Opinion

Government-backed gaslighting

In a surprise to no one who was paying attention the British government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, has concluded that ‘concerns the UK is institutionally racist are not borne out by the evidence’. This was never a genuine attempt to understand the issues of racism that erupted onto the surface last summer, but a naked ploy by the most brazenly racist government in memory to prove that there is not a problem. It was only in 2017 that Theresa May’s Race Disparity Audit and Labour MP David Lammy’s review summarised the clear evidence of systemic racism. These gestures just confirmed countless academic research efforts that show a very clear picture of structural racism across all areas of life (shameless self promotion here, but I just published a book outlining the scale and nature of the problem). If you were unconvinced then the disproportionate death rates of Covid-19 on racialized communities should have been enough to wake you from your stupor. The evidence of institutional racism is so well established that anyone arguing it does not exist is either a liar or a fool. This report does not deserve the dignity of a response to its claims because it is not research but propaganda, whose sole purpose is to legitimise the government’s racist agenda.

The contempt for movements to address racism were summed up with Priti Patel’s denouncing of the BLM protests as ‘dreadful’ and a subsequent policing bill aimed at criminalizing protest and somehow making the penalty for defacing a statue harsher than for committing a rape. As Home Secretary Patel has continued the racist immigration policy of her predecessors complete with deportation flights, lack of compensation for victims of the Windrush Scandal and stripping Shamimah Begum of her citizenship because we know where she’s “really” from. Meanwhile the government has openly defended the white curriculum with Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch arguing that ‘our curriculum does not need to be decolonised, for the simple reason that it is not colonised’. So when the scale of the BLM protests forced the government into some kind of response they assembled a collection of institutional racism deniers and asked them to “prove” that the problem did not exist. Malcolm would have called this spectacle a ‘circus with clowns and all’, with the two biggest being Munira Mirza, head of the policy unit and Tony Sewell, head of the review. It is hardly a coincidence that the faces of the report are Black and Brown, this is how cynical identity politics plays out in practice: if you want to deny racism you need to find a Darkie to carry the tune.

Johnson gave the game away when he declared how proud he was ‘to lead the most ethnically diverse government in the history of this country, with two of the four great offices of state held by a man and a woman of Indian origin’. The problem is that diversity has never been a solution to racism. The British army in colonial India was incredibly diverse, with more troops from India than Britain. That did not prevent the diversity of British troops committing the Amritsar massacre in 1919. The tiny island of Britain was only able to rule a quarter of the world with the cooperation of countless Black and Brown collaborators. Diversity should never have been the goal and it is being used as a fig leaf by this government to hide their naked racism. The Sewell report is just the latest example of putting a Black face on White racism.

The only positive from this debacle is that it has shown the race relations industry for the sham that it has become. Race relations legislation and bodies like the Commission for Race Equality were won through struggle and there was once some optimism about what could be achieved. Trevor ‘formerly of the Black community’ Phillip’s career change to institutional racism denier was so disappointing because at one point some people had invested some faith in his work with government. Phillips was more dangerous when he had credibility, the definition of the Uncle Tom leading the people astray whilst professing to be on our side. But in these brazen efforts to use token figures like Badenoch; the dismantling of race relations organisations; and gaslighting reports from the likes of Sewell they are no longer even trying to pretend. But at least this means we won’t be drawn in by the Black and Brown faces tapdancing along to the tune and can recognise their shucking and jiving for exactly what it is.

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