The Independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities – published on 31st March 2021 – has caused justifiable outrage. The report has been widely shown to be based on selective use of evidence, poor research and the exclusion of the varied experiences that make up life in the UK today. Its conclusions, based on these shaky foundations, seek to obscure the role of racism in generating inequalities in 21st century Britain. In doing so, the report gaslights millions of people.
The articles in this edition of the IPPR Progressive Review give an alternative account of racial disparities to that given by the commission’s report. Taken as a whole, this issue constitutes a wide-ranging review of how structural and institutional racism still affects and defines people’s lives across the UK – where people live, the education they receive, the jobs they do and the conditions they work in – making it one of this country’s most pressing injustices.
Given the size of that task, we have welcomed two organisations as guest editors for this edition. Both have long campaigned for transformative change; both have extensive knowledge of the evidence; and both have done excellent work in amplifying the voice of all experiencing racialised injustice throughout their history.
Race on the Agenda (ROTA) is one of Britain’s leading social policy think tanks, focussing on issues that affect Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Set up in 1984, ROTA aims to increase the capacity of organisations and strengthen the voice of minority ethnic communities. This constitutes the focus of the essays they have curated.
“While we remain a long way from race equality in Britain today, every author in this collection has imagined a method, idea or concept through which things could get better”
Race Equality Foundation (REF) promote race equality in social support and public services – by exploring what is known about discrimination and disadvantage; developing evidence-based principles; and disseminating that through educational activities. Their collection of articles explores structural injustice and disadvantage in public services and imagines how things could be different.
Both introduce their own collections and articles below.
As a collection, the edition is designed to be challenging, but not fatalistic. While we remain a long way from race equality in Britain today, every author in this collection has imagined a method, idea or concept through which things could get better. As much as it provides evidence of the problems, this issue is about a vision for the future.
As strongly as we believe racial justice is needed, we believe racial justice is possible.
Chris Thomas, Rachel Statham, Shreya Nanda and Joshua Emden, editors, Progressive Review
AN INTRODUCTION TO RACE ON THE AGENDA’S COLLECTION
When IPPR approached us at Race on the Agenda with a view to us guest editing an issue of Progressive Review on the theme of race equality and justice, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.
It was back in 1999, with the release of the MacPherson report on the death of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence, that the term ‘institutional racism’ first entered the public lexicon. In the months that followed, there was much public handwringing, with various institutions and public bodies asking themselves if they too could be institutionally racist.
Some two decades later blatant racism is much less socially acceptable and much less visible. So much so, that many argue that racism is no longer a feature of life in Britain, and no longer an obstacle to the progress of this country’s ethnic minorities.
However, the murder of George Floyd by white police officer Derek Chauvin in Minnesota in 2020, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests it sparked around the world, once again knocked polite society out of its state of complacency.
It is often heard today that it is not enough to be ‘not racist’. White people instead should be ‘anti-racist’, making a conscious effort to dismantle the racial inequality that exists around them, and that they inadvertently benefit from.
“racial disparities permeate every corner of society”
The widespread BLM protests provoked the UK government to commission their own investigation into racial inequality in the UK. Their conclusions were that, though racism still exists, the term is thrown around far more frequently than the evidence would indicate.
The phoney ‘culture wars’ that have raged since last summer have focussed on symbolic matters like ‘taking a knee’ or the statues of former slave owners. For organisations like ROTA, the racism we concern ourselves with on a daily basis is not so much the symbols or racist epithets or street-level violence. We are much more focussed on how government policies and the actions of institutions adversely affect those of us who are not white. In the articles we have commissioned for this special issue, we examine how racial disparities permeate every corner of society.
The aforementioned ‘culture wars’ are discussed by ROTA’s own CEO Maurice McLeod.
The disillusionment of young people with the traditional political parties, and their preference for street protest, are discussed by activist and author of How to Change It, Joshua Virasami.
One of the areas where we most often see accusations of discrimination are in Black people’s interactions with the police. To address this, we commissioned an article from campaigner and Founding Director of UNJUST C.I.C, Katrina Ffrench. We also interviewed former Metropolitan Police superintendent and founder member of the Black Police Association, Leroy Logan MBE.
