OBV Profile: Kay Hampton

For the past four years Hampton has worked for the commission as its deputy chair and was appointed as the CRE chair in December 2006.

Discussing the closure of the CRE, Hampton, who describes herself as an academic at heart, says: We’ve had 30 years of an era with an institution that provides support for people affected by racial discrimination. Clearly we have had some success but we still haven’t been able to break down some of the long term inequalities in our society and we have to look at why there are still cases.”

In addition to her role as chair she is a transition commissioner for the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

The CEHR will replace the CRE in October this year, taking on many new powers to implement equality policies for a variety of groups. Her role in the transition involves overseeing how equality is positioned in the new commission, making sure there is no reduction on the subject of race.

Over the last 14 years she has worked in the voluntary sector with a variety of small and big community groups like the refugee council and mental health charities. She has also sat as a board member for many trusts and committees including the Community Fund.

Hampton, is a part-time criminology lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University and prior to that taught sociology both in Glasgow and at the University of Durban in South Africa which is where she was born.

Born during the apartheid era in South Africa, Hampton says that as a youngster life was hard. She says: “As a teenager I was very angry because of how apartheid affected us. We were restricted from going into certain areas - the state determined where we could go, live and socialise. It was a very segregated upbringing until I went to university.”

She believes that this is where her politicisation began; Hampton says she was born into it, commenting that her life was in the framework of politics and she could not escape that. However, she adds: “On the other side also we could not get involved because we were not included in the political framework of South Africa because we couldn’t vote.”

She grew up in a family that was predominately communists. “A number of Indian people were very strongly attracted to the South African Communist Party because local Black politics at the time were entirely for indigenous Africans”, Hampton says.

“As I grew up I was more involved in the wider political landscape and joined the United Democratic Fund in the early 80s – fighting for the same goal of anti-racism – all groups fighting for racial equality.”

Hampton argued that she used her academic attributes to change the establishment effectively and she believes that she has spent most of her life trying to do that.

In 1994 Hampton left South Africa and moved to Scotland. It was there that she began to become more involved in the local community. She conducted a variety of research on ethnicity and discrimination as a research fellow and director of the Scottish Ethnic Minority Research Unit at Glasgow Caledonian University for six years.

She points out that when she came to Britain she thought that there would be a democracy and did not think that there would be the same levels of racism she experienced in South Africa. Hampton explains: “It didn’t take me long to discover that there was a different form of racism that was subtle and hidden, it’s all done within the boundaries of legality but it is there nonetheless.”

Hampton’s interests have always lied in grass roots politics. In South Africa’s Strategic Planning Department in 1990 she got further engaged in local government work. For two years in the society she provided research data on how communities that have run on racial lines can change to a democratic society.

Her political memories have been a complex journey from completely being excluded from the political process to having nothing more than an academic understanding of the process to one where she is still part of the process and argues that it is still a struggle.

Discussing the future of race equality she says that progress has been made but still feels that there is a long way to go in terms of the subtle racism still around. “We need open dialogue and debate about it. If we can’t have a robust debate about this then we have lost something very valuable”, Hampton explains.

Hampton hopes to continue her work in the academic field as well as at a grassroots political level. She says: “Deep down I will always be an academic I’m not a politician, but I have always used my academic knowledge to press for policy change and have the freedom as an academic to question politicians. I like the fact that I don’t need to tow the party line but I can ask questions.”