The government’s newly published race report has been widely condemned as “culturally deaf, divisive and disturbing”. We look at why and where it went wrong.
On Wednesday, the government released its highly anticipated report on Race and Ethnic Disparities, suggesting that Britain was a “model for other white-majority countries” and no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”. At 258 pages long, the report argues that race and racism “are becoming less important” as other factors, such as geography, living standards and class which the findings says, take precedence.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, headed by Dr Tony Sewell found that while “impediments and disparities do exist”, they are “varied and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism”.
In the past, Sewell has described evidence of institutional racism as “flimsy” and described the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year as a “lower middle-class revolt.” Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Sewell said today that while there was “anecdotal evidence”, there was no actual evidence of institutional racism in Britain.
The commission itself was established by director of Number 10’s policy unit Munira Mirza, who has also questioned the existence of institutional racism and condemned previous inquiries as cultivating a “culture of grievance”.
In 2018, Mirza defended Boris Johnson’s comparison of Muslim women who wear burqas to “letterboxes and bank robbers”, arguing that Johnson was “treating Muslims as equals.”
Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Tory MP Kemi Badenoch, has previously advocated for the removal of unconscious bias training and said that schools that teach “white privilege” as an uncontested fact are breaking the law.
All of this naturally falls under the leadership of Boris Johnson, who has previously described Black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. Hence, critics have questioned both the suitability of those responsible for the commission and the extent to which this ‘independent’ report can be seen as independent.
Set up in response to the Black Lives Matter protests last year, the government-backed review has been widely condemned as culturally deaf, divisive and disturbing. Anti-racism campaigners have described the report as a “whitewash” of the lived experiences of people of colour.
Shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said in response to the report: “To downplay institutional racism in a pandemic where Black, Asian and ethnic minority people have died disproportionately and are now twice as likely to be unemployed is an insult. The government must urgently explain how they came to publish content which glorifies the slave trade and immediately disassociate themselves from these remarks.”
Framing the slave trade as part of the Caribbean experience, the report seemed to suggest that slavery was not just about profit and suffering, with Labour accusing the government of “glorifying” the slave trade. According to the report, British schools should tell a “new story” about how “culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain”.
The report, accused by one academic as “cherry-picking statistics” and perpetuating false narratives, significantly focuses on education. It notes that children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than white pupils in compulsory education, although Black Caribbean pupils are the only group to perform less well. Despite this fact, the report frames the idea of ethnic minorities performing better as a ‘success’ in education, which has “transformed British society over the last 50 years into one offering far greater opportunities for all.”
A spokesperson for Black Lives Matter UK later said that while the report focused on education, “it fails to explore disproportionality in school exclusion, eurocentrism and censorship in the curriculum, or the ongoing attainment gap in higher education.”
Also included in the report is the suggestion that funding for unconscious bias training should be removed, as strongly advocated for in the past by Tory MP Kemi Badenoch.
The report added that there is an “increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of white discrimination” which it said diverted attention from “the other reasons for minority success and failure” which the report attributed to lifestyle factors. This aligns with the Government’s previous attempts to ban the teaching of critical race theory and deem the teaching of white supremacy as an uncontested fact as illegal.
Rehana Azam, the national secretary for public services of trade union GMB, said: “Only this government could produce a report on race in the 21st century that actually gaslights Black, Asian, minority and ethnic people and communities.” Describing the report as “deeply cynical”, Azam said the report “not only ignores Black and ethnic minority workers’ worries and concerns but is part of an election strategy to divide working-class people and voters. It’s completely irresponsible and immoral.”
Halima Begum, chief executive of the race equality think tank Runnymede Trust said it was “deeply, deeply worrying” and felt “deeply, massively let-down” by the report. When asked for the view on the commission’s suggestion that the UK is not institutionally racist, Begum said: “Tell that to the Black young mother who is four times more likely to die in childbirth than her young white neighbour, tell that to the 60% of NHS doctors and nurses who died from Covid and were Black and ethnic minority workers. You can’t tell them that, because they are dead. For Boris Johnson to look the grieving families of those brave dead in the eye and say there is no evidence of institutional racism in the UK is nothing short of a gross offence.”
Nadine White, the UK’s only Race Correspondent (for The Independent), responsible for the coverage of issues that affect ethnic minority communities, was not sent the report. When asked why, White was told that “the commission specified a tight list of journos to be given the trail”.
This morning, the Prime Minister’s senior advisor on ethnic minorities, Samuel Kasumu resigned, a day after the report was published. Although Downing Street rejected suggestions his resignation was linked to the release of the race report, Kasumu previously attempted to resign in February. In February, he accused the Conservative party of pursuing a “politics steeped in division.”
Kasumu cited issues with Kemi Badenoch’s conduct after she attacked a Black journalist, Nadine White, online and described how “tensions in the government were at times unbearable.” Asked about the resignation of Kasumu, government minister Gillian Keegan seemed completely unaware, telling Times Radio this morning: “I don’t even know who he is”.
The Prime Minister is yet to make a public statement on the report, but the backlash from the report and the potential longevity of some of its effects cannot be underestimated. All this time, it seems regression has been masquerading as progress.
The reaction on social media
Author Reni Eddo-Lodge drew attention to the treatment of the government’s critics and the way the report was released
Many on social media pointed out that just because the report’s authors were people of colour doesn’t mean it’s findings are correct
Others took issue with the report stating that class was a bigger factor for discrimination than race
Several people and anti-racism groups have called the report a “whitewash”
Journalist Nadine White said the report constituted “gaslighting” of Black and brown people in the UK
Main Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images