Another area that has long been embroiled in the institutional racism debate is education. To this end we have a piece jointly written by policy officer at the Runnymede Trust Alba Kapoorand Lit in Colour programme manager at Penguin Random House, Zaahida Nabagereka. Together they outline exactly what steps they are advocating to decolonise the curriculum.
Looking at the workplace, institutional racism and the gig economy are examined by policy officer for anti-racism at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Lester Holloway. And tying it all together, independent researcher, writer and consultant Dr Sanjiv Lingayah argues that racism is a system and examines why those in power might find it hard to confront its existence.
Maurice McLeod and Lee Pinkerton, guest editors, Race On The Agenda
AN INTRODUCTION TO RACE EQUALITY FOUNDATION’S COLLECTION
When we were first notified the government were planning a report on Race and Ethnic Disparities, we were sceptical, but engaged in submitting evidence. Sadly, despite that, the report has done what many feared. The report goes out of its way to deny that there’s anything that’s been the result of policies we’ve put in place and instead puts all the blame on
Race Equality Foundation’s collection of articles in this edition of Progressive Review sets out an alternative to the government’s report. Together, our articles – covering a wide range of sectors and areas of life – are a comprehensive exposure of institutional racism, at work in this country today.
The foundation has always been committed to promoting race equality in social support and public services through exploring what is known about discrimination and disadvantage and using this evidence to develop better practice and policies. We have always attempted to identify the problems but also identify the solutions that make a difference. I hope this collection of evidence and ideas can inform better understanding of racism and racial disparity as an issue and help substantiate the change we need.
In the first article, Zahra Bei, Helen Knowler, and myself illuminate the practice of ‘off-rolling’ students in schools. We highlight a practice by which schools remove pupils from the school roll, without recourse to formal, permanent exclusion. This is a dangerous and modern evolution of a pernicious exclusion of black children from education, and one that
needs to be challenged by practitioners and policy makers alike.
“If charity is to make progressive change and hold government to account, it needs to do much better on racism as a sector”
Nigel De Noronha explores the persistence of racism in housing. He shows how post-war policy often substantiated racial disparities – and how pandemic and post-pandemic policies look set to entrench and extend them further. Housing has often been a mechanism to maintain the country’s status quo, particularly when it comes to wealth, and the prospect of widening housing inequalities after Covid-19 is alarming.
Kadra Abdinasir, Ayesha Gardiner, and Emeka Forbes write from their perspective as organisers with #CharitySoWhite. They expose structural racism in the charity sector – both in the refusal to listen to and amplify the voices of people of colour, and because of a structure where charities led by people of colour are more likely to struggle. If charity is to make progressive change and hold government to account, it needs to do much better on racism as a sector.
Rob Berkeley reflects on transformative justice. He reflects on the experience of building a n inclusive and identity-based collaboration for Black queer men. He explores on the critical need for spaces that enable dialogue, as equals, contributing to the construction of shared futures – based less on rarefied, abstracted policy debates, and more on articulation
of radical imagination.
Anita Mehay, Cara Leavey, and Iexplore parental support from New Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments since the late 1990s. We note some of the failures of recent schemes, namely when they have failed to empathetically understand the interaction between family, socioeconomic disadvantage and racial disparities. One of REF’s proudest achievements is the Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities parenting programme – a model of inclusive, evidence-based parenting
policies that policy makers might look at more carefully.
Finally, Joy Warmington reflects on representation of Black women – in the charity sector, and in the wider economy. She explores the structural problems black women face, and how initiatives to improve representation for women have often failed to be sufficiently intersectional.
Throughout, this collection of articles strives to be anchored in experience of people and practitioners, rooted in evidence, and as focussed on solutions as it is problems. We hope it provides Progressive Review readers – whether decision-makers, academics, researchers, policy makers, politicians, journalists, or anyone else – a chance to think differently about racial
injustice in the UK today.
Jabeer Butt, guest editor, Race Equality Foundation
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