The multi-ethnic society and racial harmony
Edexcel IGCSE section D

The specification says:

The issues of, religious and non-religious beliefs/teachings about, and the (differing) attitudes of religious and non-religious people to: the responsibilities of those living in a multi-ethnic society to members of other races; the promotion of racial harmony, and examples of racial harmony in society and within religious communities; the nature of a multi-ethnic society, its benefits and problems; and prejudice, discrimination and racism, and how to overcome them.  

Christian beliefs/teachings which oppose prejudice and discrimination and help to promote racial harmony; and examples of racial harmony within Christian practice.

Key vocabulary:

Discrimination: Treating people less favourably because of their race/gender/colour/class/ disability

Multi-ethnic society: Many different races and cultures living together in one society

Racial harmony: People of different races/colours living together peacefully and happily

Racism: The belief that some races are superior to others

The multi-ethnic society:


43 AD: Roman Invasion

250: Roman empire sends black legionnaires to Hadrian's Wall

410-800: Germanic tribes 

1066: Norman Conquest

1807: Slave trade abolished (banned trading, not slavery)

1833: Slavery abolished across the British Empire.

1892: Indian Dadabhai Naoroji became Britain's first non-white MP.

1914-1945: People from across the Commonwealth fought in WWI and WWII.  E.g. 1.3 million Indians fought with Britain.

1919: Race riots in various UK cities.

1940s/50s Labour shortages lead to immigration from Europeans (mostly Poles and Italians) and from the Commonwealth countries like the West Indies.  In 1948 the Empire Windrush was the first immigration ship from the West Indies to arrive.

1962: Commonwealth Immigration Act  said that immigrants must have required skills.

1965: First Race Relation Act

* 1976: Commission for Racial Equality  formed and the Race Relations Act became law.

1976: Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech which attacked immigration.

1978: Viv Anderson became the first black footballer on the England football team.

1981: Race riots in Brixton, Liverpool and areas of the Midlands.

* 2000: Race Relations Act amended to specify public bodies must foster good race relations.

* 2010: Equality Act

Britain has always been a multi-ethnic society.  The Romans invaded the Celts and when the Roman left various Germanic tribes moved in.  These included the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes.  These tribes are referred to collectively as the Anglo Saxons. Then in 1066 the Normans (from France) invaded the Anglo-Saxons.  Thus Britain has always had a mixed heritage.  The majority of these settlers would have been white although there is evidence to suggest that a black contingent of the Roman army guarded a section of Hadrian's Wall. 

During the slave trade increasing numbers of non-white people were brought to Britain and slavery was legal until 1772 and during the 1770s an estimated 14,000 black people were living in UK as a result of the slave trade. Black servants in white households were seen as exotic novelties and although attitudes began to change in the late eighteenth century with the movement to abolish slavery many people continued to hold a low opinion of black people.  A minority of former servants and slaves did succeed in moving up the ranks of society.  Former slave Olaudah Equiano became an author and explorer sailing with Lord Nelson.  Another ex-slave to succeed against the odds was Ignatius Sancho who was born on a slave ship, orphaned by the age of two but as an adult was a celebrated author and correspondent.

During the world wars of the twentieth century people from throughout the Commonwealth came to Europe first to fight for Britain.  After the wars many people from Commonwealth countries began to settle in England, (the place they had been taught to think of as 'the mother country') to fill post-war labour shortages.

During the latter half of the twentieth century immigration has continued.  In some areas this had led to increased hostility and subsequently various legislation intended to prevent racial discrimination has been introduced.  (See below for details).

At the time of the 2011 census 86% of the population were white, 7.5 Asian, 3.3% were black and 2.2% were mixed race.  80% of the population describe themselves as 'white British' and one in eight people in Britain have been born abroad. Britain is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic although not all areas of Britain are equally diverse. London and Leicester are two of the most ethnically and cultural diverse parts of the country whilst rural areas tend to be less diverse especially those in Devon and Cornwall, parts of Wales and parts of the north like the Lake District.

The UK Law 

The Race Relations Act of 1965 had made public racism illegal and established the Race Relations Board but did nothing about racism occurring in private property.  This meant that racist discrimination was still permitted.  For example, private landlords could refuse to allow a black person to rent from them.  It was amended in 1968 when discrimination in areas like employment was banned.

