Letter From Britain: U.K. Government’s Racism Report Betrays Black Britons

Editor’s Note: Joan Blaney is the author of “From Kitchen Sink to Boardroom: Realizing Women’s Potential for Corporate Success.” An international advocate for inclusion, she was honored with the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen (CBE). She is a member of The PuLSE Institute National Advisory Panel. For submission inquiries contact Bankole Thompson the editor-in-chief of The PuLSE Institute at info@thepulseinstitute.org.

By Joan Blaney

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, high COVID-19 deaths among some ethnic groups, and political pressure building up, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a review on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Responding to the outcry for change after the murder of George Floyd, the review focused on disparities in areas such as health, education, and the criminal justice system. 

Following its publication, the claim ‘government evidence confirms that institutional racism doesn’t exist,’ drew anger from members of the Black community, academics, and some prominent Black politicians because for as well as our lived experiences, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest otherwise. 

For example, the Wendy Williams Review 2020 showed the devastating effects of the government’s hostile immigration policies towards Black people who were mistreated and wrongly deported. The Angiolini Review, 2017, about deaths in custody, cited evidence of disproportionate deaths of Black people when being restrained. The Lammy Review 2017 into Policing and Criminal Justice System, led by Labour MP David Lammy, found significant racial bias in the UK justice system. Frustrated by the lack of action to implement several of its recommendations, Mr. Lammy wrote to the Prime Minister, pointing out that many of the injustices raised in his Report have since gotten worse. On issues of equality, there is also the 2010 Single Equality Act, which is well-positioned to drive the government’s good intentions.

A Race Disparity Audit 2017 was commissioned by former Prime Minister Theresa May to address the ‘burning injustices’ that people face in society across a number of areas such as education, employment, and health. In employment, the report stated that Black people were under-employed and under-promoted. In health, Black people were more likely than other ethnic groups to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983. A recent documentary also reported that Black women are four times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or childbirth. 

Within the last four years, the government commissioned six reviews on race inequalities, resulting in 271 recommendations–most of which are yet to be implemented. One could argue that if there was a genuine commitment on the part of the government to address racial inequalities, a review of these recommendations would have been of more value. Instead, we have a new report from the government that is confusing, contradictory, and reticent around the existence of institutionalised racism. The public anger has been relentless and it has forced a government response to support the authors who are being depicted as racism deniers and slavery apologists. 

A reference to the effects of the slave period is disturbing, as the authors appear not to understand its impact on systemic racism and its continuing consequences. It did not recognise the existence of post-traumatic slave syndrome (a condition that exists because of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants after centuries of chattel slavery) and the different experiences of enslavement, colonialism and neo-colonialism. 

The impact of enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean is worse than colonialism, for it was where values, culture, and traditions that are intrinsic to positive identities were stripped away. With little understanding of such issues, the report  juxtaposes the academic achievements of African people directly from the continent with those from the Caribbean.

A backlash against the report from a notable British think tank on race equality, several trade unions, national health employers’ groups, politicians, members of the public, and the resignation of the PMs Race Advisor, is evidence of its lack of credibility. Casting Britain to be a beacon of enviable race relations to the rest of Europe and the world is flatly wrong. The report also confuses assimilation with integration.  Whilst there have been improvements for some, for many, there’s still a long way to go.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence, who campaigned for 18 years for justice after her son Stephen was murdered in a racist attack, said this damaging report sets the quest for racial justice back twenty years. With mounting criticisms and collective dissenting voices, there is hope that it will not.

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