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Coronavirus has shown us just how unequal we are, so what’s next?

Written By Samir Jeraj

In the week following lockdown I wrote a briefing in my day job highlighting the specific risks facing people of colour in the UK from COVID19. I have written dozens of these over the years on different topics, drawing together specific evidence about an issue like mental health, access to GP or benefit reforms and putting it into the context of the UK’s wider racial inequalities.

Listing all these inequalities: the poorer housing, higher rates of poverty, poorer experiences of work even in high paid or status jobs, and poorer health underlines to me each time how the UK’s institutions have failed black and minority ethnic communities. Yes, there has been change, and some progress for a few – racism is not like it was in the 1970s and 1980s, it looks different and is as pervasive as ever and we can see that today in who is dying.

Even something as simple as where we live, because the coronavirus is affecting large cities and conurbations like London and Birmingham, were the product of red-lining-style policies. These encouraged particular ‘Commonwealth’ communities to settle in particular areas. Hackney, for example, was expressly considered a ‘Red Zone’ (i.e. “don’t put them there”) when Ugandan Asians were being resettled in the early 70s.

The anger and rage we feel at the system for failing us could easily turn into apathy. Another betrayal by the government, the institutions. That too would likely lead us nowhere. Racist institutions have long dismissed anger and outrage, irrespective of how justified it is.

Maybe it is too early to be talking about what next, but I feel that unless we push for racial justice now we risk being side-lined yet again when the conversation about how the UK economy and society recover from this trauma. In the past I have called for a Green, Black and Brown New Deal, to build an economy and set of social policies that will bring about racial justice, or at least move us significantly towards it. We need to think as well about how that could also work to change the structures of power so that out warnings are not ignored, or our anger dismissed. Now more than ever we must campaign and argue for a just future, because we know most brutally what an unjust present looks like.

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