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Race, Law and Brexit Britain

The Centre for Research on Race and Law at Birkbeck has launched, providing a vitally needed space to develop rigorous race-conscious critical analysis in a range of areas of law.

The Centre for Research on Race and Law at Birkbeck launched this week, with the purpose of bringing together the College’s work in the School of Law and elsewhere, on the conceptual and practical connections between race and law. The Centre’s Directors are Dr Nadine El-Enany and Dr Sarah Keenan.

The launch was celebrated at a panel event last week, where five speakers –  Professor Patricia TuittProfessor Gurminder Bhambra, Professor Diamond AshiagborProfessor Iyiola Solanke and Dr Nadine El-Enany - discussed how conceptions of race permeate law, politics and policy in Britain and internationally.

The discussion had a particular focus on race and law in Britain in the context of the 2016 Brexit vote. Bhambra noted that the Brexit campaign failed to “get history right” and rejected the idea that the Leave result was the resounding voice of the white working class – rather, that it was determined primarily by "property owners, pensioners and well-off white middle class voters".

Devin Frank, a graduate from Birkbeck’s School of Law blogged about the event, saying: “The rhetoric of ‘taking back control’ [in the Brexit campaign] lacks any kind of historical or political reality: Britain is not and never has been a nation, rather it is an imperial polity. British citizenship only came to refer primarily to people living in Britain in 1981, as this citizenship was formerly shared between Britain and its colonies.

The British psychosis brought on by a fear of non-white migration goes to highlight the need for research initiatives such as the Centre for Research on Race and Law to further facilitate discussion based on sound research, with dignity and respect.”

It has been established practice in many other disciplines to consider various issues through the lens of race, but it is much rarer for race to be used as an explicit analytical framework in the discipline of law.  Law as a discipline in Britain and the Global North has traditionally failed to address questions of race, despite considerable societal interest, instead focussing on questions of equality as confined to the field of human rights or discrimination law.

Yet legal scholars, activists and practitioners seeking to redress the climate of increasingly hostile and explicit racism, and counter the risk of its normalisation, face a number of challenges; enhanced executive power, heightened government surveillance, the effects of cuts to legal aid and the widespread racial profiling and stigmatisation of minority groups. 

Various scholars at the School of Law are leading figures in the development of rigorous race-conscious critical analysis of a range of areas of law, and the new research Centre will provide a vitally needed space to support this study.

Photo used with permission: Cole Peters 2017

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