I am just so disappointed with the recently released report written by the UK Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, termed the Sewell Report. It was headed by Tony Sewell and instigated by Boris Johnson after the resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement after George Floyd’s death. So much hope was placed in the idea that a government agency was going to look at race and disparity in the new light of a changing perspective on how race has affected people of colour on every level. I guess the first clue came when the government banned education from using critical race theory to inform students about a different, more holistic perspective of historical events for fear of……what? More riots to tear down the glorification of slave traders? Maybe. I would postulate that education, real education in a holistic approach to history would mean that children grow up seeing the difference nuances and complexities of how history unfolds and asking them to think critically allows for questioning, debate and flexibility of thought. But I guess the fear that encapsulates the government on this matter means that actually teaching the full picture of actual historical events is far too dangerous. It may mean that people start to think for themselves and think that the British empire isn’t all its cracked up to be. I think that’s called propaganda…..
So it should have been no great surprise that the opportunity to have a real, present discourse about race and equality has been predicably missed stating that “institutionalised racism does not exist.” To be clear, it does allow for the fact that racism exists but caveats that with how great Britain is at improving race relations and how we should be held up as a beacon, citing lots of European countries who are doing a worse job (in their opinion). Well, that’s great! I’m sure happy to be in the best country for being the best at upholding my experience for being brown. I should maybe break open that bottle of prosecco I’ve been saving for a special occasion.
I’m not going to write reams and reams on this as there are those more qualified than I who have pulled this apart much more expertly than I could have. I did however read the entire report in hoping to find some positive observations. One of those was that it was clearly written in layman’s terms although the statistics used were complex, confusing and seemed to flip from one data set to another with impunity making it hard to compare. Perhaps not so positive after all. However, there were some points that made me swear out loud which I would like to draw some attention to. Bits like
“Consider the greater presence of ethnic minorities in the current government and opposition, this time occupying top positions such as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Attorney General, Business Secretary and Home Secretary.”
Just to be clear, this is referring to Rishi Sunak, Kwasi Kwarteng and Priti Patel. I’m going to assume it is also referring to Shammi Chakribarti as the former Attorney General even though she is no longer in post. Not only is the number of people not representative of the country they are governing but to state Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel is representative of anything people of colour are trying to achieve in this debate is not only insulting, it makes my blood boil. Simply because hegemonised individuals who have been in full receipt of every life privilege has made it to the ‘top’, does not mean that race relations are fixed. There is so much wrong with this, it just leaves anger in its wake. Here is tokenism at its worst; something which, incidentally, the report warns against. Using Patel’s ethnicity and gender to pretend the government is somehow multicultural with an anti-racist stance causes so much anger, pain and frustration to rise that all is left in its wake is silence. In situations such as these, there is far too much to argue with that its far easier to walk away and not put ourselves in a position of being further denied their lived experience. To think that someone with the abhorrent values and ethos of Patel could represent me simply for the colour of my skin makes my very brown skin crawl. She’s been identified as a bully and someone with a lot of power who have put draconian measures in place to disaffect the most vulnerable in society under the banner of keeping our borders safe. If there was a need for a personification of a modern day racist, she’s the poster woman. But lets not get started on Priti Patel….I may never stop.
Here is a link to the Runnymead Trust’s response to the report which they set up and broadcast on the day of the report’s release. Around 1600 people were watching live, so there were definitely people who wanted to know more about what the report meant to agencies who actually work in this field (as opposed to a space scientist, retail businessman or a school governor).
As you can hear in this recording, opinions on the report have been overwhelmingly dismissive, even saying that it was as frivolous and needed to be disregarded.
This is encouraging to hear as a person of colour who have been impacted by the issues raised in it but remains frustrating that it has the potential to be used as a weapon to brandish every time the debate is raised. It will now be a piece of evidence to bring out or to be quoted when issues of disparity or injustice occur. Probably on Question Time. A weapon to batten down those who are trying to get their voices heard. The only people who can lessen the negative impact this report will have are white people who take up an allyship role and also dismiss this report in the same way as it has been publicly shunned by the Runnymead Trust, Mind, Shelter and the British Medical Journal https://www.bmj.com/content/373/bmj.n911 amongst many others. Inevitably the right will brandish this report at anyone who tries to identify examples of systemic and institutional racism; the Telegraph has already highlighted the ‘positive’ aspects of the reports stating that “support for the praiseworthy conclusions of the Sewell Report is needed” https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2021/04/08/support-praiseworthy-conclusions-sewell-report-needed/ . Thankfully, David Olusoga provides some much needed clarity on why the report has fallen short on so many aspects, particularly in his specialist field of history https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/apr/02/sewell-race-report-historical-young-people-britain. The fight that has ensued from the report has been shifted. Its gone from one where people were picking up a baton of working towards racial equity and looking at systemic and institutionalised injustices to one where those who had the potential of seeing the inequality have been given a safety net to fall back on. A safety net with government backing although as the Telegraph so helpfully points out, the government have been very quiet on the whole racism front to date.
There is much to explore in this report and not for the content. Our need for an independent report still remains but no amount of report writing is going to do the work that is needed to be done. No amount of pretending that we are the best country in Europe for racial equality is going to make people of colour not feel that they belong. The report reminisces about the solidarity we all felt at the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony where all aspects of British life was celebrated in this iconic show. It says,
“We saw an array of people and cultures from the sleepy English countryside to the frenetic music of the inner city. It not only featured British icons like James Bond and the monarchy, there was also a joyful expression of the contribution made by the Windrush generation as well as the working class contribution to the country’s history and industrial might. One highlight was Dizzee Rascal belting out his hit Bonkers. Danny Boyle managed to create a vision of the UK which united all communities. He gave us an ideal of an open, optimistic UK, refreshed with new communities. On that day the whole nation was proud to be British.”
What it stops short of mentioning and is obvious to me, is that a few short years after this event, Brexit happened which divided the nation and ultimately shattered that vision of being a united country, proud of its multiculturism. I wonder why the report did not contextualise this?
I’m going to stop now before I throw my laptop across the room. Needless to say I could pick apart the report section by section but perhaps I will look after myself instead and do what most sensible agencies seem to have done. Ignore it and move on.