LONDON -Britain should be seen as a “model for other white-majority countries” but more still needs to be done, a review into race inequality said on Wednesday, a conclusion that provoked fury from critics who branded it a “whitewash”.
The report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was ordered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government after widespread Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests last summer, triggered by the death of George Floyd in police custody in the United States.
“Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities,” Tony Sewell, the commission’s chairman, said in a foreword to the report.
“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 BLM movement, which saw tens of thousands of Britons join demonstrations, caused Britain, like other Western countries, to look more closely at race relations and its colonial past, with campaigners demanding action to end structural bias.
At the time, protest organisers said Johnson’s choices for the commission did not represent their views and should be replaced because those appointed, like Sewell, a Black educational consultant, did not believe that Britain had a problem with institutional racism.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed “this important piece of work” which he said was a detailed, data-led examination of inequality and the Conservative government would now consider its 24 recommendations.
“The entirety of government remains fully committed to building a fairer Britain and taking the action needed to address disparities wherever they exist,” he said
However, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said he was disappointed by the report, while campaigners called it a whitewash instigated to gloss over deep-rooted problems, such as why Black people were nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.
“Another total whitewash. While the Tories (Conservatives) pat themselves on the back, their report just sets back the clock on ending racial inequality even further,” Labour lawmaker Bell Ribeiro-Addy said on Twitter. “Ignoring the deep racial disparities afflicting people across UK society gets us nowhere.”
Halima Begum, head of the Runnymede Trust race equality think tank told BBC television: “All it is is a whitewash and a script that has been written to 10 Downing Street.”
The report said overt and outright racism did persist, particularly online, and Britain was not yet a “post-racial society” of equal opportunity.
But it concluded geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion were more significant factors on life chances than the existence of racism.
It highlighted educational attainment by ethnic minority groups as demonstrating that institutional racism was not to blame for disparities, pointing out that Black Africans performed better than those from Black Caribbean as well as white backgrounds.
The country had 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”, the commission said.
Its recommendations included ending the use of the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) acronym because of the differences in the experiences of minorities, and changes to policing and the criminal justice system.