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Does the CRED Lack Credibility? Why The Race Report Shuts Down Conversations About Race

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) released a report on 31st March which found that the UK no longer has a system that is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. This sparked numerous debates from different voices around the UK and the world, both for and against its findings. I wanted to talk about one of the effects of publishing such a report in our current climate - its encouragement for disengagement. I’ll try to keep this piece brief and relevant, as one can go on for pages and pages about this.

Where did this report come from?

The movement for racial justice surged in response to the death of George Floyd in May 2020. It reverberated around the world in a way that hasn’t been seen since the civil rights movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was astounding and history making. Numerous countries, corporations and governments responded in different ways to contribute toward, or oppose, this movement.

The UK government’s response to mounting pressure was to put together the CRED because the UK needed to “consider important questions about race relations and disparities”. This move, at the time, seemed like a step in the right direction for some, and another tick box exercise to others. Well, a year later, that commission has published a report that has stated The UK does not have a problem with institutional and structural racism.

So, what exactly did it say?

I want to highlight a couple of main rhetorics that came out of this report that I feel are extremely dangerous to making progress in this area.

I will preface this post by mentioning that I haven’t personally read the entire report, I’ve managed about a third of its 258 pages. However, I have read through a number of key point summaries, and listened to a few different interviews and podcasts about it.

Now even from the little I’ve read, there was a lot to be desired from the tone and insinuations of the report. Take the following excerpt, written in the introduction:

“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.”

Many have rightly echoed the gaslighting and dismissive nature of such a conclusion, as it is insinuating that racism is being used as an excuse for the disparities between white and non-white people in the UK. This is the first instance of how this report shuts down the conversation about race. It is already difficult enough to get people, especially white people who can often feel attacked, to engage in conversations about race. There are many go-to excuses and reasons why conversations are shut down by individuals, especially as they get defensive; “I don’t see colour”, “I have non-white friends therefore I’m not a racist”, “I’m white and I haven’t had any privilege!”, to name a few. And now, here comes a commission with a governmental stamp of approval that has categorically stated that the UK doesn’t have a problem with structural racism. This is a big ol’ green light for disengagement. The government has said it, so it must be true right?

This, I think, is one of the bigger issues with this report. I don’t doubt the commission has done a thorough job of exploring the numbers and studies, but no one is going to want to read it after you’ve just told them there isn’t a problem.

That being said, there are certainly things in there which are deliberately misleading.

The actions of the past still impact the present

The commissioners suggest that inequalities such as the higher death rates from Covid-19 among some ethnic groups, are explained by factors such as their occupation or housing rather than direct discrimination:

"Outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted," they say.

This conclusion is lacking A LOT of historical context, as the reason these ethnic groups have ended up in these occupations or housing situations in the first place is a direct result of discriminatory governmental policies from the past that excluded ethnic minorities.

One example of this is The Housing Act 1980 introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government. The act gave citizens the right to buy council houses to anyone who had been renting for more than 3 years.

Now, let’s think about how between 1948 and 1981, immigration laws and other policies restricted the rights of certain British and Commonwealth citizens seeking unrestricted entry and settlement in the UK. These were often based on racialised grounds, particularly impacting non-white citizens. For instance, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 introduced a quota system to regulate the number of New Commonwealth migrants who migrated to Britain[1].

So - stay with me - by the 1980s, there weren’t very many Black and ethnic people who were even eligible for Thatcher's policy. As a result, those council properties were bought up by a disproportionately white population who qualified. There is a sharply intergenerational aspect to today’s wealth inequality - the huge growth in property values since the early 1990s, coupled with the decline in final salary pensions, have made older generations successively wealthier than younger ones at the same age. And which race are those wealthier older generations composed of? And consequently which group of young people end up inheriting those properties and wealth?

As a result, we get a snowball effect whereby the representation of assets and generational wealth is skewed, and continues to skew, with the rise in house prices alongside gender and ethnic pay gaps, disproportionate incarceration and school exclusion rates of ethnic minorities vs their white counterparts. What does this lead to? Occupations and housing situations that don’t allow the same opportunities for success, and a higher Covid-19 death rate as a result.

These people didn’t wake up and choose unfavourable occupations and housing situations. They were born into a system that has put them there.

Racial inequalities continue into the modern day

Now even if you discount historical data (humour me), let’s look at more recent, relevant figures that speak to racial disparities as a structural and institutional problem.

