For Tony Sewell to argue that there is no evidence of institutional racism in the UK is delusional. It is deeply disturbing to see this government-commissioned report riddled with so many distortions. Neither the existence nor the extent of institutionalised racism can be denied.
Take the government’s anti-extremism Prevent strategy, which embeds Islamophobia into our school system by ordering teachers to report “suspicious” Muslim children. Children doing innocent childish things have become suspects. We see young Black men far more likely to be stopped and searched by the Metropolitan Police, and twice as likely to die in custody. British Pakistanis are pagato 15% less than their white British peers. And how can we forget the entire Windrush generation who were degraded, denied hospital treatment and benefits, and many deported by a Home Office that saw British people as foreign because of their race.
If the prime minister and Tony Sewell genuinely believe in their whitewash of a report, then perhaps they could sit down and explain their point of view to the Black women who are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers-to-be, or the NHS healthworkers, from consultants to hospital porters, so much more likely to die during the pandemic.
It is inequality that makes these people vulnerable. Structural, institutional, entrenched racial inequality.
Sewell ascribes the relative success of some ethnic minority students not to government policy, but to some kind of aspirational work ethic. What his report fails to acknowledge or explain is that this aspiration is born of the knowledge among ethnic minority parents that our children will have to work so much harder than their white British peers to be given the same opportunities.
Simply put, the Sewell commission demonstrates the extent to which the government that sponsored it and shaped its findings is utterly lacking in any empathy or understanding of the lived realities faced by Britain’s ethnic-minority communities today. No doubt the prime minister feels this will play well among his new northern white working-class voters.
Ultimately though, this report is nothing short of an insult. It is government-sponsored gaslighting, and a clear repudiation of any intent to achieve genuine racial equality in our country.
For my entire life, my ethnic group has been labelled “successful”, even a “model minority”. Yet this idea only serves to downplay the very real discrimination and racism that East Asians face.
According to the report, institutional racism isn’t a problem. Chinese people, along with Black African, Bangladeshi and Indian people, experience a high level of educational success. The report further states that Indian and Chinese ethnic groups comfortably outperform the white average in education and income and are seen to “benefit from positive stereotypes”.
The well-worn tropes about East Asians being hard-working, law-abiding and financially prosperous may seem positive, but they erase the many issues that East Asian communities face in terms of racism, poverty and labour exploitation.
Furthermore, they encourage the idea that issues of racism and discrimination are not institutional problems, but rather a question of individual behaviour that can be easily overcome by studying and working hard.
Yet there are many other ways in which racism still plays a role in my everyday life. The past year has been particularly difficult for East Asians. Since the start of the pandemic we’ve had to endure racial slurs such as “Kung Flu", and headlines such as “Made in China". On streets or in supermarkets, we are now viewed with suspicion. These casual acts of racism have sometimes escalated into violence, and even led to deaths.
These kinds of microaggressions and stereotypes are a daily reality, and they don’t disappear simply because you perform well academically.
I welcome the recommendations in the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report. I think they are a step forward in our national discussions on race. As someone of Indo-Black Caribbean heritage who has spent a lifetime working in schools in the inner city, trying to enable social mobility for so many children, I am thrilled when a government report understands the power of culture and how crucial it is for us to resist the temptation to jump to the conclusions that discrimination is responsible whenever we are presented with disparities.
I do however believe in institutionalised racism: meaning, per esempio, that when a CV is sent out with a Black name, the same CV with a white name will be more likely to get shortlisted for a job. I also know from my own personal experiences in various ways that racism is not dead.
But I believe that since the Macpherson report 22 anni fa, Britain has made huge strides in creating a multicultural country that works. In general we are not a racist nation, and many countries around the world would do well to follow our example.
To those who think differently, I would say: it is important when making arguments and suggesting solutions to consider whether the solutions will actually help children reach their potential and live a successful life. Or do these solutions instead simply make the people who are suggesting them feel better about themselves?
Always look at the outcomes. The school I lead, Michaela, does a wonderful job of allowing children who might otherwise have been left on the scrapheap of life a chance to change their stars. I’m glad that the report focuses so much on education – it’s the most powerful tool we have.
Following their high-profile criticisms of Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and the concept of institutional racism, il Sewell report is the latest in a series of Conservative attacks on anti-racism. We’re witnessing a government, propelled by fear of the mass mobilisations of last summer, doing everything possible to undermine the efforts of those seeking racial justice.
The report is highly selective in its coverage and framing, and seems to adopt a skewed reading of the evidence in order to deny the persistence of institutional racism in British society. Given what we know about the views of Tony Sewell, and influential Conservatives such as Munira Mirza, who had a role in setting up the commission, it’s hard to escape the impression that it was written to fit a predetermined worldview.
The state’s own data shows Black people are on average nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, and this does not even begin to account for a vast range of police encounters that go unrecorded. Racially minoritised communities are more likely to be subject to use of force, including Tasers, and are massively over-represented on discriminatory gangs’ databases. Racial disparities have been evident in the policing of the pandemic too, with racially minoritised people more likely to be fined, and the Metropolitan police having stopped and searched 20,000 young Black men (the equivalent of a quarter of all the city’s Black 15- to 24-year-olds) in London during the first lockdown period. These issues also persist in the prison population with the UK incarcerating a higher proportion of its Black population than the United States.
With these communities at the sharp end of the impact of the pandemic, not only in terms of death rates, but the policing response and the effects of the economic downturn pure, this report feels like a callous, cynical move to downplay the problems – and will do little to address the challenges we face.