Back to Blog
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.