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No racial justice without economic justice

Ugo web
Ugo web

Author: Ugo Ikokwu

Grants manager, Ugo Ikokwu, talks about his experience of the racial inequality that still exists in London, and how it can only be overcome through building economic power in those communities that have been denied the same opportunities to create it.

When my family moved from Lagos, Nigeria to the United Kingdom 30 years ago, we landed at Heathrow Airport in London and then made our way to the Isle of Dogs. Like many immigrant families, we made London our home. London gave us stability, community, and opportunity. It became home when not many other places were accessible to us.

While things have improved for some over these 30 years, the sad fact remains that far too many families are still locked out of the prosperity that London has to offer. Indeed, when I look at London now, it is in danger of becoming inaccessible to the very communities that make it desirable - to the very people who call it home.

In contradiction to what some say, when I look at the evidence, I cannot help concluding that structural racism abides in the UK. Concentrated in chronically undervalued occupations, the pandemic laid bare the price that Black and minoritised people pay. Yet where is the action on institutionalised racial disparities in wages and benefits, and perpetuated employment discrimination?

For example, the employment rate for ethnic minorities is only 62.8% compared with an employment rate for White workers of 75.6% – a gap of over 12 percentage points. This gap is even worse for some ethnic groups, for instance the employment rate for those from a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background is only 54.9%. People with a BME background have an underemployment rate of 15.3% compared with 11.5% for White workers.

It is a fact too often forgotten that racial justice cannot be achieved without economic justice, and economic justice cannot be achieved without racial justice. The two are inextricably linked, and whilst we may attempt to disentangle them, one is ultimately incomplete without the other.

The sad fact remains that far too many families are still locked out of the prosperity that London has to offer.

This is evident in observing the systemic discrimination that has precluded Black and minoritized communities from building economic power, through racial and economic inequities reinforcing each other for centuries. The result of this discrimination is the persistent and growing wealth disparities at both individual and institutional levels that we continue to see today.

Dismantling these injustices will require the actions of many, and civil society, as it so often does, should lead the charge.

To start, we need to set goals that are commensurate with the size of the problem. No longer can we settle for incremental changes that fail to put a dent in the systemic inequities that have persisted for generations. We must think big and hold ourselves accountable for having a meaningful and lasting impact—as individuals, organizations, and as a sector and wider society. We don’t want to have this same conversation in a decade or two, lamenting how we wish we had aimed higher and pushed harder.

We're invested in this work as a funder. We know that the fight against economic inequity begins by recognising that true racial and economic justice requires the transformation and dismantling of systems and structures that have historically excluded black and minoritised communities from building wealth.

I know that overcoming racial and economic injustice is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. If we fail to achieve economic justice, racial justice will not succeed.

We know that, as a funder, we share in the responsibility to do more and to apply this understanding directly – through proactive, targeted use of our resources. We also know that the scale of this challenge is such that we cannot do it alone, which is why we’re partnering with other trusts and foundations who share this vision.

Together with those partners, and the grassroots groups, charities and other organisations we will fund, we can achieve that vision - of a truly just, equal and fair city for all those who call it home.