(Photo: Policy Exchange)
By Ella Stevens – Contributor
The report by the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities found that the UK should be regarded as a ‘model for other white-majority countries’ in terms of progress against racism. The reports finding suggest that whilst there is still racism in society this racism is not done on an institutional level as many in the Black Lives Matter movement have argued.
The report seems to be another way for the Conservative Government to push anti-racism off the agenda by neutralising it with a report denying the government’s responsibility in making institutional change. The definition of institutional racism came about after the death of Stephen Lawrence and the following corrupt and racist investigation into his murder. Institutional racism is defined as the discrimination of a person based on their ethnic or religious group which is embedded in the structures and systems of society. To suggest that this does not exist is to deny to many that their oppression is real. The report was headed by a Dr Sewell who had been previously criticised for other works that downplayed institutional racism. The government’s choice to place a man who had already been criticised for his denial of institutional racism at the forefront of the investigation cannot be a coincidence but a choice to deny the need for any real change to be made.
The report said there was evidence that factors such as geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion had “more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism”. But can these factors be so easily separated from race? The socio-economic background of a large proportion of ethnic minorities is poor because of the system of colonialism and racial capitalism that place them at the bottom of the pile. Geography is linked to race when there are large ‘poor’ areas such as Brixton, Croydon and Greenwich made up of mainly BAME communities. It is not just geography when people are forced to move to certain places because they were not welcome in other areas, and then these areas are seen as ‘bad’ or ‘rough’. The very existence of ‘global’ cities such as these is evidence of institutional racism designed to oppress BAME communities.
The police and prison system are an obvious place to look as the effects of institutional racism because they have battled with ethnic minority communities since their arrival. In the UK, around 27% of the prison population were BAME whilst only accounting for 13.8% of the overall population. These statistics are not due to the fact that BAME people are inherently more criminal but because of the institutional racism that leads to over policing of certain communities whilst making cuts to social welfare that could give opportunities for better education or better job prospects. The use of stop-and-search is still disproportionately used against black people at more than eight times the rate of white people in 2016/2017. The 2020 Government statistics support this with black people still having the highest arrest rates per 1,000 people. This suggest clearly that institutional racism is still present within society when arrests rates are so disproportionate. This is due to a lack of funding to deprived areas that are usually made up of BAME communities therefore creating issues related to drugs and crime. To over-police those areas does not tackle the underlying issues of poverty and racism that are the root causes of disproportionate prison populations. The government and local communities need to deal with issues of crime with a clear understanding of institutional racism and the fact that it has continually contributes to making sure that BAME communities are oppressed. Instead of attempting to cover up and write a report which whitewashes the issues, the government should aid economically deprived areas, so they have the support they need to be lifted out of poverty instead of continually ignoring their needs.
Over-policing, austerity cuts and the carry overs from colonialism are the very problems that the government refuse to tackle but cause institutional racism on a horrifying level. To then deny that these are the issues in a report, it becomes a pat on the back for Britain and a return to dealing with surface level issues without questioning the bigger role the very structure of society plays in persisting racism. The report undoes the hard work of the Black Lives Matter Movement to bring the conversation of anti-racism to Britain and the need to do more. Until the government and society as a whole are prepared to accept their part in racism then it will continue to persevere.