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Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosts an Equalities Roundtable with Chairman of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, Tony Sewell and Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, in 10 Downing Street on July 21, 2020.
Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr
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UK Report Downplaying 'Institutional Racism' Comes Under Fire From Campaigners


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The UK government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparitiesreleased a report on race inequality on Wednesday that denies the country is institutionally racist.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered an investigation into racial inequality in the wake of the international Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, according to Reuters. Following the murder of Black American man George Floyd by a white police officer, tens of thousands of Black Britons protested in solidarity and against systemic racism and police brutality in the UK.

The commission is praising the UK as a “model for other white-majority countries” — a sentiment that has critics and activists in an uproar. While the report noted that more work needs to be done to address racism and it is not yet a “post-racial society,” critics have accused the commission of “whitewashing” the issue. 

The 264-page report, which was originally scheduled for release in 2020, examined various sets of data, including from the Office of National Statistics and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, to evaluate racial inequality in the criminal justice system, health care, and education. 

“Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities," Tony Sewell, the commission’s chairman wrote in the report’s foreword. 

"The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism,” he added. “Too often 'racism' is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined."

When Sewell was first appointed to the commission, Black Lives Matter organisers raised concerns that he did not acknowledge the existence of institutional racism within the UK, according to Reuters. 

The report maintained that a tendency to explain all disadvantages people of colour face on racism detracts from the accomplishments and failure of people of colour.

“Impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism,” the report said

The report argued that while racism exists in the country, especially online, other factors such as “geography, family influence, and socioeconomic background, culture, and religion” had more of an influence on a person’s opportunities than racism. 

The commission said the country has improved over the past 50 years and disputed that institutional racism could be the source of disparities as Black African, Indian, and Bangladeshi students received better GCSE scores — adding that successes like these shouldbe seen as “a model for other white-majority countries”. 

The commission also included 24 recommendations for the UK government. 

The report suggested that organisations reduce funding for unconscious bias training and report ethnicity pay gaps transparently, while explaining the cause of such disparities and strategies to resolve them. 

While the commission recognised that pay disparities persist across the public and private sector, it stressed that diversity and inclusion have improved in fields such as medicine and law, and that the pay gap between people of colour and white people has decreased by 2.3%.  

The commission went on to advise against the use of the acronym BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic), claiming it promotes the treatment of people of colour as a monolith. The report also proposed that the education system extend school days in disadvantaged areas and provide better career advice for at-risk children.  

"The entirety of government remains fully committed to building a fairer Britain and taking the action needed to address disparities wherever they exist," Prime Minister Johnson said in response to the report, according to Reuters. 

The opposition Labour party was quick to condemn the commission’s conclusions. Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer said he felt “disappointed” by the report’s findings and said it failed to connect the experiences of Black people with structural issues. 

Meanwhile, Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy told Sky News that even though the country should celebrate progress it should not downplay the problem at hand. 

A Black Lives Matter UK spokesperson pointed out that the report left out several nuances related to how institutional racism manifests in British society, according to the Guardian.

“It fails to explore disproportionality in school exclusion, eurocentrism, and censorship in the curriculum, or the ongoing attainment gap in higher education,” the spokesperson said.

“We are also disappointed to learn that the report overlooks disproportionality in the criminal justice system — particularly as police racism served as the catalyst for last summer’s protests.”

Black people in England and Wales are nine times more likely to be imprisoned than white people, the spokesperson explained.

“We didn’t need another report. We needed to start looking at implementing impactful and lasting change,” another Black Lives Matter UK spokesperson told Al Jazeera. “We need action.”