Activists slam UK ‘race report’ whitewash and gaslighting

Anti-racism demo and banners

Campaign groups around the UK are building pressure to reject a recent government report that gaslights “people who experience racism”.

Far from addressing the real issues of systemic and institutional racism, the report actually plays into the hands of racists.

Published on 31 March, a report from the “Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities” claims:

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.

Not surprisingly, campaign groups are speaking out to challenge this and reject the findings of a report that found no “evidence of institutional racism in the UK”.

Dividing people and minimising real experiences

A statement from Zita Holbourne, chair and co-founder of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC UK), explains that the report actually:

seeks to reduce the very real and devastating lived experience of racism by racialised groups of people living in the UK.

It also seeks to divide Black and ethnic minority communities into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ migrants and suggests that those of us who campaign against racism are stuck in the past or that we are imagining it.  Effectively gaslighting people who experience racism.

Gaslighting is an abusive tactic where one (usually more powerful) group or person makes another group or person question their own perceptions of reality.

An open letter to Boris Johnson from leading anti-racist groups and individuals, meanwhile, states that:

From the moment that membership of the ostensibly independent Commission was announced, it was clear it would publish a tailored report conforming to a government narrative around racism and class – a narrative that whitewashes over the daily challenges faced by Black and minoritised communities in this country.

Institutional racism

“To suggest that racism is in the past,” writes Holbourne, “ignores the impacts of over a decade of austerity with disproportionate impacts on employment and service provision, the Grenfell Tower fire, the Windrush scandal, the treatment of people who are displaced and are refugees, the disproportionate rate of contracting and dying of coronavirus, to name but a few recent and current events, still impacting now.” She continues by stressing that:

The report barely mentions the Windrush Scandal or the Grenfell fire.

The open letter above also reiterated this point. But significantly, as Holbourne also explains, the report “disregards institutional racism and seems to lack an understanding of what institutional racism is”.

In 1999, the MacPherson report followed an inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s “racist murder“. It defined institutional racism as:

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.

Yet as Holbourne explains, over 20 years later, evidence shows that the implementation of the recommendations has been minimal. “Institutional racism still exists,” she stresses. So:

For the race report to suggest that people and organisations are confusing micro aggressions with institutional racism is insulting and disgraceful.

“Who is responsible for its contents?”

As the open letter points out, some people that the report cited have since asked to be “entirely disassociated”.

“The danger,” it explains, ‘is that a report so lacking in credibility will be left to circulate and take us back to the ‘colour bar’ of the 1960s.” Importantly, the letter also notes that crucial evidence about “structural and institutional racism” went to the Commission but “was ignored”.  The letter asks “Who is responsible for [the report’s] contents?”. And it lays the blame firmly at Johnson’s feet. It then calls on him to “take immediate steps to combat racism” based on previous “findings of multiple rigorous investigations”, including the Stephen Lawrence inquiry,

Featured image via Johnny Silvercloud/CC BY-SA 2.0