Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of trying to downplay structural racism in the UK, after its review concluded that claims the country is institutionally racist are “not borne out by the evidence”.
The commission on race and ethnic disparities – set up by the prime minister in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests – has found the UK acts as “a model” for other white-majority countries when it comes to racial equality in education and the workplace.
Labour’s Lisa Nandy said she was “deeply disappointed” that the race report “seems to downplay the structural problems we’ve got in this country”.
Halima Begum, the chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, a leading race equality think-tank, said that denying the existence of institutional racism was “deeply, deeply worrying”.
So who exactly came up with the commission’s conclusions? The Independent took a closer look at those behind the government’s controversial report.
Dr Tony Sewell
The head of the government-appointed race commission, Dr Tony Sewell, has previously suggested that the evidence for “institutional racism” is “somewhat flimsy”.
Mr Sewell, a former teacher who grew up in Brixton, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday: “No-one denies and no-one is saying racism doesn’t exist. However... evidence of actual institutional racism? No, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that.”
Last year Dr Sewell, who currently runs education charity Generating Genius, described the Black Lives Matter demonstrations as a “lower middle-class revolt”, and said protests over statues was a “side-show”.
The commission chair also apologised last year for “wrong and offensive” comments he made 30 years ago – in which he referred to gay people as “tortured queens playing hide and seek”.
Munira Mirza, head of the Downing Street policy unit, was tasked with setting up the commission on race and ethnic disparities – and chose Dr Sewell to lead its work.
The 43-year-old from Oldham, the daughter of immigrants who arrived from Pakistan, is not actually a member of the Conservative party. Like Dr Sewell, she has previously downplayed the idea of racism as an “institutional problem”.
Speaking about former prime minister Theresa May’s 2018 racial disparities audit, Ms Mirza said: “It reinforces this idea that ethnic minorities are being systematically oppressed, that there’s a sort of institutional problem, when in fact what we’ve seen in the last 20 years is a liberalisation, an opening up for many people.”
Dr Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said both Dr Sewell and Ms Mirza had preconceived ideas on the issue. “If both these individuals are from the outset denying the existence of institutional racism, then what hope did we have that they were going to look into this in an objective manner?” she said.
Dr Samir Shah
Dr Samir Shah, a former BBC journalist and former chair of the Runnymede Trust, is one of the 10 government commissioners who co-authored the race report.
Defending the report on Wednesday, Dr Shah told LBC: “Racial disparities exist. Previous reports have tended to assume racism. We discovered that there’s a whole range of factors that may be responsible, to do with geography, where you live … Racism is definitely diminishing.”
The report will recommend that the term BAME – thee acronym standing for black, Asian and minority ethnic – should be dropped since it had “unhelpful and redundant”. Dr Shah said dropping the term would be a “good idea”.
Dr Dambisa Moyo
Dr Dambisa Moyo, who sits on the board of Chevron and 3M Company, is another of the government’s race report commissioners. The author and economist has attracted controversy over her book Dead Aid.
Dr Moyo argued that most foreign aid to Africa had harmed the continent and should be phased out, claiming it had fostered dependency and corruption. She clashed with philanthropist Bill Gates over the subject, after he claimed books like hers were “promoting evil”.
Other commissioners behind the government’s race report include Keith Fraser, chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, Lord Ajay Kakkar, Professor of Surgery at University College London, and Martyn Oliver, chief executive of the Outwood Grange Academies Trust.
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