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Commission’s report on race ‘deeply disturbing’ says Bishop of Dover

01 April 2021

Report says UK ‘should be regarded as a model for other White-majority countries’

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Black Lives Matter demonstrators take a knee during a “Kill The Bill” protest against The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in St Peter’s Square, Manchester, last weekend

Black Lives Matter demonstrators take a knee during a “Kill The Bill” protest against The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in St Peter’s Squa...

THE conclusions of a report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities are “deeply disturbing”, the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, has said.

The 258-page report was published on Wednesday and followed up with a summary of recommendations on Thursday. The Commission, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell, was tasked by the Government to look at race and ethnic disparities in education, employment, crime and policing, and health, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter campaign that followed the murder in July 2020 of George Floyd (News, 1 June 2020).

The report says: “The country has come a long way in 50 years and the success of much of the ethnic minority population in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy, should be regarded as a model for other White-majority countries.” It also denies that Britain is any longer a country “where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.

Bishop Hudson-Wilkin said on Thursday that she found these assertions “deeply disturbing”.

She said: “When I walk into major establishments and no longer see black people in a majority as cleaners and servers; when I see in all walks of life a diversity in all areas of leadership in politics, medicine, science, education, health, business, religion, leisure, the arts, law, sports, etc., then I will be the first one to shout that we are a model for other ‘white-majority countries’.”

The “lived experience” of people “tells a different story to that being shared by this report”, she said.

“There is a great danger that those of us who have achieved great heights look down on others and blame them for the calamities being visited upon them. Do we have a problem concerning families? Yes, I believe we do, but this will not be fixed by simply blaming the families — it needs a multi-disciplinary approach. This is way beyond ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ I know we are in Holy Week, but the Government cannot ‘do a Pilate’ and use this report to wash its hands of this problem. Sadly, this report is someway off from being the good news that we seek.”

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, Dr Sewell said: “No one denies and no one is saying racism doesn’t exist. We found anecdotal evidence of this. However, evidence of actual institutional racism? No, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that.”

The report says that its purpose is to provide the UK with “a road map for racial fairness”. It acknowledges that Britain is “not yet a post-racial society which has completed the long journey to equality of opportunity” and that “outright racism still exists in the UK, whether it surfaces as graffiti on someone’s business, violence in the street, or prejudice in the labour market. It can cause a unique and indelible pain for the individual affected and has no place in any civilised society.”

But racism, it suggests, “has become one of the most potent taboos in the UK, which was not the case 50 years ago. . . There is an increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of White discrimination. This diverts attention from the other reasons for minorities’ success and failure, including those embedded in the cultures and attitudes of those minority communities themselves.”

The report says that, “for some groups, historic experience of racism still haunts the present and . . . there is a reluctance to acknowledge that the UK has become open and fairer.” It continues: “We were impressed by the ‘immigrant optimism’ of some of the new African communities. They are among the new high achievers in our education system. As their Caribbean peers sit in the same classrooms, it is difficult to blame racism in education for the latter’s underachievement.

“Put simply, we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism. Too often ‘racism’ is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined. . .

“The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism. That said, we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK. . . We have argued for the use of the term ‘institutional racism’ to be applied only when deep-seated racism can be proven on a systemic level and not be used as a general catch-all phrase for any microaggression, witting or unwitting.”

The Government acknowledges in its summary of responses that “a considerable number of respondents had used terms such as ‘systematic’, ‘ systemic’, ‘structural’, ‘institutional’, ‘internalised’, ‘inherent’ and ‘cultural’ racism to describe what they considered to be the cause of ethnic disparities.”

The Commission’s report concludes: “Creating a successful multicultural society is hard, and racial disparities exist wherever such a society is being forged. The commission believes that if these recommendations are implemented, it will give a further burst of momentum to the story of our country’s progress to a successful multicultural community — a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world.”

The report makes 24 recommendations for “promoting fairness”, “creating agency”, and “achieving inclusivity”. They include giving police officers better training to help them interact with communities, and creating police workforces that “represent the communities they serve”.

It also recommends improving understanding of the ethnicity pay-gap in NHS England; “empowering pupils to make more informed choices to fulfil their future potential” in schools; the teaching of an inclusive curriculum; and an end to using “aggregated and unhelpful terms such as ‘BAME’ to better focus on understanding disparities and outcomes for specific ethnic groups”.

The Archdeacon of Manchester, the Ven. Karen Lund, founded and chairs the diocese of Manchester’s race, inequality, and injustice group, which was formed shortly after the death in police custody of George Floyd. The Commission’s report had “important things to say about trust, fairness and inclusivity”, she said.

“However, I feel it has set an inappropriate tone that suggests we are on our way to a finale in our struggle towards racial equality. That is far away from any reality. Now is not the time for a moratorium on tackling race and ethnic disparity.”

She described the language of BAME, however, as “an unhelpful acronym to reflect the diversity of global majority people, and it is right to raise this as part of an evolving conversation. Identity matters for all of us.”

The Church of England’s own anti-racism task force is sifting through more than 160 recommendations that already exist, most of them made by the Committee for Minority-Ethnic Anglican Concerns (CMEAC) since 1985, and identifying any that have been ignored and could be implemented (News, 3 July 2020, 16 October 2020).

It will publish its findings on 22 April: Stephen Lawrence Day. The task force is chaired by the the Revd Sonia Barron, director of ordinands and vocations for the diocese of Lincoln. She said at the time of its announcement: “The Church has an opportunity that it cannot afford to miss — we cannot just pay lip service to issues of racism as we have done for so long.”

The Vicar of St Nicholas’s, Durham, the Revd Arun Arora, who is a member of the task force, wrote in The Guardian last year, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the imminent retirement of Archbishop Sentamu, that “the one-colour nature of the senior leadership of the C of E” was “perilously archaic” and “an alarmingly retrograde trend”.

He also wrote of the “monochrome image of leadership” in every part of the Church, in both Evangelical and Catholic wings, in senior diocesan posts, and in theological colleges.

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