A landmark race report for the government in the wake of Black Lives Matter was released today – but it was immediately slammed as “cynical” PR, “gaslighting” and an “insult”.
Critics blasted the 258-page Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities review after it found no evidence Britain is “institutionally racist” – and criticised campaigners for using the term too loosely.
The report admitted Britain is not yet a “post-racial society” but added: “We no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.
Instead the report claimed “most of the disparities we examined… often do not have their origins in racism”.
And the report criticised “bleak” thinking among some anti-racist campaigners who seek to blame all disparities on white discrimination. It said white prejudice is in fact “dwindling” and those campaigners “divert attention from the other reasons for minority success and failure”.
The report said some of the reasons for ethnic minority groups struggling for equality are “embedded in the cultures and attitudes of those minority communities themselves”.
It even suggested there could be a silver lining to the legacy of slavery, saying: “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.”
Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Marsha De Cordova accused the report of “glorifying” the slave trade.
The Labour MP said: “The government must urgently explain how they came to publish content which glorifies the slave trade and immediately disassociate themselves with these remarks.”
Meanwhile the report – led by 10 people from science, education, economics, broadcasting, medicine, and policing, almost all from ethnic minority backgrounds – remarked on “just how stuck some groups from the White majority are”.
It added: “As a result, we came to the view that recommendations should, wherever possible, be designed to remove obstacles for everyone, rather than specific groups.”
“No one in the report is saying racism doesn’t exist,” commission chair Dr Tony Sewell – a former teacher who grew up in Brixton – told the BBC. But he said “the evidence of actual institutional racism, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that in our report”.
Yet that theory was branded “complete nonsense” by Black studies professor Kehinde Andrews – who branded the review a “PR move to pretend the problem (of racism) doesn’t exist”.
Prof Andrews, from Birmingham City University, claimed the study was “not a genuine effort to understand racism in Britain”.
He told the PA news agency: “It’s complete nonsense. It goes in the face of all the actual existing evidence.
“This is not a genuine effort to understand racism in Britain. This is a PR move to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
“The evidence is clear, it’s been there for a long time around ethnic penalties in employment, around the problems in education, around the problems with policing.”
The wide-ranging review commissioned by No10 makes 24 recommendations – including that police should wear more body cameras to improve trust in stop-and-search, and the school day should be extended in disadvantaged areas.
It also recommends the term ‘BAME’ is dropped as it is “no longer helpful” and arbitrarily combines different racial groups.
But critics hit out after cherry-picked lines were briefed to selected journalists overnight ahead of its 11.30am publication – with strict orders not to seek any reaction.
Critics also criticised the lack of immediate action, as at least four of the recommendations involve setting up another review.
The early stages of setting up the commission drew controversy after Mr Johnson gave Munira Mirza, head of the Number 10 policy unit, a major role in its creation.
And a race equality think tank questioned the suitability of Tony Sewell as chairman of the commission – after he previously claimed evidence of the existence of institutional racism was “flimsy”.
Dr Sewell worked with Boris Johnson in 2013 when he led the then London mayor’s education inquiry into the capital’s schools.
Writing in Prospect magazine in 2010, Dr Sewell, an international education consultant, said: “Much of the supposed evidence of institutional racism is flimsy.”
Speaking on LBC this morning, he said: “British people, white and black, are dying to turn the page on racism.
“They are working in food banks to support the marginalised. They are teaching in after-school clubs to raise awareness. They are working in rehabilitation centres to end the cycle of disproportionate mass incarceration.
” Boris Johnson has just slammed the door in their faces by telling them that they’re idealists, they are wasting their time. He has let an entire generation of young white and black British people down.
“Just as people marched against South Africa to free Mandela and Margaret Thatcher stood in their way. Just as folk got together and marched for an enquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence and John Major stood in their way.
“Now young people across the country come together and say ‘yes, black lives do matter’, and guess what, Boris Johnson stands in their way.”
GMB National Secretary Rehana Azam said: “Only this government could produce a report on race in the 21st Century that actually gaslights Black Asian Minority and Ethnic people and communities.
“This feels like a deeply cynical report that not only ignores Black and Ethnic minority workers’ worries and concerns.
“But is part of an election strategy to divide working class people and voters. It’s completely irresponsible and immoral.
Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust, said it was “deeply, deeply worrying” that the commission had denied the existence of institutional racism.
She said: “Frankly, by denying the evidence of institutional racism and tinkering with issues like unconscious bias training and use of the term ‘BAME’, I think they’ve insulted every ethnic minority in this country – the people who continue to experience racism on a daily basis.”
The commission said there have been improvements such as increasing diversity in elite professions and a shrinking ethnicity pay gap, although disparities remain.
It also found that children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than white pupils in compulsory education, with black Caribbean pupils the only group to perform less well.
It also said that issues around race and racism are becoming “less important”, and in some cases are not a significant factor in explaining inequalities.
Different outcomes are complex and involve social class and family structure along with race, it said.
The report said: “The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism. That said, we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement: “The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was launched to conduct a detailed, data-led examination of inequality across the entire population, and to set out a positive agenda for change.
“I want to thank Dr Tony Sewell and each of the commissioners for generously giving their time to lead this important piece of work.
“It is now right that the Government considers their recommendations in detail, and assesses the implications for future government policy. The entirety of government remains fully committed to building a fairer Britain and taking the action needed to address disparities wherever they exist.”