12:06, February 01 116 0 theguardian.com

2019-02-01 12:06:07
Race has shaped UK history – that’s a reality

Shocking as it was to read that “more than half of the inmates held in prisons for young people in England and Wales are from black and minority ethnic (BME) background” (Report, 29 January) it was disappointing to see the Guardian reproduce the myth that this disproportionality has now “hit American levels”.

For the last 30 years, levels of disproportionality in England and Wales prisons have consistently exceeded those of the US, as frequently reported by the respected LSE academic Dr Coretta Phillips. It has been getting worse recently, especially in youth custody where the welcome decline in overall numbers has not been shared equally between ethnic groups.

However, the habit of contextualising race and racism with reference to the US deflects us from the difficult task of understanding the depth and persistence of racial logics in British, and particularly English, society. When these surface, for example in the belated scandal over the treatment of the Windrush generation, or the residents of Grenfell Tower, or through the English Europhobias circulating through Brexit, we look away into the distance.

It is only by facing the realities of how race has shaped our own history, this society and our lives that we can understand and challenge the disproportionalities we find throughout our criminal justice system. It’s time to tell race as it is here, not how nearly American it is.

Rod Earle

Academic lead, youth justice, School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, The Open University

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