School of Law unveils Race Relations Act 1965 Banner and opens exhibition on equality law

The long awaited unveiling of the Race Relations Act 1965 Banner, created by the artist Alinah Azadeh for the Anniversaries Exhibition at the Houses of Parliament and won by Professor Iyiola Solanke.

The unveiling of the banner was also the opening of an exhibition in the School curated by Antony Butcher on the evolution of anti-discrimination law in Britain over the last 50 years since the RRA 1965. The Banner sits at the heart of the exhibition, which can be viewed in the Liberty Building.

It was perhaps destined to be a special evening, given the serendipity that brought both Rt Hon Baroness Usha Prashar and Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP onto the University campus on the same weekend, the former to give an Alumni Lecture and the latter to attend a conference on the Responsibility to Protect. Given her role as one of the first Conciliation Officers in the Race Relations Board, and his role as MP for Leeds Central the presence of the two close parliamentary colleagues was especially fitting.

The event opened with an introduction by Professor Alastair Mullis, Head of School, to the various scholarship within the School to social justice and inequality. Commenting on the display, he said “I am immensely proud of the work that my colleagues do towards supporting those facing societal barriers in their lives. We have an exceptional group of scholars in our School working in the fields of anti-discrimination and equality law and this beautiful exhibition and banner are a testament to their commitment to justice for all.”

His introduction was followed by the event organiser, Professor Iyiola Solanke, Chair in EU Law and Social Justice who set out the importance of the RRA 1965 and the Banner. The Banner is one of many gifted by Parliament to organisations throughout the country as part of its project to stimulate continued reflection, discussion and debate on democracy. As she said, given its permanent position in the School, the Banner will act as a daily ‘reminder of the problem of racial discrimination, which continues to exist in our society today.’ She gave a brief introduction to the history of anti-racial discrimination law in the UK, identifying the role of key persons and organisations, such as Dame Jocelyn Barrow OBE and the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD). She also posed the question as to whether, in order to effectively tackle the enduring racial inequality outlined in the EHRC 2010 Report ‘How Fair is Britain’, the approach to anti-racial discrimination law had to change.

Baroness Usha Prashar, alumnus of the University and a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords - where she is currently busy chairing one of its EU Law Sub-Committees - shared that she was herself a member of CARD, and fed these experiences into shaping amendments to the Race Relations Act. Reflecting upon her work as a Conciliation Officer in the 1970s, she told a surprised audience about the ‘bussing’ that happened in Britain and explained the strategy adopted to end this practice. As an alumnus of the University, she spoke of her pride in seeing that the spirit of social justice remains strong in Leeds, and that the Banner has found such an appropriate permanent home. She ended her talk by saying “people often ask me whether I am optimistic or pessimistic about the future of equality law. I’m neither. I’m hopeful”.

The penultimate speaker was Hilary Benn MP, who reflected upon the parliamentary aspects of the Race Relations Act and spoke strongly for the Parliamentary role in preventing discrimination on any grounds. In an impassioned speech, where he reminded the audience of the window signs saying ‘No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks’, he highlighted the role of civil society in identifying areas of wrongdoing and changing public perceptions to create parliamentary action. He also commented on the worrying increase in hate crimes following the Brexit referendum, and the negative repercussions of anti-immigrant rhetoric on those from the EU and around the world living and working in the UK. He emphasised that “when it comes to doing something about discrimination, we have the means through our politics of saying ‘enough, no more!”

To bring proceedings to an end, the artist Alinah Azadeh took the audience through the creation of her Banner, which hung in Westminster Hall throughout 2015. Speaking alongside the exhibition in the Liberty Building Atrium she said: “I loved the image of all of the Acts on scrolls in the Parliamentary Archives. Connecting these with rolls of fabric, conflating the written and the woven, is the key concept. I wanted to embed an element of diversity in the image by covering the scrolls in fabrics produced across the world, including the UK”.

The cutting of a red ribbon symbolised the official unveiling of the Banner and opening of the exhibition. Both Banner and exhibition will be on display for the foreseeable future and can be visited from Monday-Friday between the hours of 9-5. A braille transcription is available. Professor Solanke’s new book, Discrimination as Stigma, will be published by Hart in 2017.

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