Everything the Race Commission report misses, from evidence to humanity

Analysis: Landmark report appears defensive from the start, and its authors seem inclined to examine certain evidence only, writes Nadine White

Wednesday 31 March 2021 19:42
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ritain is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”, according to the “insulting” and “divisive” report by the Race Commission, appointed by the government in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Months overdue, and 258 pages long, the report’s findings and 24 recommendations feature some staggering assertions – and a lot of glaring omissions.

The body, headed by prime minister Boris Johnson’s friend and former charity boss Dr Tony Sewell, argued that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion all impact life chances more than racism. Evidence of institutional racism, it says, was not found.

The commission was established by Munira Mirza, a No 10 adviser who has previously expressed doubts over the existence of institutional racism. Dr Sewell has said the same. And sponsoring minister, Kemi Badenoch, has made similar remarks, denying “systemic injustice” has an impact on Covid death rates, and saying it should be illegal to teach the concept of white privilege in schools. All of this has been carried out at the behest of the PM, whose history of racist remarks has been well documented.

There have been concerns about other members of the board and their politics, which seem to be invariably aligned with Conservative values. Hence some have questioned the extent to which this purported independent commission is in fact independent.

Indeed, shortly after the commission panel was announced last summer, I spoke with Lord Simon Woolley who described them as a “motley crew of deniers” on the “profound nature of systemic racism” which, he added, has been brutally exposed by Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.

Now that the report has finally been published – after an extraordinary four-month delay – it is clear that the commission has cherry picked data to suit its narrative, one which gaslights ethnic minority communities by suggesting institutional racism is a mere figment of their imaginations.

It offers an incomplete picture of what drives inequalities and disparity in outcomes across the UK, and misses vital parts of the puzzle.

Accountability

Throughout the 258-page report, the commission notes that the Black Lives Matter protests last year saw many young people in Britain calling for change.

It further states that while it understands the “idealism” of these “well-intentioned” young people who have protested for racial equality, it questions whether a narrative claiming that nothing has improved “will achieve anything beyond alienating the decent centre ground”.

Activists, particularly those with experience of campaigning, have seldom claimed that nothing at all has changed. But more needs to change to achieve a society that’s fair – including the dismantling of institutional racism.

By denying its existence, the government avoids accountability for the ills which continue to plague the lives of marginalised groups.

This is further demonstrated through the commission’s call for more research into why “some ethnic minority groups are doing better than others” and whether this is due to differences in family structures, social networks or health behaviours such as alcohol and smoking.

The report notes improvements such as increasing diversity in elite professions which have often been measured by the same “Bame” label which the commission is now lobbying to get rid of – partly due to the unreliable data it yields, insofar as not knowing how each ethnic minority group fares within that bracket.

By clear contrast, current statistics paint a grim picture of the reality: Black mothers are four times more likely to die during childbirth, in which racism has been cited as a factor. Institutional racism was also found to have been a factor in the Windrush Scandal, which is very much ongoing, and Black men are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police.

Humanity

Perhaps the clearest omission in the report is the dismissal of people’s real, everyday and often painful lived experiences. Over the years, numerous reports have been produced which have cited and evidenced the existence of institutional racism and structural inequalities in British society such as The Lawrence Review (2020) and The Windrush Lessons Learned Review (2020), beyond the sporadic instances of racist trolling online as cited by Sewell in this new report.

Anecdotally, virtually everyone from within ethnic minority communities has spoken of very real lived experiences of grappling with the same sort of ingrained discrimination – and yet this report does not acknowledge this.

So why then, did the commission very quietly ask for evidence from the public to “better understand why racial disparities thrive in Britain”, rather than launching an open invitation far and wide?

This failure to seek and search for evidence from all corners of the country, to interrogate fully these tragically widespread experiences of racism, smacks of a wilful reluctance of the report authors to open their eyes to evidence they did not want to see.

In one of the most stunning segments, the report even attempts to put a positive spin on slavery – one of the most atrocious events to take place in history – and colonialism.

“There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain,” it reads.

And yet, Black people are continuing to feel the effects of slavery until this day. From a lack of insight about their family lineage, due to the interruption of slavery, to the bearing of slave-owners’ surnames, to tax-payers just having paid off slave-owner compensation to the British government in 2015 while battling austerity, the “old stories” still need to be told and understood.

Astonishingly, in a foreword to the report, Dr Sewell says that some communities are haunted by historic racism and there was a “reluctance to acknowledge that the UK had become open and fairer”. The question is why wouldn’t some communities be haunted?

Far from being consistently objective and fair, the report appears to adopt a resoundingly defensive stance from start to finish. But the foreword says the report’s “findings and recommendations may be surprising to some”.

Context is missing. The report sporadically lifts bits of data and plonks them in between various assertions to suit the narrative of Britain being a beacon of racial equality in a glorious post-pandemic, Brexit world.

Throughout the report, the authors reference increasing diversity in elite professions, a shrinking ethnicity pay gap and reiterate that children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than white pupils in compulsory education.

Solutions

The report raises some interesting suggestions – such as scrapping unconscious bias training and replacing it with measurable and evaluable methods.

It has recommended the government establishes a new independent body to target health disparities in the UK, which would work alongside the NHS. The problem is racism in healthcare exists – and the commission fails to acknowledge this, even though the NHS has. So how will this body function and where do we go from here?

Some ideas set out in the report are either half-formed, ill-conceived or just style over substance – such as a dictionary or lexicon of “well-known British words which are Indian in origin”. A nice idea perhaps, but little good to the ethnic minority and Black students who are Anglicising their CVs to get called for a job interview.

Contrary to early reports, the commission does not call for ethnic pay gap data reporting to be made mandatory – but it recommends that organisations that opt to do so offer a thorough explanation about why this gap exists in the first place.

But this would surely serve as a disincentive for companies to commit to this kind of transparency, hence further entrenching inequalities.

The commission proposes a Making of Modern Britain teaching resource to “tell the multiple, nuanced stories of the contributions made by different groups that have made this country the one it is today” – but it doesn’t talk about diversifying the curriculum as campaigners have been calling for over the years, as recently as last summer.

Citing the MacPherson Inquiry (1999), the report arrives at the conclusion that insitutional racism no longer exists in police forces “given that reporting hate crime and race-related incidents is now widely encouraged by police forces”.

But, pray-tell, without a present-day inquiry of similar scale being launched to compare and contrast, how can one be sure of this?

The battle against ingrained racism rages on for marginalised groups up and down the country, regardless of what this report asserts. It came to life in reaction to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, but everything the report failed to say is exactly why people will continue to take to the streets to march for equal rights and justice.

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