Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Report

I know I am late, but I needed to have some 'free' time to fully engage with the recently published Race and Ethnic Disparities Report.

There is little I can add to what has already been said, and I tried (with variable success) to keep away from Twitter as I wanted to read the report before reading my social network bubble comments on it, but I got few emails, and other direct messages of disappointed people reading the report. Of course, there were some hilarious takes of the report too! (see here :D :D )

However, it is important that everybody plays a part in calling out all the flaws in this report from every single possible angle, as the implementation of the recommendations, and the acceptance of the main conclusions of this report can potentially vanish many of the efforts in fighting discrimination in the UK.

There are five main points I would like to call out in this report, that I consider to be problematic.

1. The language 

From the report p. 8

This paragraph arguably encapsulates many of the problems of this report, starting with the use of divisive language and nationalism to cover for discrimination and racism in the UK. 

The lack of understanding of 'decolonisation' is not surprising, it is clear there is lack of willingness to engage with this line of research and calls for action, and this has favoured the spread of ill-informed ideas on what decolonisation is about (some examples hereherehere). 

There is nothing wrong to be proud of being from the UK, but it is important that we know and engage with the full history rather than just the ones that makes Britain looks like a glorious Empire. Moreover, "reclaiming British heritage" in this context is to pursue White superiority and a nationalistic 'truth' about the history of the British Empire. Understanding the influence of the British Empire on colonised and invaded territories is to engage with the narratives of the colonised and exploited groups and critically study the long-lasting effects of "British heritage" on these populations. The UK education system has to fully embrace the "Empire" and not just the romanticised version of it of British people investing on railways on foreign nations. 

While some may think that mis-representing the decolonisation agenda has little relevance, the description of slavery as the "The Caribbean experience" is a clear signal that we need to do more to decolonise our education curricula. We have reached the point in which the trade of human beings is glorified, again further emphasising a white superiority narrative on culture and models of society, completing neglecting the Caribbean and African historical perspective. 

2. The recommendations 

The report provides 24 recommendations for "address disparities and inequalities for all those affected". 

I will not go into the details of these recommendations. I am not even critical of all of them, (e.g. Recommendation 7 calls for 'additional funding to systematically target disparities in education outcomes' - more funding in education is needed and I don't think many would argue against this), although some seem very naive or even misleading depending on how you read them. For example, Recommendation 15 asks for "stronger guidance to higher education institutions on funding outreach programmes ... to help reduce disparities in applications at an early stage". While superficially this may make sense, in practice this completely disregards the racism and discrimination that affect the educational process and causes outcome gaps in first place.  

In fact, the problem with this report is that it cherry-picks from the research and evidence available to present a picture of the United Kingdom as a "model for other white-majority countries" (p. 9). In fact, it concludes that racism is becoming less important, and in some cases is not a significant factor in explaining disparities. This opens the door for avoiding tackling racism as we look at 'disparities of outcomes' for different racial groups rather than tackling structural and institutions racism in our society and its institutions. 

3. Institutional racism

The report indeed concludes that there is no institutional racism in the UK and that the use of this term may be dangerous. 

However, after the report was published, there have been several groups calling out the misleading representation of the state of research depicted by the report. In fact, structural racism is at the root of many of the differences in the observed socio-economic outcomes. See for example this comment on the BMJ (Razai, Majeed and Esmail see authors' affiliations in the article) which focuses on health inequalities but make the point very clear: 

"the report also concludes that deprivation, “family structures,” and geography—not ethnicity, are key risk factors for health inequalities. However, it ignores the overwhelming evidence that systemic racism, in particular residential segregation, which is rising in the UK, is a major driver of ethnic differences in socio-economic status. There is a wealth of evidence that segregation also affects health due to poorer quality education, employment opportunities, and poorer access to resources to enhance health."

You can also see the British Sociological Association's response to the report, which focuses on the education claims made in the report. In particular, we can read: 

"... the relationship between educational attainment, race and ethnicity, and transitions into employment is more complex and troubling than a story of the benefits of aspiration and individual success. We remain concerned that the report falls into the trope that the real losers in the UK education system are white, working class, boys. This manages to simultaneously deny the experiences of minoritized students and fuel a politics of division that have come to characterise the Brexit."

It is indeed very worrying how misleading the report is regarding the 'causes' of the observed differences. From p. 8: 

Racial and ethnical identity affect people's opportunities on access to geographical location, education, and many other opportunities, therefore controlling for these aspects does not take into account how racism affects these variables. (post edit: Prof Jonathan Portes explain this in this tweet, and he cites this article that clearly explains the related issues when studying study racial disparities). 

Post-edit: The evidence on drugs, crime and the police is also mis-leading as emphasised by Professor Alex Stevens here

4. Racism is not just a perception

The treatment of people's experience with racism is also very troublesome. The report repeatedly negates the experiences of racism and discrimination of various groups. Some examples: 

"For some groups historic experience of racism still haunts the present and there was a reluctance to acknowledge that the UK had become open and fairer" p. 6

"We understand the idealism of those well-intentioned young people who have held on to, and amplified, this inter-generational mistrust. However, we also have to ask whether a narrative that claims nothing has changed for the better, and that the dominant feature of our society is institutional racism and White privilege, will achieve anything beyond alienating the decent centre ground – a centre ground which is occupied by people of all races and ethnicities." p. 27

"The gravitational force of dominant narratives tends to point our attention in negative directions, such as racist abuse on social media, and away from positive ones, the fact, for example, that 40% of NHS consultants are from ethnic minorities." p. 29

"police-recorded hate crime figures are rising because of improved police recording processes, and a greater awareness of what constitutes a hate crime. The total of police recorded race-related hate crime for England and Wales has leapt up in recent years, increasing by 131% in the 9 years to March 2020." p. 31

Racism does not disappear if we introduce a "more positive" narrative. Mistrust in institutions is not just an inheritance of the past and in recent times far too many episodes have affected the public opinion on institutions and the trust by those who have been victims of racism and discrimination, see Windrush scandal, the very recent overhaul of the UK's asylum system, the police response at Sarah Everard's vigil and to the protests in Bristol, just to mention few.    

5. Nationalism will not make racism disappear

Racism and discrimination are real problems that affect the UK society. Race is a social-constructed variable that encompasses many characteristics. These are intertwined with many other problems in the society, amplifying their negative effects. We definitely need more research on racism if we aim to create a fairer society. I agree that the BAME categorisation is not enough to study the causes of disparities between the various ethnic groups, but it is not by looking into "cultural traditions" (see conclusion in p. 233) of the various groups that we will explain the observed differences. 

Condescending takes such as the one taken in p. 233 does not help either. 

Younger generations are not doing any better than those who grew up in the 1970s and the experiences of those protesting today are not less relevant. I do recognise that many things have changes since the 1970s/80s, but we can't consider change going only on one direction. 

We can't build "optimism and national purpose" on national symbols. History taught us valuable lessons on the effects of the raise of nationalism, we don't want to repeat the same history.   


  1. The problem with the report, as with others on similar subjects, is that the panel are not qualified to carry out any kind of reasoned analysis. We have various people, with no relevant skills, other than their skin colour and being trusted - i.e. on other such panels.
    How can a TV producer or businessman say anything on the statistical approach on which the report was based? They obviously cannot, so what purpose do they serve other than making up the numbers?
    The report by David Lammy a while back had the same problem -various inumerates passing judgement on crime and sentencing statistics.


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