The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: keep believing and listening
Here's our CEO, Joy Warmington, on the government's race report that came out earlier this month...
I'd like to say that I was surprised by the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities - but I’m not.
I don’t profess to have prophetic abilities, but I know enough to understand what happens when a system or, in this case, modern Britain feels under attack – it defends itself and trades on its power and ability to declare what is racist or not (which is a great example of how systemic racism works, by the way).
One of the issues that the report tries to position is the role that class plays in discrimination and disadvantage. It positions white ethnic groups as ‘left behind’ and comments that working class white experiences are being ignored at the expense of those of Black people.
Those of us who work on these agendas would agree that ‘race’ is not always a singular factor in the story of disadvantage and that class and other aspects of identity are also important. What is horrible about the way that class is being positioned in the report is that it tries to present a scenario in which we need to make a choice as to whether we work on issues of class or issues of race. This divide and rule tactic is not only growing old but it is one that we are not prepared to fall for. The poorest 50% of this country, who own just 9% of its wealth, already know that class is an issue. What many of us also appreciate is that race is too. This is not a matter of division, it is a point of unification across many groups of people who appreciate the double impact of both race and class.
At a time when we are listening more to those with ‘lived’ experience, the report reduces those experiences to mis-understanding of structural and systemic racism and an ‘over use’ of racism – accusing those who experience it of ‘playing the race card’... again.
The report points out the variations in experiences and outcomes for a range of ethnic minority groups – but, like many others who have worked on this agenda, we have been at pains to draw out the nuances between groups, to avoid the stereotypes and to use evidence to create more impact. It is the lack of attention to systemic causes that recreates the patterns that are revisited over and over again.
At a time where many of us are interested in the systemic, are interested in how we create a better world – one whose thinking does not begin by categorising and demonising groups of people - it is saddening that there is an overwhelming emphasis on dismissing the systemic and ignoring the history that is in our present.
But if this report proves one thing, it is that the last year has touched a nerve. It has been uncomfortable. It has made many think anew about what progress means in the area of race equality and how it can be achieved. The decision to pursue an anti-racist agenda is one that wants to make progress for everyone. It recognises that the thinking and actions of many of us are prefaced in racism and that our liberation is bound in the unlocking of this thinking. Many of us know that change is uncomfortable – it takes effort. And if it is done well it leaves you in a completely different place. The existing system will always resists change. It will try it’s best to preserve the status quo.
So to everyone who imagines a different future for all of us - keep believing and listening to the experiences of those who face racism. This report is a sign of a system under attack and trying its best to resist change. The outpouring of public consternation about the report in the last few days has shown how out of kilter with public opinion this report might actually be.
The optimistic side of me wants to recognise this report for what it is: the swansong of a Government that will need to come to terms with society’s increased awareness of the detrimental impact of race and racism on all of us.