Claims that there is no evidence of institutional racism in Britain are “complete nonsense”, an academic has said in response to a landmark study by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.
Black studies professor Kehinde Andrews branded the review, which was set up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, as a “PR move to pretend the problem (of racism) doesn’t exist”.
A selective summary of the commission’s report, put out by the Government Equalities Office, said while there is still overt racism in Britain, claims that it is still institutionally racist were not borne out by the evidence.
Responding to the summary, Prof Andrews, from Birmingham City University, claimed the study was “not a genuine effort to understand racism in Britain”.
“It’s complete nonsense. It goes in the face of all the actual existing evidence,” he said. “This is not a genuine effort to understand racism in Britain. This is a PR move to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
“The evidence is clear, it’s been there for a long time around ethnic penalties in employment, around the problems in education, around the problems with policing.”
It comes as commission chairman Tony Sewell said while there was anecdotal evidence of racism, he denied there was any proof that it was structural, saying there was data to show some ethnic minorities were doing well in the jobs market and in education.
Prof Andrews added: “This (report) will give people an out to say ‘actually we don’t need to do anything. We don’t need to address this’. So in that sense, it is damaging.
“But that was the point of this report. It was to give the Government an out so they don’t have to address racism.”
NHS doctor and TV presenter Dr Ranj Singh also criticised the report, claiming it goes against a “huge amount” of existing evidence.
He tweeted: “I don’t even have the strength to talk about the #racereport… It doesn’t explain racial disparities throughout society that we see today.
“It goes against a huge amount of accumulated existing evidence. Are we really surprised that it says what it does, given who is in charge?”
Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust, said it was “deeply, deeply worrying” that the commission had denied the existence of institutional racism.
She said: “Frankly, by denying the evidence of institutional racism and tinkering with issues like unconscious bias training and use of the term ‘BAME’, I think they’ve insulted every ethnic minority in this country – the people who continue to experience racism on a daily basis.”
The commission said there have been improvements such as increasing diversity in elite professions and a shrinking ethnicity pay gap, although disparities remain.
It also found that children from many ethnic communities do as well or better than white pupils in compulsory education, with black Caribbean pupils the only group to perform less well.
It also said that issues around race and racism are becoming “less important”, and in some cases are not a significant factor in explaining inequalities.
Different outcomes are complex and involve social class and family structure along with race, it said.
Dr Sewell, a former teacher who grew up in Brixton, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No one denies and no one is saying racism doesn’t exist. We found anecdotal evidence of this.
“However… evidence of actual institutional racism? No, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that.”
Meanwhile Dr Begum questioned the suitability of Dr Sewell as chairman of commission. Downing Street defended the choice when he was appointed last July, after campaigners pointed to his previous comments on institutional racism.
Dr Sewell previously worked with the prime minister in 2013 when he led the then London mayor’s education inquiry into the capital’s schools, which resulted in the creation of the London Schools Excellence Fund. Writing in Prospect magazine in 2010, Dr Sewell, an international education consultant, said: “Much of the supposed evidence of institutional racism is flimsy.”
The former teacher suggested in an interview that the root cause of knife crime and gang culture among black youths was absent fathers, citing figures showing that about 50 per ent of black children grow up without a father.
“People often say I’m brave to say that. It’s so patronising,” he told the Times newspaper.
The early stages of setting up the commission drew controversy after Johnson gave Munira Mirza, head of the Number 10 policy unit, a major role in its creation. Mirza had previously questioned the existence of institutional racism and hit out at a “culture of grievance” among anti-racism campaigners.
Speaking before the publication of the report, Dr Begum said: “If both these individuals are from the outset denying the existence of institutional racism, then what hope did we have that they were going to look into this in an objective manner, if not follow whatever the Government mantra is?”