A government-backed review of racial disparities in the UK is facing criticism for the lack of intellectual rigour that underpins its findings.
The report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was set up after Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests across the country last summer – triggered by the killing of George Floyd in the US – argues Britain is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.
But the commission stands accused of “cynical manipulation” of data and making “disingenuous” claims not borne out by reality.
The commission’s chair, Dr Tony Sewell, has previously suggested that the evidence for “institutional racism” is “somewhat flimsy”, and the report’s conclusions rejecting the idea that racial discrimination is deep-rooted within British society.
They have misread, misused and misrepresented the data to fit the preconceived narrativeProfessor Kehinde Andrews, from Birmingham City University
Anti-racism campaigners have branded the commission a “whitewash”, while unions said the report was “deeply cynical” and denied the experiences of Black and minority ethnic workers. “We are being gaslighted,” said Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy.
Black studies professor Kehinde Andrews, from Birmingham City University, told HuffPost UK: “The basic problem of the report is that it is government propaganda masquerading as legitimate research.
“There are countless qualified people in the UK who have already done this work but the government chose a bunch of institutional racism deniers to dismiss the evidence and paint a picture that suits their agenda.
“They have consistently denied the problem exists and now they have produced the evidence they need.”
He added: “The reason that the findings go so far against the – largely settled – consensus in the actually academic field is because it is simply not credible. They have misread, misused and misrepresented the data to fit the preconceived narrative.
“It’s so bad that is probably unfair to judge it as a reasonable piece of work, when it was never meant to be. It would be laughable if the joke was not on those already disadvantaged by institutional racism.”
It’s conclusions on the police’s controversial use of stop-and-search powers are questionable, critics say.
It states: “In England and Wales in 2019 to 2020, 76% of all stops resulted in no further action and 13% resulted in arrest.
“The highest percentage of arrests resulting from stop and search was of White people (52%), followed by 19% of stops of Black people, and 9% of stops of Asian people. This equates to approximately one-in-two White people arrested as a result of stop and search, one-in-five Black people, and one-in-10 Asian people.
“However, in a review of 9,378 stop and search records from 2019, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services estimate that there were reasonable grounds for stop and search in 81.7% of cases – the vast majority of instances in which it was used.”
Aside from framing the debate around amount of white people being stopped and searched as opposed to proportion of the population, a solicitor with expertise on stop and search pointed to the level of unfounded uses of the powers and how that affects Black people, and warned of a “lack of institutional curiosity” from the review.
When looking into pay differences between ethnic groups, the report states: “The ethnicity pay gap – taking the median hourly earnings of all ethnic minority groups and the White group – is down to just 2.3% and the White Irish, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups are on average earning notably more than the White British average.”
The report picks on the three groups that are higher, then says nothing on what the pay gap is for any groups that are lower. Professor Andrews notes the report is “cherry-picking the data” – and says it is “interesting” that they use data relating to Black communities when it makes the report’s point.
He says the same selective use of data is true when it claims the “gravitational force of dominant narratives” ignores “positive” trends such as “the fact, for example, that 40% of NHS consultants are from ethnic minorities”. Professor Andrews says: “The over-representation of minority staff in the NHS isn’t a simple positive – it speaks to the colonial nature of the NHS.”
The Runnymede Trust, a think tank on race equality, goes further to condemn the “clearly misleading” analysis of pay gaps. It said: “The commission amalgamates pay across all ethnicities. This includes the group that is defined as ‘White Irish’ who earn more than 40% above the national average. This is a community who will very well understand the challenges of racism in Britain, given the long history of prejudice the Irish have suffered in this country.
“However, to suggest the ethnicity pay gap is negligible between White British and ethnic minorities like British Pakistanis, who earn 15% below their White British peers, is a cynical manipulation of the data. The commission’s data is skewed by the high earning power of White Irish professionals.
“The commission seems to suggest that, because the manipulated data for the overall pay gap is massaged down to 2.3%, that institutional racism no longer exists. Not only does this ignore the differences between ethnic groups but it toes a line that is not borne out by the evidence.”
Also on employment, the report refers to “bespoke research” that shows “there is no evidence of the blocking of ethnic minority advancement into professional-managerial positions in Britain ‘as was the case in the United States of America in the 1960s against African Americans’.”
The obvious criticism is that it is not comparing like-for-like to argue the careers of people from ethnic groups in the UK have not been blunted because the country did not go through the same racial segregation that was witnessed in the US. Professor Andrews, author of The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World. says as well as making a “useless comparison” the suggestion “does not ring true at all”, and says he would like to have a closer look at the data referred to.
The Sewell report also looks at the levels of racism faced by celebrities on social media. The analysis comes a day after ex-Arsenal and France footballer Thierry Henry announced he was quitting social media over abuse, saying it is not a “safe place”.
The report says: “One of the most concerning side effects of social media is that it enormously amplifies racist views and online commentary. Almost every day the newspapers report racist abuse of celebrities, and polling by the British Future think tank for the commission finds that while 13% of White people say they have been subject to racist or prejudiced insults on social media, the figure rises to 19% for people from the Pakistani ethnic group and 22% for Black people.”
“Frankly it’s just disingenuous,” says Professor Andrews of its characterisation of online abuse.
The report goes on to take aim at the term “white privilege”. It argues: “The phrase, coined in the USA, is undoubtedly alienating to those who do not feel especially privileged by their skin colour. Phrases like ‘White privilege’ and ‘White fragility’ imply that it is White people’s attitudes and behaviours that primarily cause the disadvantage experienced by ethnic minorities.
″[...] There is something, however, in the idea that even in a relatively open society like today’s UK a psychological comfort can be derived from looking like the majority of people around you. A better term, which usefully captures the tendency for groups to favour their own, is the concept of ‘affinity bias’.”
Professor Andrews said it was such a “misrepresentation” of what white privilege means that it would “fail in a first year assignment”.
Professor Kalwant Bhopal, director of the Centre for Research in Race and Education at the University of Birmingham, had similar misgivings. She told HuffPost UK: “This report shows a lack of understanding of the term ‘white privilege’, it assumes that white privilege is based on attitudes and behaviours, when it is clear that white privilege is based on a set of advantages that white people have and possess because of their white identity.”