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WORLD | 31-03-2021 10:52

Report prompts backlash after finding UK not 'institutionally racist'

Prejudice persists in Britain but the country is not "institutionally racist," according to a much-anticipated study published Wednesday by a government commission, which drew an immediate pushback from racial equality campaigners.

Prejudice persists in Britain but the country is not "institutionally racist," according to a much-anticipated study published Wednesday by a government commission, which drew an immediate pushback from racial equality campaigners.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was created following last year's Black Lives Matter protests. It concluded that many of Britain's young BLM demonstrators were misguided, and that the country could be regarded "as a model for other white-majority countries".

Its assertions faced prompt criticism, with opposition politicians and activists arguing it ignored broad-based evidence pointing to pervasive racism in policing, education and healthcare.

"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," the report said. "That said, we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK."

Tony Sewell, the commission's black chair, said "anecdotal evidence" showed that everyday racism endured.

"Evidence of actual institutional racism? No, that wasn't there. We didn't find that," he told BBC radio. 

Sewell, a former education charity head from Brixton, the heart of London's British-Caribbean population, said the report found "the complete opposite" in educational outcomes for ethnic minorities.

"The vast majority... are actually doing better than the white majority," he said, arguing that Britain was doing much better than comparable countries overall.

'Insult'

The delayed 264-page report made 24 recommendations, notably on building trust between police and minority groups, on extending the school day in deprived areas, and on tackling racist abuse on social media platforms.

If implemented, it said the recommendations would "give a further burst of momentum to the story of our country's progress to a successful multicultural community – a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world".

But others argued the commission failed to account for various measures of racial inequality, from higher rates of school exclusions and imprisonment, to poverty and mortality rates for ethnic minorities. 

On educational outcomes, campaigners noted that on average, white working-class boys who do not go to university still ended up earning more than many black graduates. 

"All it is is a whitewash and a script that's been written to 10 Downing Street because the people appointed on this commission had no interest in resolving racism," Halima Begum, director of equality think-tank the Runnymede Trust, told BBC News.

Black studies professor Kehinde Andrews branded the review "complete nonsense" that "goes in the face of all the actual existing evidence".

Opposition Labour lawmaker David Lammy, who is black and led a hard-hitting 2017 review into racism in the criminal justice system, labelled the conclusions an "insult to anybody and everybody across this country who experiences institutional racism."

'Lived experience'

Critics have noted that Sewell downplayed institutional racism years before writing the report. His appointment as chair provoked dismay among racial equality campaigners as well as a legal challenge.

He has previously worked closely with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Downing Street policy unit head Munira Mirza, leading some to question his independence.

In response, Sewell said he was not at "war" with so-called woke culture, but disagreed with "gestures" such as taking the knee to protest against racism.

"What we are about here is about getting working-class people, poor people, people who have got disadvantage, towards opportunity," he said.

Johnson ordered the commission to probe "all aspects of inequality" in the wake of the anti-racism protests that rocked Britain last summer following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, as he was arrested by police in the United States.

Sunder Katwala, head of the group British Future, said the UK could indeed be prouder of its record on race relations in some regards.

But he said much of the progress was driven by a serious effort to gather data, noting that France for instance forbids data collection on racial disparities.

For Britons of colour who fear losing out on jobs, housing or healthcare, international comparisons are "rarely relevant to lived experience", he wrote on Twitter.

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by Jitendra Joshi & Joe Jackson, AFP

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