By Tony Adams

We cannot paint white on white or black on black. Everyone needs the Other in order to be seen”

(Manu Dibango- 1933-2020)

Why is Britain still so profoundly uncomfortable with ‘race and difference’? Even though there is so much beauty in differences and race is neither natural nor transhistorical. A recently published report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities is causing outrage and umbrage. What is fuelling the fury levelled at this report is disingenuity. For it finds that racism is a ‘real force’ in Britain that must be tackled, whilst hailing the country as a model and beacon to the world, free of ‘institutional racism’. It says “ the term is now being liberally used, too often to describe any circumstances in which differences in outcomes between racial and ethnic groups exist in an institution, without evidence to support  such claims”. The report also adds that education is “ the single most emphatic success story of the British  ethnic minority experience’. Yet, what about all the educational research that has shown how structurally, institutional and direct racism works in and through schools universities and other sites of education?

It also ignores a redoubtable research by the university of Aberdeen that pin points what its researchers describe as “ the white working class paradox’.  Despite this group is performing least well in education, they are outperforming their ethnically diverse peers in terms of employment and social mobility opportunities.  In an open letter with well over 400 signatories, academics within educational research and many who are leading and respected figures in a variety of disciplines, including psychology, sociology and economics say “ the report misrepresents, omits and elides longstanding and nuanced academic debate and evidence about the complex relationship between racism and educational practices, cultures, policies, and systems.” And rightly so, as closer examination reveals the report is overly reliant on quantitative data and light on qualitative evidence. The CRED report says Kevin Courtney of the NEU, “was meant to examine racial disparities but has sort to explain them away”  It must also be noted that  the UN human rights chief Michelle  Bachelet in addressing  an urgent debate on racism and police brutality at the UN human rights council in Geneva called on countries to examine their pasts and strive to better understand the scope of continuing “ systematic discrimination”

Further rejection of the report comes from opposition politicians, race equality campaigners and unions whom have all lambasted the report’s central conclusion. Diane Abbott MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington calls on” all opponents of racism, all those who believe the state should be accountable to us, every supporter of human rights and genuine democrats should oppose the contents and consequences of this report”. Whilst MP David Lammy said black Britons were being ‘gaslighted’ by the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Tweeting “ for my own mental well-being I am not doing media  interviews on the race commission today. Like so many in Britain’s Black community I’m tired. Tired of the endless debate about whether structural racism exists with little desire to actually address it”. In rebutting the report Abbott affirms that “ in the current circumstance, where lives and jobs are being lost in huge numbers and pay being cut, that means not allowing the government to divide and rule us while mounting these attacks. Scapegoating of ethnic or religious minorities is unacceptable under all circumstances. But it is imperative to resist these when the stakes are so high, as they are now.”

Perhaps a welcoming recommendation that comes out of this report is its decision to scrap the term BAME considered to be “unhelpful” . Most ethnic minority Britons, 54 percent of its respondent felt that compound identities like ‘British Asian’ or Black British can make national identity feel more inclusive of people from different backgrounds. Among other recommendations in its 24 list the report calls for

  • the creation of an independent office for health disparities
  • an extended school day prioritising disadvantaged areas
  • further action to challenge racist and discriminatory actions online

Throughout its 258-pages it notes that the Black Lives Matter protests last year, saw many young people in Britain calling out for change. That change however must be meaningful, transformative and long lasting. As the BLM is also about the recognition of talent, that recognition comes with equal opportunities and a level playing field. More importantly it is about the sanctity of human life and human dignity.

Over the last half century or more the discourse on ‘race and difference’ in Britain has shifted from ‘race relations’ to ‘raciology’ a term coined by one of the most formidable cultural and social critics of our time Paul Gilroy. ‘Raciology’ captures all the stereotypes, prejudices, images, identities and knowledges this carries with it.  It must also be recognised that race is the “ultimate trope of difference” for it is artificially and arbitrarily contrived to produce and maintain relations of power.  Reni Eddo-Lodge journalist and author of ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ maintains “ I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience………. This emotional disconnect is the conclusion of living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is the norm, and all others deviate from it.” Whiteness affords advantages white – folks might not have realised they had, recognising this leads to many questions to be asked and assumptions to be challenged.

There is therefore an urgent need to have a solid grasp of the origins of the concept of race in -order to uncover the false assumptions upon which our society was built. Thus, as we grow in our racial literacy, we can share our knowledge and resources and engage in critical conversations about ‘race.’ Racism is a social construct which is continually changing, being challenged disrupted and reconstructed. There is only one human race.  The Equality Act of 2010 puts the burden on institutions not only to avoid committing racists acts but to proactively ensure that their practice is anti-racist. We can only stand up to racism by action not by denial.