31 March 2021 — Institute of Race Relations
Sewell report seeks to sideline structural factors attached to racism
From what we have seen, both the findings and the recommendations of the government-commissioned Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report fit neatly with the government’s attempts, post-Brexit, to portray the British nation as a beacon of good race relations and a diversity model, in the report’s words, for ‘white majority countries’ across the globe. The methodology of the report appears to be one that, in severing issues of race from class and treating issues of structural racism as ‘historic’ but not contemporary, leads to the stigmatisation of some ethnic minorities on the back of the valorisation of others. Black Caribbeans, for instance, are contrasted with Black Africans, and deemed to have internalised past injustices to the detriment of their own social advancement. While much is made of the differences between communities, primarily in educational attainment and elite employment, we can see no attempt here to address the common ethnic minority experience of structural racism within areas such as the criminal justice system. Where racism in Britain is acknowledged in the report, the emphasis is placed on online abuse, which is very much in line with the wider drift in British politics and society away from understanding racism in terms of structural factors and locating it instead in prejudice and bigotry. The pre-publicity for the report – borne out in the recommendations – suggested that the aggregating term ‘BAME’ will now be ditched in official government research reports. The IRR would anticipate that it is the post-Macpherson narrative on institutional racism that the government, on the back of this report, will be most eager to sideline. We would further anticipate that future government research on inequality will be framed by issues of ‘ethnic disadvantage’, with differences in ethnic outcomes attributed to cultural and genetic factors, rather than the discriminatory hand of state institutions.
Institute of Race Relations