The new Race Relations Act of 1976 made direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of race, colour or nationality illegal.

Alongside the 1976 legislation came the creation of the Commission for Racial Equality to help ensure that the law was implemented properly.  

1986 Public Order Act banned inciting racial hatred

In 2000 the Race Relations Act was amended to specify that public bodies had a duty to encourage good race relations

The 2010 Equality Act unified all previous anti-discrimination legislation.  Under the act all discrimination on the grounds or race, nationality, ethnicity is forbidden (as is discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, religion or orientation).  People should have equal access to goods and services and employers have a duty to ensure that their employees are not subject to any discriminatory behaviour by third parties.

To read more about the impact of legislation on racism in the UK click here.


There are many advantages to living in a multi-cultural society.

  • A multi-ethnic society is an exciting and diverse place to live.  The arrival of other ethic groups in Britain has brought different foods (curry for example!) and different musical traditions (reggae, rap).  More diversity results in more choice.  The Huffington Post listed cultural icons, sporting icons and businesses that the UK would not have had without immigration.
  • Growing up alongside people of other races and ethnic groups should remove ignorance and by doing so reduces instances of prejudice and intolerance. People who grow up in a multi-ethnic society are more likely to see others as equals and identify better with them.  
  • Many people would agree ideologically with the idea that all people are equal and should be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.  A fully multi-ethnic society is a way of putting those values into action.

Potential problems:

The 2010 US census material has been plotted into an interactive map which shows the racial background of individuals throughout America.  If you zoom in on the cities you can see examples of racial segregation within society.  Access the map here.

However, multi-ethnic societies also have some issues that perhaps would be less likely in a more homogeneous society.

  • Segregation within society.  In Britain impoverished inner city areas are more likely to be inhabited by ethnic minorities whilst desirable villages usually have a largely white population.  This can cause hostility and resentment.
  • There have been examples of race riots and violence between gangs of different ethnic origin.  In 2001 race riots occurred in Bradford and Oldham (BBC report).
  • Language barriers.  Some schools have a large number of pupils for whom English is a second (or even third) language (In 2007 the BBC reported that nationally 13% of primary school children speak English as a second language.  The figure is much higher in some inner city areas).  This might make it more difficult for teachers to the class effectively and pupils who speak English as a foreign language tend to under perform in primary school tests.  However, by secondary school exams they have usually caught up Daily Telegraph report. Poor English can be a barrier to integration, make getting a job more difficult and make segregation more likely.
  • Groups like the BNP (British National Party) are concerned that the multi-ethnic society will undermine Britain's national heritage and that Britain will lose its traditional identity.  Enoch Powell (a conservative politition, not BNP, but many BNP agree with him) spoke about his concerns about immigration in 1968. He believed that the 'native' Englishmen would feel 'strangers in their own country... their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition'.  His speech caused huge controversy at the time but whilst many were hostile to it there were a significant number of others who agreed with him.  The text of the full speech can be found here.

Racial harmony:

Overcoming prejudice and discrimination:

Way of overcoming prejudice and discrimination might include:

  • Education:  Prejudice (literally 'pre-judging') is often based on ignorance. Education removes the ignorance and thus removes the prejudice.
  • Experience: This relates to the previous point.  The best way to remove stereotypes is through personal experience of people from different cultures and different ethnic groups.
  • Positive role models: People in the public eye (sports stars, music stars, actors, politicians etc) can counteract negative stereotypes and prejudices. 
  • Dialogue and cooperation: Encouraging people to meet with and share experiences with people of different backgrounds can help form friendships, people would gain a better understanding of traditions and customs and would as a result be less prejudiced and less likely to discriminate.
  • Laws and sanctions: Discrimination can be made illegal and those who behave in a prejudiced or discriminatory way can be punished.  However, this does not necessarily help change attitudes!

Evaluate:  Which of these methods do you think would be most likely to be effective?  Can you think of anything else that might work better?  Can you give any specific examples of public figures who could act as positive role models or any local examples of dialogue and co-operation.  Make sure you know what the UK law says about prejudice and discrimination.

