U.K. Is Not Structurally Racist, Report Ordered by Johnson Says

The U.K. is not a “post-racial” society but issues around race and racism are becoming less important as opportunities improve, a report commissioned by the government after the Black Lives Matter protests found.

When the death of George Floyd last year prompted riots in the U.S., mirror protests took place around the U.K. against perceived police racism and the poorer life chances for ethnic minorities. The report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities rejects the idea the U.K. is structurally racist.

The government said the report was needed to examine the extent of racism and race-related issues to set out a “positive agenda” for change. “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 Boris Johnson said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

The study comes at a sensitive time for race relations in the U.K.. This month, Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle -- the duke and duchess of Sussex -- blamed racism in the British media for pushing them to leave the country.

The duchess also described how an unnamed member of the royal family asked the duke “how dark” their unborn son’s skin color would be, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that shocked viewers in Britain and prompted a rare statement from Queen Elizabeth II.

The government’s report Wednesday did little to allay concerns among opposition politicians, think tanks and charities, who questioned its credibility and findings.

It “was clearly written to a script defined by 10 Downing Street the moment this so-called independent commission was convened,” Halima Begum, director of the race equality think tank Runnymede Trust, said in an interview. It “insulted every ethnic minority in this country -- the very people who continue to experience racism on a daily basis,” she said.

The GMB Union, which represents 631,000 industrial workers including in the state-run National Health Service, described the report as “gaslighting” Black, Asian and other minority ethnic workers and communities.

‘Slamming the Door’

The opposition Labour Party accused Johnson of “slamming the door” on people calling for action to tackle institutional racism. “He has let an entire generation of White and Black British people down,” the party’s justice spokesman, David Lammy, who is Black, said on his LBC radio show.

The report comes at a critical time for race relations in the U.K., which came to a head with the Black Lives Matter protests last year. Tensions had already been raised over the Windrush scandal, when it emerged that the government broke its own equality laws by depriving some Black residents of the right to live in the U.K., of welfare benefits, and even deporting some of those affected.

The statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was pulled down in June, triggering a row over Britain’s colonial legacy, and Johnson’s government has since promised to make it harder for the monuments to be removed while also moving to restrict the right to protest.

On Wednesday, Johnson’s commission reported an improving picture in the U.K. including increasing diversity in elite professions and a shrinking ethnicity pay gap, though disparities remain. Children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than White pupils in compulsory education, with pupils from a Black Caribbean background the only group to perform less well, it said.

‘Deep Mistrust’

“Most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism,” the commission found. Still, some communities are “haunted” by “historic cases” of racism, creating “deep mistrust” in the system which could prove a barrier to success.

It also said that “overt and outright racism persists,” particularly online.

The report advocated that children are taught a different narrative about slavery, “which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modeled African/Britain.”

In a section on death rates related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the commission found that a higher death rate in Black and South Asian groups is “mainly due to an increased risk of exposure to infection,” because those groups are more likely to live in urban areas with higher population density and levels of deprivation, and work in higher risk jobs such as health care or transport.

‘Unhelpful’

The report suggests the term “BAME” or Black and Minority Ethnic should be abandoned as it is “unhelpful” in understanding disparities and outcomes for specific ethnic groups.

The report also calls for:

  • The establishment of an Office for Health Disparities
  • The teaching of an inclusive school curriculum
  • Companies to publish action plans on improving diversity
  • School days to be extended to help disadvantaged pupils
  • A drive to keep users of Class B drugs away from the criminal justice system
  • A plan to make online anonymous abuse harder to post, to stop the amplification of hardcore racists

The commission said police should be required to wear body video cameras, the publication of more granular data on stop and search and de-escalation training for all officers to reduce community tensions with ethnic minorities.

Disproportionately Targeted

Black and Bangladeshi people are disproportionately targeted by the police in England and Wales, according to 2019-2020 data published by the Home Office. The figures show that for every 1,000 people, 54 Black people would be stopped and searched compared to 6 White people.

London’s Metropolitan Police is now tracking the ethnicity of people pulled over by traffic officers, after data showed Black motorists were being disproportionately targeted. The aim is to help “assess and address” concerns over racial profiling, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said when the program began in January.

“Despite the U.K. comparing well internationally there is still a powerful current of unease and even anger that bubbled up in last summer’s BLM protests,” the commission said in the report. “Minorities, even after several generations, often feel a detachment and unease relative to majorities and tend to remain sensitive to their group’s relative status in the society.”

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