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The government’s divide and rule culture wars must be opposed

CLAUDIA WEBBE says the Tories are cracking down on discussion of racial oppression – and how to fight it

AT THE end of Black History Month, it is important to reflect on the crucial juncture for race relations that we find ourselves in. Across the world, racism and the far right are on the rise. Yet we have also seen the largest mobilisation of anti-racist protest for decades in the form of the inspiring Black Lives Matter movement.

It has never been more important for us to learn from the history of racial oppression and to end the injustices that exist to this day. Yet the government has chosen Black History Month to wage war against an accurate teaching of institutional racism in our schools.

During a debate on Black History Month, Kemi Badenoch MP, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury who is also the Women and Equalities Minister, strongly criticised the Black Lives Matter movement and declared that schools teaching critical race theory will be breaking the law. She prohibited teachers from telling children about the fact that white privilege exists.

This means that our government is in auspicious company, as a month previously President Donald Trump declared that critical race theory (CRT) is “like a cancer,” and signed executive orders banning its use in federal agency training schemes. 

We should be very alarmed that our government is directly copying culture war strategies from Donald Trump’s racist playbook. Yet even more than that, we should be worried by their refusal to recognise the reality of institutional racism. 

During the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve rightly seen renewed calls for our schools to teach the true brutal history of the British empire and the legacy of imperialism, colonialism and racism which continue today to have generational impact.

Present day global inequalities remain permanently shaped by the horrors of extractive colonialism and racialised subordination. It is unacceptable that instances of appalling murder and violence at the hands of the British state have been erased from present-day memory of empire.

It is barely known, for instance, that one fifth of the billionaires in Britain owe their wealth to the transportation of our Black ancestors. If we are to end the scourge of institutional racism and the destructive legacy of colonialism, it is vital that young people are taught the true history of race relations.

Despite what our government believes, it is simply not the case that the existence of institutional racism is up for debate. For instance, it is beyond dispute that Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The latest ONS data on ethnic contrasts in Covid-19 deaths showed that in England and Wales, males of black African ethnic background had the highest rate of death, which was 2.7 times higher than males of white ethnic background. Women of a black Caribbean ethnic background also had the highest rate, which is 2.0 times higher than females of white ethnic background.

These inequalities are grounded in class inequalities and reflect the severe racial disparities in our economy. The Resolution Foundation think tank estimate that Black, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi employees experience an annual pay penalty of £3.2 billion. The grim intersection of racial and class discrimination has had a deadly consequence during this pandemic.

In May, I asked the Prime Minister how he intended to protect African, Asian and minority ethnic communities from the virus. 

Five months later, his government has refused to take any actions that would specifically protect our communities. If it is unwilling to even recognise the connection between economic and physical wellbeing, it is clear this government is not serious about combatting health inequalities.

Many have tried to dismiss the imbalance in deaths as being explained by cultural — or even genetic — differences. Yet discrimination is deeply ingrained in our social, political, and economic structures. 

The scourge of institutional racism results in unequal access to quality education, healthy food, liveable wages, and affordable housing — which are the foundations of health and wellbeing.

According to the Office for National Statistics, key workers are more likely than average to be from Black, Asian or minority ethnic communities, be women, be born outside the UK, and be paid less than the average UK income. An Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) study in September 2020 showed that of all the people from minority ethnic groups who were employed or self-employed at the start of the crisis, 13 per cent had lost their job by June – compared to 5 per cent of the overall population.

The IPPR thinktank, who published research with the Runnymede Trust, found that almost 60,000 more deaths involving coronavirus could have occurred in England and Wales if white people faced the same risk as black communities.

It is two years since the Conservative government launched its consultation on ethnicity pay reporting — which sought to enable government and employers to move forward in a consistent and transparent way. The consultation closed in January 2019 but still the government have not reported back on it or confirmed a date for mandatory ethnicity pay reporting to start.

The government’s decision to wage war on critical race theory reveals their contempt for African, Asian and minority ethnic communities. We on the left cannot allow their divide and rule culture wars to win. We must keep pushing for economic and public health support for our communities, and keep fighting against the divisive tactics of this administration.

Claudia Webbe MP is the Member of Parliament for Leicester East. You can follow her at facebook.com/claudiaforLE/ and twitter.com/ClaudiaWebbe

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