Examples of racial harmony:

The 2013 Olympics were hailed as an example of the multi-ethic society working well.  According to a report in the Guardian roughly a third of British medals were won by athletes descended from recent immigrants to the UK.  75% of people polled said that they supported all the British athletes equally regardless of their ethnic origin.  The Olympics provided UK people with a common aim and a shared sense of achievement.  This then helped give people a feeling of togetherness, happiness and national pride.

The city of Leicester once had a reputation for very poor race relations but is now celebrated as having some of the most harmonious relationships in Britain (BBC report).  This turn around took place during the last thirty years.  Things that contributed to current racial harmony include

  • a clear message from the local council that racism would not be tolerated.
  • efforts from local people to create opportunities for dialogue so that problems can be discussed and solved 
  • a wide variety of ethnic groups represented in local government so that all groups feel that they have a voice
  • religious leaders meeting together to discuss relevant issues in a spirit of cooperation

Martin Luther King worked for civil rights in America.  He wanted to achieve racial harmony by using peaceful methods to obtain black rights.  By doing so he hoped to overcome racial stereotypes.  His 'I have dream' speech set out his goal of racial harmony in which 'little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers'.  Watch a condensed version of the speech here or read the full text here.

Countries like Canada and Singapore as well as cities like New York could also be used as examples of successful multi-cultural societies with (generally) good race relations.

Research: What has Canada done which has helped make it a successful multi-cultural society?  Do you think Britain has done enough to encourage integration between different ethnic groups?

Christian teachings:

Genesis 1:27 'So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.'

The Bible begins with the creation story in which God creates  the human race. This demonstrates that all people are made equal.  This is made explicit in the New Testament book of Acts which says 'From one human being he created all the races on Earth and made them live throughout the whole Earth' (Acts 17:26).  Later in the book of Genesis the Great Flood supposedly killed all the people except Noah and his family so that all the current nations of the earth descend from Noah's three sons, Ham, Shem and Japeth.  To this extent, all people have an equal claim to come from God.

The Old Testament:

However, in the Old Testament first Abraham and later Moses and the rest of the Hebrews (the ancestors of the Jewish people) made a covenant with God and become the 'chosen people'.  They promised to keep his laws and circumcise themselves and in return he would be their God and keep them safe. The story of the Hebrews and their relationship with God includes examples in which God helps them to conquer neighbouring peoples and seize their lands.  The Hebrews were supposed to have descended from Noah's son Shem whilst the people they conquer descend from Ham.

Despite this, the Old Testament book of Leviticus instructs 'Do not mistreat foreigners living in your land. The foreigner must be treated as one of your own. Love him as you love yourself, because you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.' (Leviticus:19:33-34) and many of the Old Testament prophets spoke about the need for justice.

The New Testament:

In the New Testament Gospels Jesus' words and actions imply that all people should be treated equally.  He himself healed the Roman centurion's servant, discussed theology with a Samaritan woman and told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  (See notes on selfishness, greed, ignorance and sin for Good Samaritan story).

The New Testament also contains epistles (letters) written by Paul and by other early Christians.  Paul's letter to the church at Galatia contains the famous statement about the equality of all types of people 'There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (Galatians 3:28).  A very similar statement is found in Colossians 3:10-11 'Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.' and many scholars believe that this statement (or a version of it) was part of the early church liturgy, possibly something said at baptism.  The Old Testament distinction between Jew and Gentile is explicitly rejected 'For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.' (Romans 10:12).

There are also more general statements which could be used to oppose racism. John 7:24 says to avoid prejudice 'Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment'.  Racism is a clear example of judging by appearances and therefore goes against this teaching.  Christians are told to show agape (love). In John 13:34 Jesus says 'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.'  Finally, in Acts 10:34-35 the disciple Peter realised 'Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.'

However, historically, Christians have not always treated people of other races as their equals.  Some Christians were involved in the slave trade although others (like William Wilberforce) fought against it).  Many Christian missionaries had patronising attitudes towards the peoples they were trying to convert.

Link back to Edexcel RS IGCSE Section D page

Further reading:

BBC  history of immigration here.

BBC black history of Britain here.

BBC notes on civil rights movement in America here.

BBC RS revision on Christian attitudes to prejudice and discrimination here.