Women and ethnic minorities are being held back by white male supremacy and affirmative action is needed in Britain to tackle longstanding injustices, the US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has said.
Jackson, a former presidential candidate and veteran civil rights leader who worked alongside Dr Martin Luther King in the 1960s, on Sunday finishes a tour of the UK to mark his 80th birthday.
Jackson told the Guardian: “Women and people of colour are still facing the shadow of white male supremacy both here and in the US.”
He added: “We complain about the Taliban but we do it ourselves in a nicer, gentler way.”
Jackson believes affirmative action is needed to tackle longstanding injustices which denied opportunities.
Affirmative action in the US is credited with boosting the numbers of ethnic minorities employed in key sectors, but UK law would outlaw the British equivalent, which is called positive discrimination.
“There must be some form of affirmative action after years of negative action,” Jackson said.
He praised the Black Lives Matter movement that sprang up in the US. After the murder of George Floyd by a US police officer in 2020, more than 250,000 people in Britain took to the streets despite the pandemic lockdown, triggering fresh discussions and soul-searching about racial justice.
“It is a consciousness-raising movement,” Jackson said. He added that it was “a new name for an old process” and followed in the tradition of liberation movements such as black power in the US in the 1960s.
Jackson said: “Racism is not scientific. It is taught in the home, and church, and school, and workplace.”
Jackson pointed to sports, where he said black people had done well because the rules were clear and what counted as success was objectively measured, meaning achievement could not be hampered by biases.
“The reason … there is a set of rules, that does not apply in government … The rules are public, clear and transparent.” He quipped: “If there’s any doubt, there is a replay.”
“But whenever the rules are not fair, and not even the outcome is predicable”, that led to unfairness, he added.
Jackson said institutional racism existed both in the UK and US and was deep-rooted: “When slavery was over, the system was not over.”
He said there was a “civilisation crisis” and former colonisers had an obligation to those that had been oppressed.
Jackson ran in 1984 and 1988 to become the first African-American president of the US, and bids to secure the Democratic nomination via a “rainbow coalition” of ethnic minorities and others who traditionally had not held power.