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Architects have lessons to learn too from the tragic case of Stephen Lawrence

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'Just as it is important that the police force and the judiciary reflect the racial mix of the community, so too in the other professions'

The Daily Mail newspaper has, in its desire to express public outrage over the apparent mishandling of the Stephen Lawrence case, come a long way in terms of racial awareness.

After all, it was the Daily Mail that shouted 'Hooray for the Blackshirts!' in January 1934 when, during its campaign against 'aliens', it affirmed its support for Oswald Mosley's Fascist Party.

Indeed, it was the Daily Mail that printed an article in September 1936, acclaiming Hitler as 'the saviour of Western civilisation'.

Of course, then as now, thousands were ready to prevent the British Union of Fascists marching through Whitechapel, but there were, then as now, many examples of 'institutionalised' racism: the bma, for example, demanded limits on the entry into this country of Jewish doctors escaping Nazi persecution.

Even after the war, concentration-camp survivors were restricted entry as nervous ministers contemplated Britain's capacity to 'absorb' newcomers. Chuter Ede, then Home Secretary, expressed fears that a mere 1000 Jewish children would compete in the employment market to the disadvantage of British subjects, while Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin 'hoped to confine them to farm labour in order to prevent them finding openings in commerce'.

Who, looking from there, and beyond Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech of 1968, would have anticipated this country's capacity to absorb successfully the large numbers of immigrants who have since arrived?

The harmony and mutual respect that today exist between the diverse mix of ethnic groups that make up modern Britain are of course to be celebrated, and it is in this context that allegations of 'institutionalised racism' against our hard-pressed police force can seem so exaggerated.

We only have to look to the South Africa of apartheid, or at Stalin's Russia, to see the true meaning of the term 'institutionalised'.

But, despite our generally excellent race relations, we need to combine a constant vigilance against complacency with determined progress: that is why the Stephen Lawrence case is so important.

As many will know, this young man intended to become an architect. His death is all the more tragic a loss because the black and Asian communities are heavily under-represented in our profession. Just as it is important that the police force and the judiciary reflect the racial mix of the community, so too in the other professions.

To fail in this respect has two dangers - firstly, a wealth of talent that would otherwise enrich our lives through its expression within different careers is wasted, and secondly, the authority of our various professions and their ability to deliver effective service are impaired if they are not properly representative of our society.

Architecture remains principally an elite profession for white males. The proportion of white women is increasing, but for them career advancement within the construction industry remains more difficult than in, say, law or medicine. Black and Asian women are woefully under-represented in architecture, and this, in particular, must change.

Now that the Daily Mirror has offered to pay the legal costs of Neil Acourt and his alleged accomplices, who have together claimed that only financial hardship has prevented them suing the Daily Mail over allegations that they are murderers, there is nothing to prevent the Stephen Lawrence case being re-aired in court.

But it is not just the police who must learn from the Stephen Lawrence case, and this is why Leonie Milliner at the riba has now started to gather statistics on ethnic-minority groups within architecture schools. In parallel, the Institute is setting up a working group to review methods of attracting a higher proportion of entry into our profession from ethnic minorities. We will change too.

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