“If the report had been intended to help address racism in Britain, it must surely be written off as a disaster.”
So writes David Olusoga, one of Britain’s highest profile black historians, on the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, published last week.
His view is shared by many.
As well as telling us that institutional racism does not exist, the report also says it’s pointless to see black and minority ethnic people as having anything in common.
No pattern shows systematic discrimination across ethnic groups, the authors insist.
But the experience of the pandemic points in exactly the opposite direction.
It’s no accident that black and South Asian men are 4.2 times and 3.6 times more likely to die from Covid-19 compared to their white counterparts.
The British Medical Journal points out that systemic racism, and in particular residential segregation, is driving ethnic differences in health, education, employment and poverty.
If no racism similarly affects black and South Asian people, how do we explain the similarities in their experience? And, when it comes to schools, the Commission is keen to revive an argument that “white working class” pupils are disadvantaged by policies designed to help ethnic minorities succeed.
As evidence the authors tell us that children from most ethnic minorities do as well or better than white pupils. Black Caribbean pupils are the only group to perform less well.
For Sewell and his collaborators, educational achievement is a zero-sum game where if some groups advance others must be left behind. Unfortunately, Labour MP Jess Phillips was happy to play the same card, tweeting, “So what exactly has the government done to improve things for white working class boys for the past 11 years?
She followed this up by tweeting, “I’d love someone to do a study of how government policy has affected white working class families.”
Is a Labour frontbencher now endorsing the idea of a “white working class”, with its interests separate from workers with darker skin tones?
This is sailing into the territory of the far right.
The result of seeing white people as an ethnically disadvantaged group is that real discrimination is ignored.
Asked for her view on the idea that Britain is no longer racist, Halima Begum of the Runnymede Trust, said, “Tell that to the black young mother who is four times more likely to die in childbirth than her young white neighbour.
“Tell that to the 60 percent of NHS doctors and nurses who died from Covid and were black and ethnic minority workers.
“You can’t tell them that, because they are dead.”
Report blames victims to let state off the hook
A theme of the Commission’s report is that black and minority ethnic people are using the idea of institutional racism as an “excuse” for not taking responsibility.
The report should ask police why black young men in London are up to 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.
Instead it wants us to ask why so many black children are brought up by a single parent.
This attempt at victim-blaming seeks to let the system off the hook.
Structural racism is built into the key institutions of society.
It is then reflected elsewhere in society.
We should not blame ourselves for “not meeting our potential” but blame capitalism for promoting racism.