2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Race Relations Act. During the year, artist Scarlett Crawford completed six regional residencies, delivering workshops with communities in Nottingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Thamesmead, Cardiff/Swansea and Liverpool, to hear their stories and collaboratively create artworks focused on their experiences.
One of the main goals of the residencies was to capture the stories of generations who have been directly impacted by the Race Relations Acts, but who may have had little opportunity to have their voices heard in Westminster. Participants from communities across England, Wales, and Scotland have shared their experiences, both good and bad so that audiences can explore the personal, social, and political legacy of the Race Relations Acts today.
During the workshops, participants were invited to choose from a group of symbolic objects which they incorporated into a series of photographs. By using symbols, not words, they have created a universal language to communicate a range of experiences and perspectives:
‘The bulb represents light, optimism and hope.’
‘The red ribbon represents blood ties, community and unity.’
‘The parchment represents law, legislation and government.’
‘The pen represents education, action and protest.’
The portraits and soundscapes created during the Residencies have now been gathered together for the first time, after each has been exhibited locally, and are now on display in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster and the heart of the UK Parliament.
"I met more than two hundred people in seven cities on my journey across the country and heard their stories," Scarlett told Creative Boom.
"Together, we have produced a series of strikingly honest and sometimes challenging portraits. The multifaceted nature of the exhibition – using word, image, and sound - reflects the inclusive nature of the project. To know that all these portraits of the participants will be seen by decision makers and policy changes in Westminster validates the contributions they all made. I hope that the legacy of the series continues in the hearts and minds of all of those who see it and inspire them to continue to make their voices heard."
Of course, the Race Relations Act 1965 was the first piece of legislation in the UK to address the prohibition of racial discrimination and followed previously unsuccessful bills. The Act banned racial discrimination in public places and made the promotion of hatred on the grounds of "colour, race, or ethnic or national origins" an offence.
The Bill received Royal Assent on 8 November 1965 and came into force a month later on 8 December 1965. It was introduced by the Government in response to the increasing number of people who had moved to the UK from other Commonwealth countries; at the time of the Act being passed, there were nearly one million immigrants living in the UK.
The 1965 Act was criticised for not addressing areas where discrimination was prevalent, including employment and wider aspects of acquiring accommodation. In 1966 the research institute Political and Economic Planning (PEP) conducted a survey into race relations that revealed the incidence of discriminatory practices was far more common than previously imagined, affecting the decision making of those in positions of power in many fields not covered by the existing legislation.
In December 1967, Home Secretary Roy Jenkins asked the Home Affairs Committee to consider a proposed new Race Relations Bill. It was during its passage through the House that Enoch Powell delivered his ‘rivers of blood’ speech in opposition to the Bill.
The Race Relations Act 1968 came into force on 26 November but achieved Royal Assent in Parliament on 25 October 1968. It extended the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origin to the fields of employment; trade unions, employers and trade organisations; housing accommodation, business and other premises; and advertisements and notices. It included estate agents and private letting agencies, as well as local authorities when acting as housing authorities; the inclusion of insurance and credit facilities and building societies. The Act strengthened the Race Relations Board’s powers to investigate complaints and set up the Community Relations Commission.
Despite the improvements in the legislation, the Act exempted the police in their operational duties and omitted education from the legislation, it continued to be lawful to allocate school places using colour, race, ethnic or national origin as a decisive factor.
The Race Relations Act 1976 established the Commission for Racial Equality, banned direct and indirect discrimination, and allowed for complaints to be made to industrial tribunals and courts. The Macpherson inquiry into the murder in 1993 of black teenager Stephen Lawrence brought about legislative changes in 2000 that included public bodies and the police within the scope of the 1976 Act, with a general duty on public bodies to promote equality of opportunity and good race relations. With the Equality Act 2010, the focus has moved to a duty to promote equality rather than a prohibition against individual forms of discrimination.
The First Waves exhibition is open to the public. Free tickets can be booked through Parliament’s website.