FORTY years ago the Race Relations Act became law in Britain. Before considering how effective it has been in ending a situation whereby black and Asian people could be considered as second class citizens, it is worth pausing a moment to praise all those responsible for recognising the need for the Act and for bringing it into being. However, the existence of a law is not in itself sufficient to bring about a change in attitudes and behaviour and looking at Britain today it is difficult to be complacent either about the status of black and Asian citizens as individuals or their representation in British public life. In politics, in the City and in professional life generally they are not represented in proportion to their presence in the community. There are still a number of organisations which operate, either deliberately or subconsciously, a policy similar to the institutional racism of which the Metropolitcan Police was once accused; they do so at the risk of prosecution but it still happens. At the individual level, unfortunately, the recent case of the racially motivated murder of the black student Anthony Walker comes vividly to mind as the far extreme of a mindless racial hatred that defies all efforts to eliminate or control it. Nonetheless, with worrying and still substantial exceptions, attitudes in Britain have changed greatly since the 1965 Race Relations Act was introduced. Tolerance is not achieved universally overnight or, indeed, over a decade. But the contribution of its black and Asian communities to the British economy and to the running of public services is a powerful agent for change even beyond the fundamental right of all citizens to be treated as equal in all respects.
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