Same old story
Racism is a complicated issue to contend with for any country but particularly for one-time colonial powers. Many of these colonial powers now consider themselves to be modern, democratic, sometimes even progressive nations. This means that at one or the other point, there must be a reckoning, when these nations confront historical and existing narratives of racism. Last year, the BLM protests in the US sparked off a wave of such reckoning throughout the world but particularly in Europe. It was in response to such social upheaval that UK PM Boris Johnson's government announced the establishment of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED). As may be discerned from the title of the commission, its mission was to investigate how ethnic and race disparities play out in the UK in the present day. A report would be prepared and released to the public. To be certain there was some cautious hope. This report could be a chance at having a real conversation as a nation for the UK about its colonial and racist legacy. The report would even help Boris Johnson course-correct his government's increasingly selective narrative of racism as it condemned anti-racism protestors who were targeting slave owner statues across the UK. It is worth noting what Johnson's own comments say about the direction his government wanted the racism debate to go - "We have to look at discrimination but what has slightly been lost in this is the story of success. What I want to do as Prime Minister is change the narrative so we stop the sense of victimhood and discrimination, we stamp out racism... and we start to have a real expectation of success." If this sounds like Johnson has a predetermined conclusion for the aforementioned report, then you probably understand where this narrative is going. But just to make it clearer, it should be mentioned that Munira Mirza, a policy advisor to Johnson who was responsible for the setup of CRED, had also previously questioned the existence of institutional racism. This is why it shouldn't be surprising that the 'completely independent' committee of experts in CRED released a report that also refutes the presence of institutional racism in the country. It also should not be surprising that it caused an immediate firestorm of criticism from almost every direction. To be clear, the report does acknowledge that racism is still a big deal in the UK, particularly online but it refutes the idea that the UK in modern times has a system that is rigged against ethnic minorities. It supports its arguments with certain sets of data like one that shows how children from ethnic minorities did as well or better than white pupils during compulsory education. The report states that diversity has even increased in certain professions like law and medicine while also noting that the pay gap between the white majority and ethnic minorities is shrinking. Social class and family structure are highlighted by the report to have a much bigger part to play in determining how an individual's life turns out. This is of course, not born out by the facts. Like the US, the UK also saw its ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately during the pandemic. The report does not do an excellent job of addressing this just as it does not address the many lived experiences of ethnic minorities in the UK that considered themselves to be living in a racist country. Instead it at one point emphasises that the UK's success at eliminating racial and ethnic disadvantages should be a model for other white-majority countries. To be certain, this type of selective narrative is not new. Anywhere there has been institutional racism in the past, you'll find more than a few willing candidates to shout out that the country does not have a racism problem. But such assertions don't generally make it into such major reports. But there's more. A particularly problematic part of the report states about the UK's experience of slavery- "Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain." Once again, depending on what kind of narrative you are looking for, this view of slavery is not uncommon. Many colonial apologists have taken a similar line when explaining how the overall experience of colonialism and slavery was a net profit for the enslaved. It's an age-old whitewash that has never particularly been effective but keeps nevertheless re-emerging. In response to the outrage over this and other tidbits in the report, CRED hit out at its critics by accusing them of misrepresenting the report and its findings. The commission is even more miffed by the idea that their work was somehow used as a mouthpiece for the Johnson government. Sadly for the commission, that will be a hard narrative to push back against. Now, it remains to be seen as to just how this report plays out in terms of future policy for the UK government before more can be said about just how 'planned' the report was.