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School of Social Sciences

Racial stigma and social justice

Older black woman walking with stick

The innovative research taking place at the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) focuses on identifying the nature and patterning of ethnic inequalities and understanding the drivers behind them.

Core to that is trying to determine ways in which people’s ethnic identities are understood, stigmatised or ‘racialised’, and experienced. It is also concerned with how this and the inequalities related to it change over time and across contexts.

Professor of Sociology and Director at CoDE, James Nazroo, was instrumental in the creation of the Centre, and his focus on inequalities is long-standing. While training to be a doctor in the 1980s, James was shocked by the way inequality affects people’s lives and impacts their wellbeing.

He says: “Social injustice impacts on health and opportunities in very significant ways. You can see the consequences of inequality very clearly marked on people’s bodies. This is a clear illustration of why the world should not operate in this way and why inequalities should be addressed.” 

Professor James Nazroo
James Nazroo, Professor of Sociology and Director at CoDE

One of the core issues that CoDE is addressing is the examination of how inequalities have changed over time and how they might have changed differently for different ethnic groups.

James comments: “One very obvious example of changing patterns of inequality is how understandings of Muslim people, the meaning or identity of Muslim, has evolved over the past twenty years and the implications of that for British Muslims. The other obvious example is Irish identities, where progress in resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland has resulted in a move from a very negative Irish stereotype, to one that is much more neutral or positive, at least in some parts of the UK”.

James also says that as a result of changes in the political and economic landscape we have noticed a deepening of inequalities:

“We have seen a move from the antiracist and multicultural politics of the 1980s and 1990s, to a concern with migration and integration, framed around cultural difference. This is reflected in a number of policy discussions, both in the media and in Government reviews. The deeply frustrating thing about this is that almost all of those discussions rely on very poor and anecdotal evidence. Our research shows that ethnicity does not drive levels of cohesion or integration.”

The recent politics around Brexit is also compounding negative views, says James:

“There’s a huge amount of evidence to suggest racism has increased in the lead up to and since the Brexit vote. There’s no doubt that post-Brexit, people have felt vindicated in their anti-immigrant views and legitimised to engage in discriminatory and racist behaviours leading to a marked increase in reports of discrimination and racism.”

A major strand of work taking place currently at CoDE is looking at racism at work:

“We examined the patterning of unemployment over a twenty-year period and found that ethnic inequalities persisted over that time, so new generations of ethnic minority people were facing the same inequalities at work as previous generations.”

Struck by this persistent injustice, CoDE teamed up with Business in the Community, who were conducting an ambitious survey of people’s experiences of racism at work.

James says: “We looked at the qualitative data coming from the survey in order to understand what people are experiencing, the nature of their experiences, how employers are responding, how trade union officials are responding, and how things might be different.”

"You can see the consequences of inequality very clearly marked on people’s bodies. This is a clear illustration of why the world should not operate in this way and why inequalities should be addressed.”

Professor James Nazroo / Professor of Sociology and Director at CoDE

The research led to the production of easily accessible and user-friendly tools that employers and employees can use, including graphic novels and short films, in the hope that this might be used to make a tangible difference to people’s experiences in the workplace.

This project, and all the research at CoDE, is about producing evidence to describe the patterning of ethnic inequalities and, importantly, to understand what is driving inequality. As the patterns and drivers of unequal societies are better understood, James and the team set out to feed that evidence into policy.

Despite the negative trend that currently prevails in perceptions and stereotypes of minority groups, James believes that a thorough understanding of the issues and effective communication of evidence can at least mitigate some of the more negative elements of the discussion and influence policy development.

“It’s a long, hard process to move towards equality, but I think as a society we can certainly make major changes. We’ve done it before, and we can again.”

This article has been published as part of Manchester Migration Month, a series of events, activities and articles - running from 9 October to 4 November - that explore migration's relationship with inequalities, social justice, belonging and Brexit.

Get involved on social media with the #UoMmigration hashtag.

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