It’s official. Great Britain (GB) is a child when it comes to effectively addressing racism.
I don’t make this observation lightly and when I say that my feelings fluctuate between frustration and apathy, I don’t do so casually.
Last week, the government released its report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Before I divulge, I want to acknowledge that in 2016, David Lammy MP was appointed by former prime minister David Cameron to independently review how Black, Asian and minority ethnics are treated in the criminal justice system. This report was meant to be one of many to openly review and recommend how GB can be a fairer country to all ethnicities and to address all types of biases, overt and covert. Fast forward five years, a disproportionate amount of deaths within Black and Asian communities due to COVID-19 along with ongoing racial issues and the British public is now supposed to swallow that institutional or structural racism no longer exists in GB…
The moment it was announced that, another, report would be launched, it was obvious that the issue of race was being kicked into the long grass. Now that the ball has finally been found, it is hardly surprising that generations of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are being told that their stories of experiencing racism and biases are either untrue or grossly exaggerated. Equally, it is not shocking as to why these communities often choose not to engage with wider society. Why should they, when their viewpoints are white washed? This is a problem, to evoke change communities need to be engaged. But how much heartbreak can be experienced before voices are listened to? Lawd, it’s tiring!
It is frustrating that GB continues to deny the depths of racism within institutions and structures that Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities are enforced to live within. This report leaves me questioning how safe my future is in this country. When I say this, I’m not referring to my physical safety, but whether GB will truly present pathways for me to excel, reach my full potential and live a life with results that match my ambitions. If the answer is yes, then why have so many people of colour, especially Black people failed to do so before me?
If according to the repot that ‘racism and racial injustice still exist geography (and) family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion all have a greater impact on life chances’, then aren’t such challenges changeable? For example, people can choose what they listen to when advised by family, people can moderate their culture, something that minority communities are well experienced in doing whilst living in a White majority country, and most people practice their religious beliefs privately. Yet, the report fails to explain why graduates with ethnic-sounding surnames still get fewer job interviews. Why Black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth than White women? And why are Black children still disproportionately expelled from school? It can’t surely because they all live in the same geographical area?!?
Without a doubt, there are people who may refuse to accept that racial progress has been made since the since the first generations of minorities moved to GB in the late 1940s. In response, we can say that of course Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups don’t experience the same kind of racism that our grandparents did. But, that’s not the point. In 2021, we shouldn’t be arguing about whether it’s right to call someone a “n*****” or if you should rent your property to a Black or Asian family. The conversation needs to remain on unearthing the deeply sown seeds of racism and removing them for good from British society.
This is why Dr Tony Sewell’s foreword is laughable. The vast majority of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities acknowledge that the ‘UK had become open and fairer,’ but the conversation doesn’t stop there. In fact, it hasn’t even begun.
The idea that we’re meant to applaud a shrinking ethnicity pay gap for those under the age of 30, is questionable. First of all, why is there still a pay gap? Also, what about ethnic minority workers over the age of 30? According to the Office for National Statistics, these workers “tend to earn less than those of White ethnicities,” again why? Don’t these individuals deserve to be paid the same rate? And considering the majority of working-age Britain’s are aged over 30, this ray of sunshine the report desperately tries to highlight barely warms my skin.
I have the same lukewarm response to report’s justification of racial equality when highlighting that minority ethnic groups such Black African perform better, educationally, than their fellow White pupils. However, no answers are provided as to why this level of success is not followed-through in the workplace. And for those who manage to get a foot through the glass doors of a professional organisation, how many go onto climb the career ladder to become a member of the senior management team?
Last December, Lloyds Banking Group was one of the few private companies brave enough to release its own ethnicity pay gap of which Black staff are paid a fifth less than their White colleagues. Lloyds admitted that the discrepancy is because Black workers “are disproportionately under-represented at senior levels.”
Look out for that glass ceiling Black people when you go for those interviews!
The question of whether communities are being accused of victimhood has to be asked after the report goes on to state “the extent [that] individuals and their communities could help themselves through their own agency, rather than wait for invisible external forces to assemble to do the job”
Many Black people, especially younger generations, have already figured out that working for themselves is a better option instead of being employed. Whether this is due to a natural entrepreneurial spirit or not wanting to face years of micro-aggressions, helping ourselves is nothing new. However, as most business ventures require capital, and if Black communities continue to be at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, then how realistic is it for a community to help itself? And are we saying that this is their fault too?
If denial of institutional racism is a slap in the face for minorities, I assume the report’s argument that a ‘new story’ needs to be told about the slave trade is a knock-out punch. The authors state that the slave trade must not just be told about “profiting and suffering” but that “culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain,” what exactly does this mean? Are they saying that African people became more civilised after enduring hundreds of years of enforced labour, torture and rape? That losing traditional languages, names, customs and culture in favour of Western traditions have made Black people better? I mean, I’m a kinda ‘glass is half full’ type of girl, but even this suggestion is taking the piss, don’t you think? Whatever was meant, the government’s response is a short-coming as their report.
So where does this leave Black, Asian and minority ethnic Britons? Honestly, I don’t know. The idea that we must solely rely on and work in partnership with the private and public sectors without the support of government or further legislative changes makes me nervous. Equality cannot solely rely on the goodwill of others.
Present situations make me wonder how Black Briton’s s progress for change compare to African Americans since last year’s Black Lives Matters protests. Arguments that racism in Britain is not as bad as in America are redundant. The reality is we’re both fighting a war for change and I cannot help but think that America has a slight lead. The country’s overt racism most definitely led to the election of President Trump and the increase of White supremacy. However, it also held up a mirror to America and it was no longer possible to continue to deny that the country has a problem.
In spite of President Biden’s electoral win, America is still at a racial crossroad. However, this is something the country acknowledges and it may explain why the states of Georgia and Arizona voted Democrat; because the alternative was too terrifying. President Biden also recognises the historical and present pain of the African American community which is why he personally thanked them during his presidential acceptance speech for always “having his back.” By doing so, his administration knows they owe this community justice and equality. In comparison, GB is more comfortable with going along with the narrative that racism is an individual or geographical issue.
I find this confusing. How can the government admit that racism is still an issue but not one that impacts institutions? Organisations and structures are not living things; this is not the latest Transformers movie. Human beings govern, make decisions, employ other humans to make sure these institutions function. As racism is a problem within society, how can this not transfer to institutions?
I do wonder how successful the report’s recommendations will be if those who inspired it, reject its entirety? It certainly feels as if we’re going around in circles and very little steps are being taken to move forward. Or worse, that this report has pushed back the fight against racism by 20 years or more, as Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence says. For now, I don’t have the optimism to disagree with her.