Revisiting the 2001 riots: New labour and the rise of 'colour blind racism'

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Following the Civil Rights legislation enacted in the 1960s in the United States, the notion of 'colourblind' racism has emerged within sociological literature. It has been used as a theoretical tool to explain the continuing presence of racism and racialised inequalities within a society where its significance in determining social location is increasingly disavowed. The use of the term has been restricted to those describing the politics of racism in America. However, this paper will consider the applicability of 'colourblind racism' to the UK context. The 2001 riots marked an important watershed in 'race relations' in Britain. They have been widely cited as marking the point at which New Labour retreated from the celebration of diversity in pursuit of a more monocultural, more 'cohesive' society. Through an analysis of the governmental response to the events of summer 2001 it will be suggested that notions of 'colourblind' racism can offer interesting insights into the development of the politics of 'race' in Britain. Drawing on Bonilla-Silva's (2006) elucidation of the key features of this dominant form of racism in the US, the extent to which these same factors guided New Labour's response will be considered. It will be argued that while it is important to recognize the different patterns of racial formation in the US and the UK, the government reaction to the 2001 riots demonstrates a broad adherence to the key tenets of colourblind racism. This is evident in Labour's failure to effectively engage with racism or the persistence of racial inequality.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • 2001 riots
  • Colourblind racism
  • Neoliberalism
  • New labour
  • Racial inequality
  • Racism


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