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What do the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities and Kanye West have in common? Many things flood to the mind, but one that sticks as evidentiary is a belief system that corrupts the lens through which Black people are viewed. Notably, Kanye west articulated his own dissenting opinion in 2018 when he theorised to TMZ that living in the 400 year legacy of slavery in America is a choice. Today the Sewell Report exhibits the same lack of nuance and awareness of the way people live and have been affected by negative race relations in the UK. The report proudly couches itself in decorations of objectivity by removing the individual experiences of race, the stories of the people that the data represents from its exploration of it. That is not what research is supposed to do. Research is supposed to marry to quantitative with the qualitative; the numbers and the stories are meant to support each other. In any other institution, particularly institutions with higher academic pedigree than the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, if the stories don’t match the numbers it is the numbers that are wrong.
The elitism built into the assault on race-based activism is rife in the declarations made in the 285 pages they probably didn’t expect many people to wade through. Sentences like this one: “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.” Perhaps the reason there was a reluctance to admit the given statement was because it did not ring true to them. In one part of the report there is an accusation that those they were speaking with did not fully understand the nuanced terminology that the researchers were using to define racism, the conflation of terms offended them.
An appalling dismissal
The assumption that the Commission has interpreted the data with, is made clear by mentions of UK legislation that criminalises the use of certain slurs and violence on the basis of race. They have assumed that these overt expressions of racism are the only valid forms of it. In regards to language, there is an early dismissal of microaggressions as a figment of our imaginations with the report stating: “It is certainly true that the concept of racism has become much more fluid, extending from overt hostility and exclusion to unconscious bias and microaggressions. This is partly because ethnic minorities have higher expectations of equal treatment and, rightly, will not tolerate behaviour that, only a couple of generations ago, would have likely been quietly endured or shrugged off. The fact that this generation expects more is a positive aspect of integration.” What the report declares to be “more” my own experience of racism in the UK and the experiences of the staff and members of our own Do it Now Now community would deem to be, is just as awful and in some cases even more insidious. Just as much as I wouldn’t like be called a N***r to my face, I wouldn’t like to be held back from an opportunity because there’s “just something about me” that doesn’t fit the “culture” of a prospective company.
A disingenuous attempt to discredit racial justice groups
It is very clear that the conclusion was decided before the work began. The Commission and report were tasked with the invalidation of the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK and other activist groups seeking racial equity across the country. At multiple points of the document the writers invite us to take a victory lap for a battle they are trying to convince us has long been won. How do they expect us to “stop refighting the battles of the past” if they do not acknowledge that those battles rather than benevolence is what has won us the incremental movement toward a better present day that they are so keen to focus on. There are few people that have ever sought to propagate the argument that Britain is where it was; we recognise the achievements and we celebrate ourselves and the allies that have helped us win those battles. As the rapper DAVE so poignantly professed at the BRIT awards a couple of years ago, in a moment that was celebrated throughout the country as a marker of progress, “the least racist is still racist”. We all know we are better off than some places, but the condescending context in which those achievements are placed in the body of this report, ironically, has proven that we are much worse off today than some of us activists and change makers previously believed.
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Over the past few days the British media has been rocked by a conversation held predominantly by two Black women in the United States of America. The discussion highlighted systemic and institutional racism in a specific context that can be transposed to a more general experience of Black women in the workplace and concerns about the representation of Black women in the Uk’s major media outlets.
As an organisation that seeks to support willing clients in a better understanding of the experiences of Black people and other racialised individuals within organisations, here are our thoughts on the language that is being used to describe the actions taken by Harry and Meghan. Words like “bombshell”, “attack”, “grenade” are being frequently utilised to capture the impact of the revelations the momentous interview shared. However the connotations of this wording, is harmful to the wider conversation about race in the UK. A racialised individual (person of colour) speaking up about the negative experiences they’ve had within an institution is not an attack on the institution, it is in fact an invitation to work together to make positive changes that make it a safe space for all.
Other wording that is being frequently used to describe this action is, “selfish”. Meghan and Harry have been accused of being self-serving in their actions at the expense of the stability of the monarchy and the health of its most senior individuals. While we cannot comment on the specific nature of Royalty and the varying needs and pressures of the stakeholders within it, we can advocate for the normalisation of speaking up about race matters, particularly when it is difficult to do so, as a selfless act, one that requires courage and a sense of optimism about the positive impact sharing revelations about your lived experience will make.
We teach racialised individuals within workplaces to think not only about themselves, but also about the next person that a racially motivated injustice could happen to. We teach racialised adults to make a habit of standing up for themselves, because throughout our younger lives in school, university and in our own families we are frequently taught to keep our heads down, minimise our own suffering and to contextualise our pain in light of the impact the label of “racist” could have on the prospects of the aggressor, whether an individual or an institution. These things have to change. Racialised people should not have to consider the fall-out when claiming and providing evidence of racism in their workplace. Racialised people should be believed and supported to contribute to discussions and actions that will lead to positive changes for their future and the future of every racialised person that enters that space after them.
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This weekend was an opportunity for many of us to enjoy the first flushes of the springtime weather, but for one of our trainers, Timi MJ (aka Mr Moneyjar), a simple bicycle ride escalated into an unwarranted stop and search situation.
In a powerful Instagram post which I urge you to read, Timi detailed his experience of being stopped by London policemen. They singled him out in a busy park, violated his legal rights, and rummaged through his wallet.
Timi’s story is upsetting, and unfortunately, it’s a common one. Young Black males in London are 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched. Overall, Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched compared to White people in the UK.
A persistent issue in policing is the disproportionate use of force on Black people, and sadly stories like Timi’s are all too familiar. Despite calls for less bias in policing and movements like Black Lives Matter becoming headline news, we are still left with the problem of discriminatory policing.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently unveiled a £6m fund towards the development of the Violence Reduction Unit, which aims to tackle the root causes of violent crime. His political opponent, Shaun Bailey, is promising more police on the streets to tackle violent crimes if he’s elected as the capital’s mayor. The government is also seemingly in favour of more policing.
As our policymakers openly express more support for police, they need to consider how these laws could impact the Black community. It is unjust for the Black community to bear a greater burden of increased police presence, especially in London, where most of the country’s Black population lives. It also sets a dangerous precedent for the policing of Black people in the capital and beyond.
In these attempts to resolve the complex crime issues, Black people are increasingly put at risk of injustice and harm. Timi’s experience is one example of how innocent Black people are targeted by the Metropolitan police. Increased policing without racial sensitivity will only create a situation where nobody wins.
The potential danger from increased policing, without the check of widespread racial sensitivity practices across London's police force, is more insidious than the Home Office’s past attempts to relate to the Black community through chicken boxes. If we don’t seek an alternative model, this intensified policing will lead to even more dangerous situations for Black people who interact with the London police. We must look beyond worsening existing patterns and practices, towards a criminal justice system that is worthy of the values it purports to uphold.