‘Very Few’ Disparities Linked to Racism: UK Commission

March 31, 2021 Updated: March 31, 2021

British society is not rigged against ethnic minorities and very few racial disparities are caused by racism, an independent review has found.

The review was published on Wednesday by the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was set up by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July 2020 to examine inequality in the UK in the wake of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests over the death of George Floyd.

17th century merchant, Edward Colston, as it falls into the water during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, England
The statue of 17th-century merchant, Edward Colston, is pushed into the water during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, England, on June 7, 2020. (Keir Gravil via Reuters)

“Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities,” said Dr. Tony Sewell, a veteran education consultant who chairs the Commission, in the report’s foreword.

“The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism.”

Instead, “the evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture, and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism,” he said.

The report identified family breakdown as “one of the main reasons” for poor outcomes such as educational failure and crime, while also pointing out that “family is also the foundation stone of success for many ethnic minorities.”

The Commission said the UK society is “open to all its communities” but “some ethnic minorities have been able to ‘participate’ better than others.”

Sewell noted the difference in educational performance between different black communities.

Some of the new African communities are among the new high achievers in the UK education system, he said. “As their Caribbean peers sit in the same classrooms, it is difficult to blame racism in education for the latter’s underachievement.”

The report criticised the “increasingly strident form of anti-racism thinking that seeks to explain all minority disadvantage through the prism of white discrimination,” which it said, “diverts attention from the other reasons for minority success and failure, including those embedded in the cultures and attitudes of those minority communities themselves.”

The Commission said the term “institutional racism” should not be liberally used as a “general catch-all phrase for any microaggression, witting or unwitting,” as “misapplying the term racism has diluted its credibility.”

The report also dismissed the concept of “white privilege,” which it said implies that “it is white people’s attitudes and behaviours that primarily cause the disadvantage experienced by ethnic minorities.”

The Commission said it rejects such an approach, as it is not supported by evidence and is “counterproductive and divisive.”

Authors of the report also rejected calls for “decolonising” the curriculum, arguing instead for a new educational programme entitled “Making of Modern Britain.”

“Neither the banning of white authors or token expressions of black achievement will help to broaden young minds. We have argued against bringing down statues, instead, we want all children to reclaim their British heritage.”

Johnson called the report an “important piece of work” and said the government should consider its recommendations in detail.

But the report was criticised by the main opposition Labour party and left-wing groups.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he felt “disappointed” with the report’s “reluctance to accept” there were “structural” issues that need to be addressed.

The Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank, called the report “a whitewash.”

Reuters contributed to this report.