WE need to move on from a perpetual crisis in racial justice to a turning point that could herald a change to deep-seated systems of racism, according to a Scots academic.

In his new book, The Cruel Optimism of Racial Justice, Professor Nasar Meer considers what we can learn from the successes and failures in racial justice across the UK and elsewhere.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (2021), with its ethnic and racial disparities, are brought together as he looks at anti-racist movements and developments in nationalism, institutional racism, migration and white supremacy – set against the background of the Covid-19 pandemic. Meer links them all to what he describes as a “cruel optimism” that normalises social and political outcomes which sustain racial injustice – despite successive governments already being equipped with the means to properly address it.

The Professor of Race, Identity and Citizenship in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, said injustice is a deep-seated feature of societies in the Global North, which was apparent in at least two ways.

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“Firstly, European nation-states, in particular, have seldom recognised their very formation through imperial systems built on racism, let alone their contemporary social, political or economic legacies,” he said.

“Secondly, the ‘repetition without change’ that is engendered by the first concern, does not mean that racism is static. On the contrary, racism in Europe is routinely remade and redirected towards contemporary minorities. Among these are the very communities who, after the Second World War, helped to rebuild the societies that the bodies of their forebears first made wealthy.”

Meer argued that there is no likely end to the struggle for racial justice – only the promise it heralds and the desire to persist, even in the knowledge of likely failure: “That is the cruel optimism of racial justice, and whose accumulated struggle invites us to recognise certain starting points.”

Globally, he said the voice of the BLM movement has grown and “dovetailed” with the undeniable racial disparities highlighted by the pandemic, “and the response (or non-response) from governments to the underlying inequalities these have amplified”.

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Meer wrote: “At the same time, and despite the departure of President Trump, this book charts how White nationalist movements have been elected to government in an increasing number of liberal democracies, and in ways that have made a virtue of racial injustice.

“The extent to which each of these developments is novel or reflects underlying tendencies is, of course, key, for how we understand them helps to determine how we try to respond.”

One contention of his book was the need to give racial justice “real world context” by looking at how racial minorities had continued to mobilise for racial justice, refusing to be “beleaguered objects of oppression”.

While specific current events might be distinctive, he argued that they unavoidably reflect “a past which in some sense is still living in the present”. He added: “This framing is necessary because the pursuit of racial justice in our present moment cannot be understood without reflecting on successes and defeats accrued over time.”