Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London, Britain, March 24 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JOHN SIBLEY
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London, Britain, March 24 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JOHN SIBLEY

London — Britain should be seen as a “model for other white-majority countries” but more still needs to be done, a review into race inequality said on Wednesday, a conclusion that provoked fury from critics who branded it a “whitewash”.

The report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was ordered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government after widespread Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in mid-2020, triggered by the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US.

“Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities,” Tony Sewell, the commission’s chair, said in a foreword to the report.

“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.”

The BLM movement, which led to tens of thousands of Britons joining demonstrations, caused Britain to look more closely at race relations and its colonial past, with campaigners demanding action to end structural bias.

At the time, protest organisers said Johnson’s choices for the commission did not represent their views and should be replaced because those appointed, like Sewell, a black educational consultant, did not believe that Britain had a problem with institutional racism.

Johnson hailed “this important piece of work”, which he said was a detailed, data-led examination of inequality. He said the Conservative government would consider its 24 recommendations.

“The entirety of government remains fully committed to building a fairer Britain and taking the action needed to address disparities wherever they exist,” he said.

Racial disparities

However, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said he was disappointed by the report, while campaigners called it a whitewash instigated to gloss over deep-rooted problems, such as why black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.

“Another total whitewash. While the Tories [Conservatives] pat themselves on the back, their report just sets back the clock on ending racial inequality even further,” Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said on Twitter. “Ignoring the deep racial disparities afflicting people across UK society gets us nowhere.”

Halima Begum, head of the Runnymede Trust race equality think-tank, told BBC television: “All it is is a whitewash and a script that has been written to 10 Downing Street.”

The report said overt and outright racism does persist, particularly online, and Britain is not yet a “post-racial society” of equal opportunity.

But it concluded that geography, family influence, socioeconomic background, culture and religion are more significant factors on life chances than the existence of racism.

Black Africans

It highlighted educational attainment by ethnic minority groups as demonstrating that institutional racism was not to blame for disparities, pointing out that black Africans performed better than those from black Caribbean and white backgrounds.

The country has come a long way in 50 years and “the success of much of the ethnic minority population in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy, should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries”, the commission said.

Its recommendations included changes to policing and the criminal justice system as well as ending the use of the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) acronym because of the differences in the experiences of minorities.


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