Last week, I watched this programme on Channel 4 about race. It was a fascinating breaking down of a lot of the myths we have been fed about race and racial stereotyping and it certainly made me think. However, the section which stood out for me was when Trevor Phillips interviewed UKIP leader, Nigel Farage.
You probably saw something about this interview, as it made it onto social media and into the national news programmes before it was broadcast. Mr Farage was asked whether he would scrap all equalities legislation, with particular reference to the sections on race prejudice. He said that he would, because “as a party, we are colour blind”. I’ve also heard him say similar things about other equality-legislation-protected minorities like women and the LGBT community.
But these statements just don’t stand up to scrutiny. As a person, I may believe that people of any race, women and LGBT people deserve the same rights and protections as anyone else in society. However, the person standing next to me may well hold exactly the opposite opinion. It’s all very well for Nigel Farage to say that, if UKIP get into power in May, they will be able to scrap equalities legislation and everyone will live happily ever after in a miraculously unprejudiced and equal British society. This is a pipe dream.
Equalities legislation exists because of the sizeable minority of people in this country and all over the world who persecute people of colour, LGBT people, women etc, because of who they are.
Just a few days ago, a woman was beaten to death by a male mob on the streets of Kabul, in Afghanistan. It’s not clear why, and the Afghan authorities have so far falsely claimed that she was mentally unstable and had been seen burning a copy of the Qur’an. It seems likely that all she did was stand up to a man in the crowd. Afghanistan has a sizeable women’s rights movement which is working hard to end this type of prejudice and violence. The Afghan government has pledged to support this cause, and the president has publicly condemned this killing. This is only the start. Ending this type of violence and prejudice is about education and social acceptability.
In the 1950s, advertisements like the one below regularly appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the Western world (this one is American):
We look at these advertisements today and we laugh with horror that it was ever socially acceptable to hit your wife if she displeased you in some way.
But the reason it is no longer acceptable is because many women (and men) fought for the law and social attitudes to change. As it became more acceptable for women to be seen as strong human beings in their own right, this sort of advertising and the behaviour it encourages became socially and legally unacceptable.
The same can be said of any minority group currently protected by equalities legislation.
And it only takes a change of government to change social attitudes. Look at the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. I’m sure that most of the Nazi German forces, if asked before they took up arms in Hitler’s cause, could never have imagined the pain, murder and destruction they would inflict on the Jewish people, gay people, people with mental illness and the disabled.
We need equalities legislation because not everyone is accepting of everyone else. Some people even have so much hate and disdain for a particular minority that they are prepared to kill because of it. The law must be there to hold these people to account.