BRITISH prime minister Boris Johnson said a race inequality review commissioned by his government was stimulating but more needed to be done to tackle the issue, as some campaigners accused the report of “gaslighting” the experiences of minorities.
The report on Wednesday (31) by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, ordered after Black Lives Matter protests last summer, said geography, family and socio-economic factors played a greater role on people’s life chances than race.
On Thursday (1), Johnson said: “I don’t want to say that the government is going to agree with absolutely everything in it, but it has some original and stimulating work in it but I think people need to read and to consider.”
However, its conclusions were widely condemned by commentators who said it was a “whitewash”.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said the idea that British society did not have issues with structural racism “would be hard to understand for all those who have been confronted by it and whose lives have been blighted by it”.
“We need to acknowledge and listen to the lived experience of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in our country, so we can take meaningful action to break down barriers and make our society more equal for everyone,” he said.
Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill noted the disproportionate impact that the Covid-19 virus has had on ethnic minority communities. “(This issue shows) a real problem with inequalities exists,” the Birmingham Edgbaston representative told Eastern Eye on Thursday. “I really don’t know what the government or the commission thought they were going to achieve.”
She said it was “almost gaslighting” the issue, adding: “The idea that institutional racism doesn’t exist is a failure to acknowledge real problems.”
Gill echoed comments from mental health campaigner Poppy Jaman, who said she had seen many comments from ethnic minorities who felt “gaslighted” by the report.
“The word disappointing is not big enough to capture the emotions I am feeling right now,” the head of City Mental Health Alliance told Eastern Eye. “Race relations in our country has a long way to go and this report and its tone of voice is the perfect example of institutions that uphold systems that discriminate.”
Academic Professor Kalwant Bhopal called the findings “dangerous and misleading.” There is a wealth of evidence to suggest how institutional racism works in education, she told Eastern Eye.
“Students report regular incidents of racism and teachers and academics report they are often overlooked for promotion,” Bhopal, the author of White Privilege: the myth of a post-racial society, noted. “Furthermore, black boys are more likely to be excluded compared to pupils from other ethnic groups – both fixed and permanent exclusions.”
Unite, British and Ireland’s largest union, said the race report had “extinguished any hope”. Unite national officer for equalities Harish Patel called the report a “huge disappointment” and that it “failed to delve deeper into the inequalities that affect those from ethnic minorities in the UK which have been further highlighted by the impact of the pandemic over the last year”.
“There will be real anger in these communities that, once again, the government has failed to tackle these ingrained inequalities,” Patel said. “Unless ministers get serious about inequality, this will be a running sore that will continue to damage the social fabric of the UK and blight the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.”
Businessman Lord Rami Ranger has showed his support for the review. Speaking to Eastern Eye on Thursday, he said there was no institutional racism “as the report suggests”. “There are laws against discrimination of every kind,” the life peer said.
However, he added: “It is worth remembering that prejudice is everywhere, and we must ignore it. By working hard, we can rise above the rest and can demonstrate that we are an asset. No one dislikes an asset.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, media reported that Johnson’s senior adviser on ethnic minorities Samuel Kasumu was quitting his job, although Downing Street said his departure was not linked to the report.
Speaking to reporters, Johnson thanked Kasumu for his work and said he had done some “great work” encouraging ethnic minority groups to have a Covid-19 vaccine.