|Volume 51 Number 11, April 3, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
This week saw the release of the much-heralded report from the government's Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was established in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. These actions involved hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Although provoked by the police murder of George Floyd in the US, protesters made it clear that Britain is not innocent! They demanded an end to state and all other forms of racism. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, well-known for his racist remarks, said at the time that the protest could not be ignored, that he recognised there was a need to stamp out racism. But, he said, what he wished to do was to "change the narrative" and "stop the sense of victimization and discrimination", in order to present "the story of success".
The government view was that there was too much emphasis on the findings of countless reports that had pointed out the existence of various forms of state racism following the MacPherson report in 1999 but which successive governments had done nothing to address. MacPherson acknowledged that what he termed "institutional racism" existed within the Metropolitan Police, especially in relation to how it had dealt with the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. Since 2010 there have been no less than eight high level reviews and commissions, not including the review into the Windrush Scandal, which have all acknowledged various forms of "institutional racism", or that racism exists within state institutions including the police, criminal justice system and Home Office. Although such reports cannot openly acknowledge the existence of state racism as a preferred policy of the powers-that-be, the evidence is already overwhelming, as is the lived experience of millions of people, many of whom took part in last year's protests. The government now demands that this evidence and experience is meaningless and should be ignored. To that end it established a commission tasked to "change the narrative" using data from, and supported by, the government's own Race Disparity Unit.
If the aim of the Commission's report was to change the narrative, its initial reception appears to suggest that it has done the opposite, since there have been an overwhelmingly critical response, the resignation of the government's senior advisor on ethnic minorities and almost a stampede by those referenced in the report to distance themselves from it. Amongst the critics is Baroness Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, who commented that it was "giving racists the green light", and attempting to push "the fight against racism back twenty years or more".
The report attempts to comment on four main areas: education and training, employment, fairness at work, and enterprise, crime and policing and health. Its main aim is to show that where inequality exists it cannot be explained by racism alone but by other factors. According to the Commission, "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." However, already health experts have severely criticised its findings on health, pointing out that it has attempted to refute several decades of research into health inequalities and was based on "cherry-picked data to support a particular narrative".
The report presents the view that "we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism. Too often 'racism' is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined." But if this is the view, then one might expect some analysis of how "the system" has been transformed and by whom. But to this question the report offers no answers. Indeed, it is at pains to point out that there still appears to be widespread discrimination and disadvantage for many in modern Britain including for those it refers to as the "White working class".
However, the report offers no explanation for such inequality and disadvantage and does not
draw the conclusion that all forms of inequality have their origin in the capital-centred system and that the principal form of discrimination is the disempowerment of the people from decision-making by the rich, the powers-that-be and their state. Rather it attempts to use one form of oppression to suggest that another form of oppression is less important, and that what it calls reasons for success or failure include "those embedded in the cultures and attitudes of those minority communities themselves".
Such a view, which blames the people themselves for their oppression, allows the Commission to conclude: "The country has come a long way in 50 years and the success of much of the ethnic minority population in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy, should be regarded as a model for other White-majority countries." Presenting a "story of success" is an approach and world view that allows the Commission to reject demands for ending Eurocentrism in the teaching of history and instead to suggest that what is required is presenting "a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain".
The Commission claims that its recommendation are designed to "build trust, promote fairness, create agency, achieve inclusivity". But in fact many are about strengthening existing state bodies and police powers. Nowhere does the report even mention the numerous examples of openly racist legislation, for example those that define citizenship in an openly racist basis and that facilitated the so-called Windrush scandal. These have been enacted during the last fifty years, the period during which the Commission claims that the country "has come a long way". Nowhere does it examine the nature of the state itself, the powers-that-be, which were the perpetrators of such crimes as slavery and colonialism and which for many decades refused to even recognise the existence of racism. Today, while paying lip-service to the existence of racism, the state opposes people taking action against it and does everything to divert their struggles into harmless channels. It attempts to disinform, and make people deny their own experience and the facts of life. This Commission's report promotes the world view and values of the colonialists and their apologists. That it is transparent in this regard is of no concern to the powers-that-be. At the same time, it promotes the increased use of the powers of the police. Together they are meant to convince people to accept the anachronistic world view or suffer the consequences.
The publication of the report and the Commission itself show once again that people can have no faith in the various governments and their commissions to address the issue of racism, or existing inequalities more generally. History shows that it is the struggles of the people themselves, waged on the basis of defending the rights of all and in opposition to state and all forms of racism, that move things forward. The principle must be that all are equal members of the polity. Such a polity must define rights anew and provide them with a guarantee. It will be a polity in which the majority of the people empower themselves as the decision-makers and put an end to all forms of racism.