UK: Sewell, stigma and the policing of race – IRR 9 April 2021

9 April 2021 — Institute of Race Relations

While much has been said about the ideological approach, farcical methodology and flawed conclusions of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) report, there is yet another aspect to explore. For, as Byline Times report this week, it seems that the commissioners and their backers have ambitions to create a new official orthodoxy about how race and racism are discussed. The suggestion within the report, that all those in receipt of public money should drop the categorisation BAME / BME for research purposes, replacing it with disaggregated, ethnic-specific data, needs to be closely examined, argues IRR director Liz Fekete. At the grassroots level, acronyms like BAME and BME, sometimes crassly applied to individuals and communities who would never so describe themselves, have been objected to. But this should not blind us to the fact that CRED’s proposal to drop such terms comes from an entirely different angle – a desire to create a new set of norms about how race and racism are conceptualised, and to disappear the matter of structural racism. We warn that this could lead to a league table of good and bad, successful and failing ‘ethnic’ groups – a variant on the ‘good migrant’/ bad migrant’ scenario.

Official denial of structural racism, accompanied by stigmatisation of certain multicultural working-class communities as uniquely criminal, is not confined to the UK. The Danish interior minister spoke recently about ‘spreading cultures so that not all perpetrators of violence live together and reinforce the norms they have been accustomed to’. Nor are the issues we face in tackling arbitrary and violent policing confined to the UK, as cases of police violence reported in the calendar from France, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Belgium clearly demonstrate.

Policing in Europe and abolitionist intersectional care is the topic of discussion in the final episode of our five-week collaboration with Surviving Society podcast. Listen to all five episodes discussing the Race & Class special issue on ‘Race, Mental Health, State Violence’ here.

We conclude this week’s newsletter by noting the death of our friend and colleague Nina Mühe, a cultural anthropologist who made a significant contribution to research on Islamophobia at IRR and many other organisations.

IRR News team

In two articles carried in Byline Times, the IRR warns of the implications of disaggregating the term ‘BAME’. An exclusive report looks at how this new race orthodoxy may already be making its way into the NHS and could threaten research into structural racism. In an opinion piece, IRR Director Liz Fekete warns that replacing BAME / BME with disaggregated, ethnic-specific data  could lead to a league table of good and bad, successful and failing ‘ethnic’ groups – a  ‘kind of stigmatisation via comparison’.

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Opinion Piece

This week’s calendar highlights important stories of resistance – from a ‘tent occupation’ in Paris raising awareness of migrant homelessness, to Deliveroo riders striking to demanding basic workers’ rights, to hundreds of students staging a sit-in outside Pimlico academy and thousands demonstrate against the Police Bill across the UK.

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Free to Download from the IRR website

Following the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) report’s calls to tell a ‘new story’ on ‘the making of modern britain’, a reminder that the first in our pioneering educational series, Roots of Racism is now free to access.

 for an objective, anti-racist history of Britain


All five episodes in our collaboration with the Surviving Society Podcast marking the Race & Class special issue, Race, Mental Health, State Violenceare now available on the IRR website. The podcast series begins with an introduction to the history of IRR with Director Liz Fekete and follows with four episodes on the special issue. The IRR and Race & Class would like to thank Surviving Society co-hosts Chantelle Lewis & Tissot Regis and producer George Ofori-Addo for their work on this important collaboration.

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