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THE report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities released earlier this week represents a conscious attempt to roll back or even abolish the concept of institutional racism altogether.
If the government is successful in this it would turn back the clock on all efforts to make public bodies in some way accountable for racist practices. It would have negative consequences for every worker facing discrimination at work, or in housing, schools and in every aspect of life.
All types of funding, investigation and action would end, as the government would have abolished all discussion of this issue, and decreed that it was a non-existent problem.
Therefore, all opponents of racism, all those who believe the state should be accountable to us, every supporter of human rights and genuine democrats should oppose the contents and consequences of this report.
In addition, this report should also be seen within the labour movement and among socialists as part of the wider attacks taking place under the cloak of the pandemic.
Alongside tens of thousands of people losing their lives after contracting the virus, ten times as many have lost their jobs, and half of the workforce have experienced a pay cut in real terms.
According to each of the official forecasts from the experts, whether that is Sage on expected deaths, the Office for Budget Responsibility on unemployment and the government’s own policy on the public-sector pay freeze, all of these trends will worsen over the next period. We also know that black and Asian people have borne the brunt of all these trends.
Some seem to be confused by this factual statement, including the authors of report. Worse outcomes in the Covid-19 death toll, worse health outcomes in normal circumstances, worse pay, worse treatment at work, worse housing experienced by black and Asian people does not mean workers as a whole do not experience them too. They clearly do, and we oppose all these grotesque impositions.
But racism is first the systematic oppression of people as an ethnic or religious grouping and includes all these factors. And racism is also used to divide us, and should be opposed on those grounds too.
In the current circumstance, where lives and jobs are being lost in huge numbers and pay being cut, that means not allowing the government to divide and rule us while mounting these attacks. Scapegoating of ethnic or religious minorities is unacceptable under all circumstances. But it is imperative to resist these when the stakes are so high, as they are now.
The report fails to recognise all of this. It is effectively a complete whitewash, where some aspects of racism are not mentioned at all, others are distorted, and others still used to blame the victims (these are not mutually exclusive). Data is cherry-picked and abused, while numerous official previous reports are misstated.
At the same time, the report prettifies both slavery and the empire. Outrageous as this is, it is logical. The sources of racism in this and other countries lie in slavery and imperial conquest, in treating others as less than human beings for profit. In order to gloss over this legacy, the authors talk about an “alternative history of the Caribbean experience”!
In each area of social life the report offers only a complete distortion, where it addresses issues at all. On housing, it states first that poverty is a white British problem, but that also black people are more likely to live in poverty and poor housing. It claims all of this can be tackled by the government’s “levelling up” agenda.
Similarly, pay is mentioned, but lumps all ethnic groups together when it is accepted that some ethnic groups (eg, white Irish) earn considerably more on average than their white British peers. But it cannot explain any of this as it does not relate pay to qualifications, as is standard.
By lumping all migrants together in this way, it ignores the reality of much lower employment rates, much higher unemployment and much lower pay of black men and some Asian women.
Government immigration policy is barely mentioned, so its role in fostering racism is not addressed. In fact, almost the only time immigration policy is mentioned is to suggest that stricter immigration could lead to better job opportunities.
The role of mainstream media in whipping up racism is bypassed. The exception is to blame individual racists on social media. Where this racism comes from is a mystery to the authors because they are so anxious not to criticise our billionaire-owned press.
A thoroughly confused section of the report on stop and search powers ends with a recommendation for greater use of body-worn cameras, which is clearly an implicit admission there is a problem.
Scandalously, Covid deaths are acknowledged as disproportionate, even if the uneven effects of pandemic such as the far greater likelihood of being made unemployed are not. But this is blamed on people’s work, neglecting to examine why black and Asian people have more dangerous work and/or worse treatment at work.
It is characteristic that an examination of disproportionate school exclusions is distorted so that one ethnic group is pitted against another, as with black Caribbean boys versus black African boys (who have a lower exclusion rate). But both are higher than the average yet the effect is to blame the victims for their own exclusion.
Bizarrely, when the report mentions both Windrush and Grenfell, these are used as examples of the “outpouring of national grief” as the tragedies came to light. As elsewhere there is a sustained effort to portray this response as implying that a society that does this cannot be racist.
Of course, none of this would matter very much if the report was quietly buried. But the fact that this government has presided over such an enormous set of crises and catastrophes means they will surely increase racism and scapegoating as a distraction from their own failings. As a result, it is extremely important we are united in opposing them.
Diane Abbott is a Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
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