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Race and Ethnic Disparities Report: How one report pushed the fight against racism back 20 years

Amaaya Nath on race in the UK and the impact of the UK governments controversial race report.

Last year, following the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, thousands came out to protest the state of race relations across the UK. Just a few days ago Derek Chauvin finally found guilty of all charges of murder and manslaughter. At the time it seemed as though maybe, finally, the narrative around injustice had been changed, momentarily at least. Statues were pulled down, institutions pledged to do better and many conversations were rekindled about how we could be actively anti-racist. It is simply not enough anymore to just be not racist. Amidst the protests, a part of the government’s response was to commission a report on disparities faced by Black and ethnic minorities individuals. As protests usually do, the movement slowly died down and much of the action was left to individuals to continue and most institutions’ response became rather tokenistic. But the legacy of the movement wasn’t action but the hope it brought for the future. However, it was short-lived. In the months since then, we have still seen police use excessive force in events like the Sarah Everand vigil, we have seen Megan Markle and Prince Harry call out the British royal family on their alleged racist behaviour and crimes against the Asain community spike. The  UK race report has come as another strike to last year’s protest and continue the fight to push back against racism, some say it will set progress back by 20 years.

The main conclusion of the 258 paged document from the supposedly independent commission said that they no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities and that racism is all too often used as a “catch-all explanation” for disparities and impediments. It said that they have found limited evidence for institutionalised racism and that family structure, class and geography had a bigger impact on how people’s lives turned out than race and that because of this UK “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries”. It emphasised that racism was more of a thing of the past and that “For some groups, historic experience of racism still haunts the present and there was a reluctance to acknowledge that the UK had become open and fairer”. It report did also provide some recommendations like we should stop using the word BAME as it diminishes the complex way the word affects people from different ethnicities. And highlights some positives like the in education Black African, Indian and Bangladeshi students perform better than their white counterparts.

Race experts working for the United Nations have reacted to this report by saying it “normalises white supremacy

This report contradicts the lived experiences of thousands of BAME citizens in the UK. With everyday new incidents of racism being reported, this report seems to shift the blame on individuals for using racism as a “catch-all” expression rather than acknowledging that racism does affect everyday life. The report has faced extensive backlash from ethnic minority communities and the government’s senior advisor for ethnic minorities, Sameul Kasumu, is said to have quit his job because of this report. Indeed even some of the academics who worked on the report and distanced themselves from it. The report clearly downplays the racism that exists in the UK. It somehow makes it seem like minority communities should be grateful for not being oppressed and should excuse ongoing forms of racism to celebrate the relative progress we have achieved. The report also gaslights the experiences of people of colour by emphasising that racism is a thing of the past making it harder for ethnicities to speak out stifling progress. The report fuels the narrative of black and ethnic minorities being ungrateful. It paints the youth as idealised snowflakes for calling out racism because we have a higher standard of acceptability than generations before us and paints us as idealists for wanting more equality. But the problems with the report go much beyond these initial objections.

The idea that the report did not find enough evidence for institutional racism is by design. Institutionalised racism is meant to be covert, according to Carmichael who coined the term, it is “less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts”. So as for the report not being able to find evidence for it is by design but undermining the fact that institutionalized racism exists is irresponsible as it undermines the ongoing reality of many BAME individuals. Ironically, despite this, there are statistics to show that institutionalised racism does indeed exist. If we look at the fact that only 52 of the 1,099 “most powerful jobs” in the UK are held by people from minority groups. If a violent crime is committed, it’s likely that the victim is from a minority group, and “for every White victim of homicide aged 16 to 24 in 2018/19, there were 24 Black victims.” These are clear signs that institutions and systems are not as favourable to BAME individuals as they are to the white individuals that they were designed for. It also shows the obvious blind spots in the conclusion of this report that it only measures covert forms of racism but the newer reality is that these subtler forms of racism and microaggressions are more prevalent. 

The report misdirects our focus from racism to other issues like class, geography and culture – all of which are factors in the wider struggle against inequality but this report pits these problems against one and other. The report fails to understand that these issues all at some point link back to face. I am not saying the North-South divide does not harm people and disadvantaged people, but why can’t we try and fix both? 

The commission that wrote the report when it wasn’t being changed by the Conservative government also didn’t have a single Asian member, which given the current 300% spike in crimes against the Asian community fails to reflect the realities of today. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Asian community has faced increasing hate with Chinatowns being boycotted and Chinese owned businesses being vandalised. This even is prevalent within the government where Sarah Owen, a Labour MP, has described how two unnamed MPs referred to Chinese people as “those evil b******s”. Yet the report doesn’t mention this, instead uses Asians to celebrate the progress that they have made in society by ignoring the reality for so many.

According to estimates, this report has pushed the fight against racism back by 20 years. In part, this is because it undoes the work of so many reports before it. The  McGregor-Smith Review in 2017 found that BAME individuals in the workplace were still disadvantaged and faced lower employment rates. The Lammy review found evidence of bias and discrimination in the justice system (an institution). The Race Disparity Audit, published by then Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017, showed inequalities between ethnicities in educational attainment, health, employment and treatment by police and the courts. This report undoes this work and even contradicts it. 

This report is extremely damaging to the citizens of this country. It feels the UK government wants to get rid of racism without doing any of the work by shifting the goalposts halfway through the match and claiming the win. It refuses to acknowledge the realities faced by BAME citizens. Black women are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Black people are 2.7 times more likely to die of COVID and South Asians are 20 % more likely to die in hospital. BAME individuals are 5 times more likely to be stopped and searched despite being less likely to be found with illegal content. They are also put o 3 times more likely to be tasered by the police.  Black students have a rate of exclusion 3 times higher than white students.

Yet racism is a thing of the past..? Numbers don’t lie. Racism is alive and kicking in this country.



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