Both writers make some very good points in their articles. O’Neill makes a similar, but stronger, complaint to mine about the attenuated anti-racism of the post-Macpherson period:
In short, courtesy of Macpherson, the problem of racism came to be divorced from questions of power and ideology, and started to be seen as a weird behavioural trait among thoughtless individuals, which was in need of urgent excision. Indeed, one of the key concepts promoted by Macpherson was the idea of ‘unwitting racism’ – the notion that people often discriminate ‘through unwitting prejudice [or] thoughtlessness’. Here, racism is reduced to a form of bad manners, an unthinking uncouthness, something ingrained in us without us necessarily knowing it. Such an historic rewriting of the concept of racism allowed the better-educated sections of society to pose as the guardians of racial etiquette.
Already by the early 1990s Britain was becoming more relaxed about racial difference and overt racism was becoming rarer, though not as rare as it is today. But there were certain places, like the working class suburbs of south London, and certain institutions, like the police force, where the liberal tolerance of metropolitan Britain was not embraced. That is probably still true today
This is not because many people in Eltham sympathise with the obviously extreme and anti-social behaviour of Gary Dobson and David Norris. But there is a widespread feeling that the whole area, perhaps the whole culture of white working class south London, has been traduced as dumb, violent and racist throughout the Lawrence story.
Previously: No-one like us, we don't care
Further reading: Sunder Katwala "Why we will remember Stephen Lawrence"; Roger Hewitt "Young Racist and White"; Nick Jeffrey "The sharp edge of Stephen's city [pdf]"; Yasmin Alibhai-Brown "To craft a new society"/"Imagining New Britain [pdf]"; Paul Thomas "Youth work, racist behaviour and young people Education or blame? [pdf]"
Listen again: Roger Hewitt on Thinking Allowed.
Books: White Backlash: and the Politics of Multiculturalism; and Routes of Racism.