The recent publication of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report has once again shown the government’s hand in alienating people of colour behind their mask of nationalist pride. While claiming that “society has ‘defined racism down’”, “stretching the meaning of racism without objective data to support it”, the government has introduced a new ‘hot take’ which discredits ethnic minorities’ valid experiences of institutional and structural racism. Intending to be divisive and to quote Doreen Lawrence, mother of late Stephen Lawrence, “giv(e) racists the green light”, it also dangerously encourages racial prejudice and discrimination.
The report’s authors go on to state that “the idea that all ethnic minority people suffer a common fate and a shared disadvantage is an anachronism”, juxtaposing the experience of people of colour’s plight and race-related challenges with that of the US. While the death of George Floyd brought forth memories of tragic incidents where members of the Black British community were killed or rendered disabled in similar circumstances at the hands of the British police or immigration officers, the report echoes the dismissive chorus of voices who stated its irrelevance. According to them, voices, in particular those of the ‘woke’ youth, who draw such comparisons insisting that institutional racism continues to structure British social spheres “will achieve nothing other than alienating the decent centre-ground”, as if the objective of the antiracism movement was to alleviate the discomfort of white fragility.
Though US race-related challenges are unique in both its depth and overt nature, the parallels that Black Britons draw between their experiences and those of African Americans emphasise not that the two are identical but that life in the UK for people of colour is not the non-racialised haven that many like to perceive. For example, Black men are stopped and searched at ten times the rate of white men. Black people make up 3% of the population of England and Wales but account for 12% of the prison population and not since 1971 have British police officers been prosecuted for the killing of a black man, despite cases such as Sean Rigg and Mark Duggan, and even then they were charged with the lesser crime of manslaughter and that charge was later dropped. These facts alone demonstrate that the smoke-and-mirrors argument of how Britain isn’t racist compared to America should cease to exist because its sole purpose is just to reproach people of colour’s experience of racism. Using David Olusoga’s words, it is important to ask whether the extent of our ambition is “to be a somewhat less racist nation than one led by a man who describes white nationalists and members of the Ku Klux Klan as “very fine people”?”. While Britain is not America, we are neither a global model of racial equality. Instead, we are a nation that is deeply disfigured by an insidious and pervasive racism.
What’s more, it is abhorrent that the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report ignores one of the most evident forms of institutional racism that has been witnessed nationwide for decades – the racist attitudes of the Metropolitan Police. The Macpherson report in fact identified the existence of “institutional racism” in the Met Police after an inquiry was launched into the force’s investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, where a 350-page report concluded that the investigation into the killing had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership”. The entire force faced criticism and specific officers were named. Even so, it has become clear that whatever progress was made since its publication is now in retreat. With the recent discovery of former Metropolitan police officer PC Ben Hannam’s membership of the neo-nazi National Action group coinciding with government-proposed increased police powers under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, fear of and disillusionment with British institutions for ethnic minorities will take more than the Sewell Report to disappear.
While cases involving brutal police force, such as Kingsley Burrell and Darren Cumberbatch, may spring to mind, the recent news of Richard Okorogheye, has sparked criticism of Britain’s Met Police after his mother revealed that her pleas for help were ignored because of her race, wasting crucial time in the early stages of the investigation. Speaking to Sky News, Okorogheye’s mother, Evidence Joel, said that the police dismissed her during the first few days of her vulnerable son’s disappearance and that her “heart was broken” following a cruel jibe made by an officer with whom she had tried to discuss the case. “I told a police officer that my son was missing, please help me find him, and she said, ‘If you can’t find your son, how do you expect police officers to find your son for you?’”, she told Sky News. In Joel’s case, her experience is not unique as it forms as part of the realities that Black parents with missing children encounter. As a significant number of parents arrive at the conclusion that it is up to them alone to find their missing son or daughter due to deliberate police incompetence, cases like Richard’s become the rule, not the exception. While the parents of these children not only are tormented from the fear for their missing loved ones, but also endure the hostility of a police force reluctant to help, the Met Police will deny such accusations, give excuses and reason away their failings. However, if this racist culture continues to prevail, the endless list of British victims of racial injustice will continue to grow.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report has thus failed and exhausted the British population of ethnic minorities. In dismissing institutional racism, the authors of the report rid UK institutions of any culpability in repeatedly failing and disillusioning the people of colour that are forced to rely on them; instead, they shift that very responsibility of change onto the victims themselves, gaslighting them and forcing them to deny their own realities. In rewriting the atrocities of Britain’s colonial histories and stating with pride that African people have been “remodelled” into British Africans we see that the report repeats the racialised narrative of the oppressed slave and their massa. As declared by the Runnymede Trust’s Halima Begum, “this is not a report addressed to those who experience racism; it was designed to send a message to those who believe that the opposition to racism is a zero-sum scramble for recognition and resources in which white people are losing out”.
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