The conviction of 2 of Stephen Lawrence's racist murderers has attracted most attention, but alongside it, football has seen a flurry of activity with 2 men arrested this week for racially abusing players on the pitch and via Twitter.
Nor are politicians immune with Diane Abbott MP (Britain's first black woman MP) forced to apologise last week after tweeting that "White people love playing divide and rule".The truth is that while stories such as these hit the headlines, there is some prejudice in all of us, however hard we may try to hide it. Like alcoholism and drug addiction, owning up to it is actually the first step to addressing it.
What is more, prejudice within us feeds wider societal prejudice, which in turn feeds our personal prejudice, and so on... allowing institutional prejudice to survive and flourish.
I was a curate not far from the spot where Stephen Lawrence was brutally murdered in 1993. Stephen was still a sixth form student at Blackheath Bluecoats School where I was also a year chaplain. He had been in school on the day he was murdered, and I saw at first hand the effect that his senseless death had on the students there, black and white.
I was also a member of the Police Community Consultative Group for the area and saw well-meaning senior police officers undermined by the institutional racism which was identified in the Macpherson report five years later. Such institutional racism had allowed some of the officers attending the murder scene to dismiss it as just another case of black gang violence, and led to accusations that the detectives who initially investigated the murder were less than committed in their actions to bring the murderers to justice.As such I am deeply relieved that Doreen and Neville Lawrence have finally seen some justice after all these years. Their dignity, commitment and forbearance is beyond words when we consider that for the last 18 years, they and everyone else who lived in the area have known exactly who murdered their son.
But I also remember an occasion when I found myself caught out, and my own prejudices were exposed despite my commitment to opposing racism.Around the time of Stephen's murder, our clergy chapter welcomed two speakers from a race awareness team to talk to us about racism. Both our guest speakers were black and as we sat there, one of them told us what had happened to his son after being arrested by police in Tottenham some years before.
On learning from a friend that his son had been arrested on some very minor and dubious charge, he went to the police station where he knew his son was being held. He asked for information and was given none. He persisted and was finally told that yes, his son was there. Over the next 18 hours, he then sat at the police station, while all the rights and procedures his son was entitled to were denied him.Finally in the early hours of the next day, the father went once more to the desk sergeant and said "As a magistrate, I hope that you won't be bringing my son before me in court in the morning - because if you do, I will have no option but to point out all the ways in which you have denied him his rights and call you to account."
The effect was almost instantaneous and his son was released without charge, but the effect of the story on me was equally profound.You see - when this quietly spoken, middle aged Jamaican man was speaking, it had never occurred to me that he could be a magistrate! My experience of meeting magistrates up until then had been exclusively white, and deep down a part of me was shocked (as the police clearly were when he revealed his identity) to learn that he was a magistrate! A part of me had seen this man in a way which displayed "processes, attitudes, and behaviour, which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping, which disadvantages minority ethnic people" (quoted from the definition of Institutional Racism in the Macpherson Report).
And prejudice is what prejudice does...So as racism tops the news agenda once again, it would do us no harm to examine our own hearts and minds. Prejudice is not just found in football grounds and on the streets - it is there in our hearts, homes and pews - anywhere where we prejudge people because of their colour, culture, gender, sexuality, politics or disability.
In recent years, racial prejudice in the Church has been widely addressed (although there is still a long way to go) but prejudice based on gender or sexuality has been allowed to continue unabated. Until we face up to our prejudices, whatever they may be, we will continue to fall short of the command of God to love our neighbour as ourselves.