● Between 2019 and 2020, there were 6 stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 54 for every 1,000 black people.[2]

● 5,000 complaints about alleged racism have been made to police in England and Wales in the past five years, but just 153 have been upheld.[3]

● According to the group End The Virus of Racism, there has been a 300% increase in hate crimes towards people of East and Southeast Asian heritage since the start of the pandemic.[4]

● Black women are 4x more likely to die mid-pregnancy or in childbirth.[5]

● The unemployment rate of ethnic minority groups went from 5.8% to 9.5% during the pandemic compared to 3.4% to 4.5% for white workers[6].

These are only some of the facts and I want to draw attention to the point that these are the failings of a system, rather than a result of any actions taken or not taken by individuals or groups. These things are happening now, not in the forgotten past, and have been happening in a pattern for years. If that doesn’t speak to a structural problem, I don’t know what does.

The rhetoric that racism is “an excuse” is disingenuous to the role played by the system in perpetuating the behaviours exhibited by the people it employs, by not tackling the issues raised time and time again, and by releasing reports that say the problem does not exist.

Trying to sweep slavery under the rug (no, really)

Another important point that received huge backlash was the suggestion that the history of slavery could be taught from a different perspective than one of only pain and suffering. The below is again taken from the introduction, summarising that part:

“There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering, but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodelled African/Britain”

Slavery has always a sore and sensitive subject, and again here we have this commission almost giving an ‘out’ to the topic for people who don’t want to engage - “let’s just see it as a positive thing!”.

The United Kingdom has time and time again refused to admit and acknowledge it’s part in the transatlantic slave trade at an official capacity by teaching one sided history in schools, not opening dialogue for reparations and even going as far as defending the likes of Edward Colston, claiming his philanthropic efforts outweighed his huge involvement in slavery. Ironically, said efforts would have still solely benefitted white people at the time; but they're not ready for that conversation.

I get it, no one wants to admit that they’re wrong. But you can’t have it both ways. Trying to peddle slavery as a positive thing is a huge slap in the face to every black and brown person in this country, when you haven’t made any effort to acknowledge the pain it has caused to the same people you’re trying to sell to.

To effectively move forward, one must acknowledge and take accountability for what came before, in order to inform what comes after.

Inequalities aren’t mutually exclusive

The final point I want to highlight is around intersectionality. The report positioned family structure and social class as having a bigger impact than race. This demonstrates an exclusion of the toxicity of intersecting inequalities and the lived experiences of ethnic minorities. For context, intersectionality can be described as the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, as they apply to an individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage (thanks Google).

Intersectionality is a big topic that has been prevalent in the discussions about race. It is about understanding that you can’t just take something like “class” and compare figures, because that class issue intersects with many others, such as racism, sexism or misogyny. Queer black feminist Moya Bailey coined the term “Misogynoir” which points to misogyny directed towards black women, as both race and gender play a part. This is an example of an intersection.

Intersectionality makes it understandably difficult to pinpoint which issues are the biggest, which is why generic comparisons like “class issues are the same for all races” are misleading and sometimes frustrating.

Class can be mostly invisible in the everyday experiences of discrimination. Ethnic minorities who hail from upper class backgrounds can still have foreign sounding names; class doesn’t protect them from name bias. When you walk past someone on the street you generally can’t discern their class, but it can be easier to discern race, religion or gender. Understanding how to move forward with equality is understanding the role intersectionality plays in the conversation.

Forget generic narratives: It’s the individuals that matter

There is so much more to be said about the points I’ve raised above, but this isn’t a social studies dissertation. So I want to finish by saying this:

For both individuals and organisations, it’s imperative that the context and lived experience of whomever you’re interacting with is taken into account. It’s very easy to be dismissive of an individual or situation based on narratives that are in play in society. It starts with seemingly harmless preconceived notions like “people who wear glasses are smart”, but can easily snowball into more dangerous narratives like “women are bad drivers”, “people who come from council estates are unambitious” or “the UK is a model for racial equality”. These narratives overflow into all walks of life as we have undoubtedly seen; social interactions, professional environments. These allow excuses to be made for the lack of engagement, and gives convenient excuses for discriminatory behaviour without any accountability.

I discovered my favourite word from a Buzzfeed article some years ago - Sonder. Sonder is “the realisation that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”.

We often get caught up in the intricacies of our own life, and tend to forget everybody else is going through things just as intricate.

The same way you’d like your experiences to be considered is the same way you should take into consideration theirs.

To really foster an environment with real diversity and inclusion, one has to take a step back from what is considered usual, or normal, or common, and individualise the life experience of others.

Written by Chidi Ekeoma

Further Reading

The Race Report

The Housing Act

Funny but True

Further Breakdown by Colorintech

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