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01st Apr 2021

The government’s denial of institutional racism shows how deep it goes

After Covid-19 victims of colour filled up morgues in the UK more than twice as quickly as their white counterparts during this pandemic, the government have declared the UK is a model for the world on racial equality

Nadine Batchelor-Hunt

After Covid-19 victims of colour filled up morgues in the UK more than twice as quickly as their white counterparts during this pandemic, the government have declared the UK is a model for the world on racial equality

60 per cent of the first NHS doctors and nurses to die from Covid-19 were Black or brown despite making up less than 20 per cent of the British population. If white people died at the same rate as Black people during the first wave of the pandemic, there would have been 58,000 more Covid-19 related deaths in England and Wales alone. It was on this backdrop, and in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, that hundreds of thousands of Brits took to the streets – declaring “Black lives matter”, peacefully protesting for equality. And, off the back of that, the government claimed it would launch a review into racial inequality in this country.

If you’ve lost count of the number of reviews into racism in the UK over recent years, nobody would blame you. There was the Joint Committee on Human Rights Report 2020 on Black people, Racism, and Human Rights. The Windrush Review 2020. The Timpson Review 2019. The Lammy Review 2017. McGregor-Smith Review 2017. The Angiolini Review 2017. The Parker Review 2017. And if we jump back a few decades, even the Macpherson Report 1999. 

Report after report on the UK’s issues around institutional and structural racism. Recommendation after recommendation on what needs to happen to tackle institutional and structural racism. Promise after promise to take institutional and structural racism seriously. Yet the recommendations are never comprehensively implemented. You need only turn on the radio to hear David Lammy, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor, to hear his dismay that his recommendations in the Lammy report have not been taken up while the situation deteriorates in the criminal justice system. And now, there’s a new kid on the block – the Sewell Report 2021. However, unlike its more learned predecessors, it claims institutional racism doesn’t exist.

The 258-page report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, led by a man that already believed institutional racism didn’t exist, claims that it is socio-economic, cultural, and religious factors that create racial inequality – not racism. If we park the dodgy logic of that for a moment (namely, surely the root cause of the socio-economic inequality comes from somewhere?), the report claims that “overt” racism still exists – which seems to suggest smoke without fire, and crosses into victim blaming.

And the mental gymnastics don’t end there; sections of the report actively attempt to sanitise, and even glorify, aspects of deadly and genocidal colonialism. “There is a new story about the Caribbean experience,” the report says, “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.” The government trying to rebrand slavery as “the Caribbean experience”, as if it’s some sort of holiday cruise, is beyond even my wildest expectations. Black people were torn from Africa, taken on ships, and brought across the Atlantic. The slaves that survived the journey and that weren’t thrown overboard were met with forced labour, torture, mutilation, rape, and murder. So, on behalf of my Jamaican ancestors who were enslaved at the hands of the British Empire: the person that wrote that can go fuck themselves. 

In every area of life, Black people in the UK have worse outcomes. You are more than twice as likely to die from Covid-19 if you are Black. You are almost five times more likely to die in childbirth if you are Black. You are four times more likely to be sectioned if you are Black.

Black people are 9.5 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by the police, eight times more likely to be tasered by the police, and four times more likely to be sectioned. Black children are three times more likely to be given a caution or sentence than white children, and 33 per cent of kids remanded in custody are Black. Four in every 1,000 white people are stopped and searched in the UK, versus 38 in every 1,000. You are more likely to be stopped and searched for carrying drugs if you’re Black, despite the fact you’re more likely to carry them if you are white. And today, the day after the report’s release, a Metropolitan police officer has been convicted of neo-Nazi offences.

25 per cent of Black voters in the UK are not registered to vote, versus 17 per cent of the national average. Studies show this is due to voter suppression via requiring ID to vote, which 50 per cent of Black people have versus 76 per cent of white people. Studies also show disillusionment with politics that Black people feel doesn’t represent them and doesn’t care about them is another reason.

Evidence shows that 75 per cent of Black Britons do not believe their human rights are as protected as white people’s. 60 per cent of Black people do not believe their health is as protected by the NHS, and 85 per cent of Black people are not confident they are treated in the same way as white people by the police. The statistics go on and on, and they will have been exacerbated by the pandemic – which has hit Black communities hardest. To deny them, and structural racism, is at best stupidity – at worst aiding and abetting its perpetuation.

The government say that the UK is a model for the world on racial inequality. They say that institutional racism in this country does not exist. They say that they take racism seriously. They say this, flying in the face of the mountains of evidence those truly concerned about racial equality have worked tirelessly to collate. And they say this as Black and brown people across the UK are dying at more than twice the rate of white people from a deadly virus. This report, which was commissioned off the back of the brutal killing of George Floyd, has been manipulated into a moment of crass opportunism by the government for propaganda – while Black and brown people across the UK mourn their dead. It is sick, it is twisted, and it is unforgivable.