By Adam Jordan
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities recently published its long-awaited, landmark report on the state of race in Britain.
Whilst, reasonably, not a glowing appraisal of Britain, nor an under-appreciation of racial disparities within the UK, the Commission has produced some thoroughly-investigated, thoughtful and honest conclusions and recommendations to enhance racial equality and race relations, focusing on Education, Employment, Crime and Policing, and Health.
After the initial revelation by Dr Tony Sewell, chair of the Commission, that the UK is not an ‘institutionally racist’ nation, the predictable Twitter uproar followed, with many of those complaining failing to have read, or completely misinterpreting the report.
The report is not a neglection of racism in the UK – in fact, the Commission explicitly states that the UK is not yet, in its opinion – with which most, if not all would agree – a post-racial society. It also acknowledges that discrimination, prejudice and outright racism still affect many minority Brits today and that historical racism has resulted in significant mistrust of wider society within and between minority groups.
But we do have to be careful with terms like ‘institutional racism’, which connotes ‘deep-seated racism … proven on a systemic level’. The Commission is correct to suggest that ‘the system’ is not rigged against ethnic minorities, a ‘fatalistic’ and often detrimental outlook that itself places immense psychological obstacles in the way of minority advancement. The ‘linguistic inflation’ of racism and the ensuing trivialisation is unfortunate, and the Commission is correct to try to set out definitions and boundaries to these concepts.
Most of the disparities the Commission examined – and it is important to note that this report has been one based on incomprehensibly heavy research, investigation and analysis – ‘often do not have their origins in racism’. It is also acknowledged that disparities between races do not themselves determine the co-existence of discrimination or racism.
There are numerous other factors at play, like family structures, age, geography (often woefully neglected), culture and religion, to name a few. Not only this, but it is often more so the case that the vital determinants are class and socioeconomic status, not race. These sorts of issues have been tackled scrupulously by economist Thomas Sowell throughout his career and writings in the US.
Moreover, we cannot forget the significant success stories amongst minority groups in the UK, such as that in the sphere of education – the ‘single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience’ – where the effect of racial bias, if there is any, is extremely limited.
Additionally, the report indicates that, in the sphere of employment, there are ‘more signs of social progress than social regress’. Furthermore, ethnicity is ‘not the major driver of health inequalities’, and many minority groups fare far better in some health outcomes than white Brits.
However, a particular issue is Crime and Policing: hate crimes and harassment, stop-and-search, violent crime, over-representation in the criminal justice system, gang activity, the tragedies of drug-related crime, and the role of community. It is hoped that the report will provide those in power with insights into how the police might better serve their communities and improve trust.
The report also makes 24 specific recommendations to further racial fairness that could form the groundwork for reforms to tackle disparities at their underlying causes. These include: improving the training of police regarding community interaction, stop-and-search and de-escalation, alongside body-worn video footage; reproducing the ‘factors of educational success for all communities’; making further inquiries into pay, health and crime disparities; the phasing-in of an extended school day, ‘prioritising disadvantaged areas’; and improving the transparency and use of artificial intelligence, amongst other suggestions.
Such recommendations have the goal of building trust between communities and institutions, promoting greater fairness, empowering individuals and creating agency, and achieving ‘genuine inclusivity’, quite often through fixing the problems for everybody and investing in proven, worthwhile interventions.
The Commission furthermore proposes disaggregating the term BAME – a reasonable proposition, given the immense differences between varying minority groups, ‘masking a complex picture’ and obscuring inter-group disparities. Whether the Commission is right to say that the UK is a ‘beacon’ to the rest of the world when it comes to racial progress is a matter of opinion, but it is a conclusion that is difficult to resist after delving into what is a meticulous, though non-exhaustive analysis.
Doubtless, the report will cause significant controversy, but as previously stated, it is in no way an exoneration of the UK as a nation devoid of racism – far from it – but it tackles the questions surrounding racism, discrimination and disparities in a more balanced and nuanced way: the questions around these topics cannot be answered narrowly – they are multi-variate and inextricably complex, across both spatial and temporal dimensions.
Nonetheless, such disparities do exist, racism still exists in the UK, as does discrimination generally, whether direct or indirect, and much remains unexplained. Whether you agree with the report’s conclusions (or, how they have been reported), it is worth reading so that we might all fully understand the existing multi-faceted issues and how we might solve them, challenge misleading preconceptions, and have more informed discussions on the state of race in Britain.
Image: Black Lives Matter Protest, Bristol, UK via Flickr