Will race report stoke a cultural ‘woke war’?
Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities risks ‘raising the temperature’ in racism debate
A government-commissioned review into racism appears to have further polarised opinion on race and ethnicity in the UK.
The 258-page report, published yesterday by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, found no evidence of institutional racism in the country and ventured that the UK should be held up as a beacon for other white-majority nations.
Nobody thought the report “would put the racism debate in Britain to bed”, but the risk is that its dismissal of structural racism “only raises the temperature”, says Politico’s Emilio Casalicchio. “It can be summed up thus: racism does exist, but ignore the ‘woke warrior’ arguments that Britain is a racist nation.”
Others, such as Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede race equality think tank, called it an “utter whitewash”. Labour MP David Lammy said Britain’s black community was being “gaslighted” and the report had “chosen to divide us once more”, Politico reports. Lammy also tweeted: “British people – black and white – are crying out to turn the page on racism. With this report, Boris Johnson is standing in their way.”
Many have accused Boris Johnson of commissioning a report that endorses his existing approach on race. When he announced the commission in June last year, in response to the Black Lives Matter protests, the prime minister said the “story of success” on race had been lost in the narrative and that he wanted to end the “sense of victimisation and discrimination”.
Casalicchio suggests the document “follows the government playbook in its pointed attacks on anti-racism campaigners”, and highlights one particular passage: “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.”
But Tony Sewell, chair of the commission, insisted on the BBC yesterday that he was not part of a “war on woke”.
‘Sensitive and nuanced’
Sherelle Jacobs, in The Daily Telegraph, believes Sewell’s report “dares to broach the complexity of black Britain” with “a forensic and unapologetic challenge to the liberal-Left conviction that the UK is structurally bigoted”.
She says it marks “the opening phase of a vicious new culture war”, and the headline on her comment piece refers to a “battle against the Left's ideology of racial victimhood”.
Katharine Birbalsingh, in the Daily Mail, agrees that Sewell looks at the issues of race “in a sensitive and nuanced fashion”.
“It is unfortunate that the woke brigade have made it so difficult to have this much-needed nuanced conversation on race,” she says.
‘A real moment’
Amid the debate, it emerged this morning that Samuel Kasumu, No. 10’s adviser on race, handed in his notice last week. In a leaked letter sent to the PM in February, when he first tendered his resignation, Kasumu cited tensions within Downing Street over race and said he feared the Conservatives were pursuing a “politics steeped in division”, reports The Guardian.
Although Downing Street sources speaking to the BBC rejected suggestions that his resignation was linked to the race report, Lord Woolley, a crossbench peer who appointed Kasumu to No. 10’s race disparity unit when Theresa May was PM, claimed: “The only black special adviser in No. 10 has felt that his only recourse to this grubby, divisive Sewell report is to resign.”
He added: “This is going to be a real moment for the PM and his aides at No. 10 Downing Street. Black people around the country are incandescent with rage that their lived experience of persistent race inequality is being denied and belittled.”