- A government-issued report in the UK found no evidence of systemic racism in the country.
- A government clearing itself of any wrong-doing is a mockery to the real, institutional problems at hand.
- Mohammad Zaheer is a journalist and political commentator.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Controversy has arisen in the UK after a much anticipated report investigating race and ethnic disparities apparently found no evidence of institutional racism in the country; instead heralding Britain as a model for other white majority nations.
The United Kingdom, much like the rest of the world, is having a moment of reckoning about racial injustice, further complicated by its colonialist past. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 that followed the killing of George Floyd in America, the UK government established the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to help address concerns about the racial inequalities that permeate British society even today. But the report’s failure to find evidence of systemic injustice should leave us all questioning its authors’ intention.
Due to the importance of such reports – which gain considerable media coverage and are often relied on by government officials, academics, and policy makers to inform their decision making – it is imperative that the members of the commission are impartial experts that have tremendous credibility. However, eyebrows were raised when this particular panel, which is meant to be independent, seemed to mostly consist of individuals whose ideology was in line with the Conservative government’s views and lacked expertise in many of the matters being investigated. Former Shadow Home Secretary and current Labour MP Diane Abbott – the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament – went as far as accusing the government of consciously packing it with people who did not believe in institutional racism. And others who took part in the report are now trying to distance themselves from its results.
Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, then, that this report went against the findings of several other major inquiries in the past 20 years that had found evidence of systemic racism – including the landmark 2017 Lammy Review that found significant racial bias in the UK justice system. It has become apparent now that instead of taking the opportunity to truly explore the issues of racial inequality and discrimination, the report appeared to be tailored to fit a pre-determined narrative that suited the government and reaffirmed its skepticism of institutional racism.
There is plenty of evidence regarding systemic racism – in 2021, one would have to be willfully ignorant to deny it. But in keeping the discussion stuck at debating the existence of a deeply entrenched discriminatory phenomenon that clearly affects a significant percentage of the population negatively, the government has ensured that no progress whatsoever is made in addressing the resulting racial disparities – which was what we were led to believe the commission was set up to do in the first place.
Evidence of injustice is easy to come by
The reality is that we live in a country where COVID-19 has disproportionately taken the lives and livelihoods of its Black, Asian, and ethnic minority population. Black women in Britain are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women. Black people are not only nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, but are also twice as likely to be criminalised for drug possession than their white counterparts. Ethnic minority students, especially those from Caribbean or Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds, are significantly more likely to be excluded from school. Studies have shown that ethnic minority students are also less likely to be accepted in the country’s elite universities, even when they have the same grades as their white peers. Only recently, Black citizens were detained, denied their rights, and even wrongly deported from the country by the British government.
While the report does acknowledge that racial disparities still exist, its authors argue that “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, and culture and religion” play a significant role. Ethnic minorities opposed to the findings of the report seemingly get painted as perpetual moaners who’ve absorbed “a fatalistic narrative that says the deck is permanently stacked against them” and can’t bring themselves to appreciate the incredible progress Britain has made transforming itself into “a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world”.
Thus, the discussion has devolved into a farcical debate on patriotism, where those criticising this ‘positive’ news about Britain face accusations of just having an irrational hatred for the country instead of legitimate grievances. It feeds directly to the biases of much of the Conservative vote base, many who are vocal about how they believe people of colour, anti-racism campaigners and experts want to make everything about race, and how those complaining of racism have a victimhood complex.
The backlash and condemnation of the report has been swift and comprehensive. Several academics have criticised it as a sloppy piece of work and accused it of distorting and misrepresenting research. Many of the experts thanked for their help with the report have publicly come out and denied their involvement with its contents. And as I mentioned before, some of the commissioners have now come out and distanced themselves from the final report; with allegations that it was the government – and not the 12 commissioners – that produced many of the controversial sections of the finished product. The government has been urged to withdraw the report, with many rights campaigners fearing that its continued circulation will “take us back to the ‘colour bar’ of the 1960s.”
But whether a Prime Minister who has conducted an obvious attempt at whitewashing racism listens to such concerns remains to be seen. The hypocrisy of a government investigating itself by appointing ‘yes people’ to exonerate it and further its agenda – even allegedly rewriting their report to ensure the desired outcome – is galling.
The repercussions of this cynical act will continue to be felt, with the credibility of such ‘independent’ government commissions severely damaged. What is crystal clear, however, is that we cannot look to this administration for any meaningful action to address racial disparities. Our struggle for racial equality continues, it is just a shame that the government continues to actively make things worse for the marginalised communities it is also meant to serve.
Mohammad Zaheer is a journalist and political commentator.