The CRED Report does not deny that racism exists, but it does maintain that not all disparities are incontrovertible proof of racism. Like any report, it has limitations and will not please everyone, but DDU welcomes it as a robust attempt to bring some objectivity into what has become an increasingly fraught and subjective discussion about questions of racism and disparities of outcomes. Read DDU’s full response below:
‘Put simply 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 . . .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. That said, we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK. . .However, we have argued for the use of the term ‘institutional racism’ to be applied only when deep-seated racism can be proven on a systemic level and not be used as a general catch-all phrase for any microaggression, witting or unwitting.’
(Tony Sewell – Foreword)
Tony Sewell’s bold statement will surely be welcome for many people of various minority ethnicities, as well as the majority of white people, who, since the death of George Floyd and subsequent BLM protests last year, have felt like strangers in their own home. At 264 pages in length, it is a substantial report that covers four main areas of social life: education and training (44 pages); employment, work and enterprise (30 pages); crime and policing (51 pages); and health (29 pages). The committee, including the chair, consists of eleven people with diverse employment experience and all but one is from an ethnic minority background. The report makes twenty-four recommendations grouped under four themes: build trust, promote fairness, create agency and achieve inclusivity.
The main strength of the report is its insistence that the complexities of social life cannot be reduced to a single variable, which in this case, is race. The report does not deny that racism exists, but it does maintain that not all disparities are incontrovertible proof of racism. Even where disparities point to racism, it can be challenging to ascertain the causal weight attributable to it because racism doesn’t exist as a discrete feature; it is difficult to extricate the effects of race from other variables. A far more complex picture of the distribution of material and cultural goods in British society emerges than the dominant one in public discourse. It is well-known now that members of the Chinese ethnic minority group do well at school and in employment income measures. But they are also among the lowest in measures of household income which has a significant influence on intergenerational wealth. Similarly, in education, Bangladeshi pupils, along with Indian and Black African pupils, in 2019, achieved a higher average in Attainment 8 GCSE scores than their White British counterparts. Yet people with Bangladeshi backgrounds fared less well in measures of homeownership. Fifty per cent of women in Bangladeshi families were economically inactive, which could also have implications for potential integration. The catch-all category of BAME makes little empirical or psychological sense. Similarly, racism as a catch-all explanation of, for example, lower rates of employment among Black Caribbean or Bangladeshi young people, can obscure more than illuminate the problem.
Usually, in academic or policy research, class and socioeconomic status are acknowledged as salient variables, although often little more than rhetorically. It is good to see that this report also considers a broader range of factors, including geography, cultural and religious attitudes, and family structures. For too long, the last two factors have tended to be treated with kid gloves in academia for fear of being seen to be blaming, initially, working-class people, and more latterly, ethnic minority people themselves. Such taboos in the sphere of academic work are unhelpful and can be obstructive to the pursuit of truthful knowledge. So, a report that promotes a more open-minded approach to investigating social problems is welcome as is its argument for why Britain’s description as a country that is both institutionally and structurally racist is at best inaccurate. The report also recommends approaches to problems of material and cultural disadvantage that consider all ethnic groups rather than treat people as members of discrete groups. Such approaches are less likely to foster division and resentment and are more compatible with principles of solidarity and equality.
The obstacles that face ethnic minority people in Britain are unlikely to be the same as those faced by, for example, the generation of immigrants who arrived in Britain shortly before the first Anti-Discrimination Act of 1965. Subsequent iterations of anti-discrimination and equality legislation have reflected growing social and ethical progress as the majority of people, new immigrants and existing citizens, have eventually found ways of living in a common county, guided in the main, by principles of tolerance and equality. For example, in the 1979 case of Hussein v. Saints Complete House Furnishers, the court found a furniture shop guilty of indirect discrimination because the manager refused to interview anyone who lived in the city centre. He believed that people who lived there working in the shop would encourage their unemployed youth friends to hang around outside the shop. Because 50% of those in the city centre were “black or coloured” (in the language of the report), whereas those in the county but outside the city centre were only 2% “black or coloured”, a judgment of indirect discrimination was reached. More people in Britain, although still not enough, live a better life than has been possible in previous decades, a judgment that is at least in part justified by findings from the 2019 report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights: ‘Being Black in the EU’. The research revealed that 21 % of Black British respondents reported having experienced racial harassment over the previous five years compared to 63% of Black respondents in Finland, or 48% in Germany and Italy. Over the last twelve months, the UK had the lowest figures for reported racial harassment experienced by Black respondents in job-seeking, education (either as pupils or as parents), health, housing, public administration or public and private services (p.46).
In drawing on a range of official documents and the Racial Disparity Unit’s database which has combined data from various sources, it is clear that the committee has gone to considerable effort to substantiate its major claims. In this respect, the report stands in stark contrast to a section of academia who is so wedded to their belief that Britain is institutionally racist that they blur the distinction between opinion, belief, and knowledge. For example, Professor of Teaching and Learning at Pittsburgh University Sabina Vaught recently pronounced at an LSE event that even to ask for proof of institutional racism was itself racist or supremacist. Instead the committee has chosen a more liberal, universal approach with which to interpret data.
There are some important caveats. For example, the recommendations suggest that trust and agency can be brought into existence through policy alone. This shows a limitation i.e., philosophical thinking which, as is beginning to be recognised by many, needs to have a more prominent place in public policy. From the point of view of recent governments, trust is a problem because it requires both a cognitive component and an element of risk. Simply put, if no risk, no need for trust. And this, as we have seen in relation to a slew of public policy over decades as well as recent responses to Covid 19, seems to be a tall order for many politicians. Nonetheless, the report is a better guide for public policy-making than theories that might shed light within academic debates, but, arguably necessarily, lack the close contact with unsystematic, every day, social life needed if any policy is to win wider public authority.
The report will no doubt irk those who have considerable emotional, not to say professional, investment in the narrative of Britain as deeply institutionally and structurally racist, but hopefully, most will engage with it in the spirit with which it has been produced: with an open a mind as possible, and a view to creating a better public understanding of complex social realities where some long-standing disparities co-exist with new realities. This is not to deny racism past or present, but it does suggest that where inequalities exist, it is more likely to be because important foundational values of cultural and political liberalism, namely tolerance, freedom and equality, have been forgotten, ignored or rejected. The report’s’ publication is itself a timely reminder that those charged with the power to effect policy changes, or shape public opinion, need to be practically guided by liberal principles. Such principles need more than occasional rhetorical support: they need to be reconsidered and re-fashioned so they better speak to contemporary social realities and problems, while also acknowledging the progress that has been made not just by governments or legislators, but by the majority of Britain’s citizens of all ethnicities.