative roles in the gender relations of the particular societies where they take place, or whether they, in the last instance, remain enclosed within traditional sexual divisions of labour and power relations.

In Britain's black community, mothers have had an important symbolic role. Several riots started when the police harmed or even caused the death of mothers of black men they had come to search for (most notably in Brixton and the Broadwater Farm Estate). In these occasions, the direct conflict has been originally between the police and the young black men. The mothers have played the role of the guardians of their sons, and once in the public domain, they were transcended into the roles of the guardians of the black (male?) community as a whole. They became the symbol of both the separation and the confrontation between the black community and the wider British society, represented by the police.

Doreen Lawrence started, in a way, by playing a similar role. From demanding justice to her own son, she (and her husband) has come to represent the demand for justice for the whole black community. However, as the campaign developed, especially once the Enquiry began, the Lawrences have come to symbolize the demand for justice for all those who have been racialized and excluded from the justice system in the British society. The much commented dignity as well as the tenacity and intelligence of the grief stricken parents, have made them, especially Doreen, into the symbolic carriers of the movement towards what Charles Taylor (1994) has called 'the politics of recognition'.

The symbolic role of Doreen Lawrence has now to do as much with a movement for the democratisation of the British society as a whole as to her representative role of the black community. It is in this way that the Lawrence campaign has become another instance of what Stuart Hall argued when he claimed that 'it is the very meaning and stability of Britishness itself which has been influenced by black culture' (Hall, 1998: p. 40).


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