In My View: Marsha de Cordova, MP for Battersea

After months of delay, last week finally saw the publication of the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, established by the Prime Minister in July 2020 after the Black Lives Matter movement.

From the minute Boris Johnson hired Tony Sewell to be the Chair of the Commission, I suspected the Government might not be serious about addressing racial inequalities.

He and other Commissioners have previously cast doubt on the concept of institutional racism. But even I could not have anticipated that the report would be so offensive and incoherent as to suggest a ‘new story’ be told about slavery and to dismiss the concept of institutional racism out of hand.

Let’s get one thing clear – institutional racism does exist in the UK, in our health care system, education system and criminal justice system.

This is borne out in data from the Race Disparity Unit, established by Theresa May which finds that Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched, five times more likely to be excluded from school in some parts of the UK and more than four times more likely to die in childbirth.

In 1999, following the killing of Stephen Lawrence, the Macpherson Report established a definition of intuitional racism which said that an institution such as “laws, customs and practices” can be said to be racist if it “systematically reflect[s] and produce[s] racial inequalities in society.”

Statistics clearly show that racial inequalities are still produced in our hospitals, schools and prisons every single day.

Institutional racism is real, and it is the lived experience of many people.

This is not ‘doing down’ Black, Asian and ethnic minority people or suggesting we cannot achieve. It is getting clear in our minds that we do not all have the same starting point in life.

For Black, Asian and ethnic minority people we start from a position of systemic disadvantage and its our job as politicians to abolish inequality and establish a level playing field. Mentions of ‘family structures’ and ‘culture’ also appear to blame individuals for their own disadvantage.

The report’s suggestion that racism has a lesser role to play in inequality than class is classic ‘divide and rule’ politics from a Government more interested in sowing division than genuinely improving standards of living.

The Conservatives tell us they are interested in ‘fairness’ and ‘levelling up’, in inequalities of geography and class.

The truth is they aren’t interested in addressing inequality at all. It is not so simple to divide up class and race like this especially given that Black, Asian and ethnic minority people make up such a huge percentage of the working class across the UK. The real experts know this.

Just 48 hours on from its publication it became clear just how little credibility the report had after attributed contributors distanced themselves from the document and the Government’s most senior race advisor resigned, citing a politics “steeped in division.”

Even those close to the Commission could see it was a politically motivated exercise in dismissing the very real concerns of ethnic minority people.

As for the recommendations, many of them miss the mark. The failure to recommend mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting stands out while proposals to diversify the curriculum do not go far enough to guarantee education about Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade or colonialism.

We need this to change deep-seated attitudes towards Black people in the UK. Proposals to fund the Equality and Human Rights Commission and establish a Health Disparities Office are particularly ironic given the Tories have cut EHRC funding by £44 million since 2010 and recently abolished Public Health England.

It is good that the Commission recommended we stop using ‘BAME.’ This language masks differences in experience and culture of different race and ethnicities.

It is an unhelpful and accurate term but it will take more than language tweaks to end institutional racism.

This report was an opportunity to meaning[1]fully grapple with the issues of institutional and structural racism in the United Kingdom.

Instead, we got a 250-page divisive polemic which cherry picks statistics to prove a point.

After a year in which Black, Asian and ethnic minority people have been unequally impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the report came as an insult.

We cannot let it divide us in the fight to end inequality and structural racism.


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