From the moment Boris Johnson appointed Tony Sewell – who once said the evidence for institutional racism was “flimsy" – to chair the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities I sensed they might not be serious about tackling racial inequality.
But even the deepest cynic could not have anticipated that it would be so bad as to suggest that slavery was “not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves”, as he does in the foreword to the report.
Reading this report, a year into a pandemic that has disproportionately cost Black, Asian and ethnic minority people their lives and livelihoods, left me as a Black British woman feeling deeply insulted and distressed. After decades of fighting for racial justice, this report seeks to erase progress and turn back the clock. Many Black, Asian and ethnic minority people across the country will be feeling wounded by its words.
The commission had an opportunity to seriously respond to structural racial inequalities in the UK after the powerful Black Lives Matter movement. A chance to set the record straight on disproportionality in the criminal justice system, maternal mortality, school exclusions and unemployment. Anziché, we have a 250-page divisive polemic that cherry-picks statistics to prove a preordained ideological point.
Just 24 hours on from the publication of the report its credibility completely unravelled with the government’s most senior race adviser resigning citing a “politics steeped in division” and two contributors distancing themselves.
The report appeared to claim that socioeconomic conditions drive inequality more than racism. This is a textbook “divide and rule” approach from a government more interested in deflecting from its mishandling of the pandemic, cronyism and negligence than genuinely improving living standards.
A decade of Conservative rule has left working-class people across communities, including Black and ethnic minority people, facing low pay, insecure work and overcrowded housing. These are the things that have cost people their lives in the past year. You can’t split apart inequalities of race, class, geography and ethnicity in this way.
The second headline-grabbing conclusion was the absurd claim that the term institutional racism is too “liberally used” and not rooted in data.
Il Race Disparity Unit, established by Theresa May in 2016, clearly cites that Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched, more than four times more likely to die in childbirth and five times more likely to be excluded from school in some parts of the UK.
Il 1999 Macpherson report stated that an institution such as “laws, customs and practices” can be said to be racist if it “systematically reflect[S] and produce[S] racial inequalities in society”.
The government’s own data shows the labour market, criminal justice system, healthcare system and education system all produce racial inequalities. It is a dangerous place to be when a report published on a government website overlooks these findings.
As for the recommendations, many of them lack teeth and are reliant on individual discretion. Per esempio, the failure to recommend mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting clearly misses the mark, while proposals to fund the Equality and Human Rights Commission to work on race equality simply ask the government to undo the damage done in the past decade.
Proposals to diversify the curriculum are overshadowed by the suggestion that a “new story” be told about empire and slavery, and recommendations to phase out the term BAME, while correct, do nothing to close huge gaps in standards of living for Black, Asian and ethnic minority people.
We need robust action on inequality and institutional racism across society, and a better future for everyone out of the pandemic. But the Conservatori seem determined to ignore inequalities and to try to divide our country. Labour is committed to resisting this division in all its forms and standing together to build a brighter future.
In definitiva, we have to see this report as just another attempt to divide and derail us. And we have to resist it every step of the way.