CPD Working Group response to the UK Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report

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BISA’s Colonial, Postcolonial and Decolonial Working Group (CPD) is appalled by the UK Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED), chaired by Dr Tony Sewell. We condemn its recently published report in particular, its essential conclusion that structural racism does not exist here in the UK, and its damaging erasure of the UK’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Community’s experiences, scholarship and struggles that articulate a very different reality. As scholars of International Relations, Development and Political Economy with a focus on race and colonial histories, CPD’s work conceives of racial ‘discrimination’ and ‘disparity’ as manifesting from both the ongoing colonial relations that structure, stratify, divide and racialise UK communities of colour, alongside  the erasure of these colonial histories. From this lens – concurring with the University College Union, the British Sociological Association, and the Open Letter produced by our colleagues in education research, among many others – we contend that the clear effects of this report enables and contributes to: 1) the UK’s government’s denial of accountability for its own racist actions; 2) the government’s ongoing culture-war agenda against scholarship and public sphere work that reveals the violence of the British Empire, and 3) the undermining of struggles of black and brown communities to build solidarity and spotlight the deeply racist structures that shape life in the UK, exemplified in last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. We also understand that the impact of the report has been to trigger disappointment, sadness, anger, and even trauma among communities of colour, including among our academic colleagues, who face institutional racism and the denial of their lived experiences on a daily basis. 

The CRED report operates at multiple registers of distortion: First, it gaslights communities of colour, shifting blame for gaps in educational attainment and employment access and success onto these groups themselves, suggesting that reasons for “minority success or failure” are “embedded in the cultures and attitudes of those minority communities themselves… and that different experiences of family life and structure can explain many disparities in education outcomes and crime.” Second, the report intersects its clear misrepresentations of how structural and direct racism operates in schools and workplaces with an attempted rehabilitation of the enslavement of African peoples in its reference to “a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain.” And finally, it compounds this point by citing the negative, divisive influence of campaigns to “decolonise the curriculum” on British memory and subjecthood; calling for educational resources that celebrate Britain’s influence in the world.

The report’s timing is also noteworthy: it appears just a month after the government’s introduction of new laws that cement ‘free speech’ as a mode of disciplining and silencing work that challenges white supremacist views on UK campuses. It also appears alongside government attempts to pass the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021, which gives new powers to the police and judicial bodies, for the management, restriction and criminalisation of dissent (and points explicitly to the need to protect British monuments from unruly protesters). We find an easy - and sinister – connection between these moments, practices and outputs of government policy, and see them as a deplorable reaction to the BLM protests that took place last summer and movements demanding justice and equality for communities of colour in the UK in the wake of the disproportionate deaths of people of colour as a result of Covid-19. The report ultimately silences communities of colour, their allies and anti-racist campaigners, activists, and supporters of social justice. This will have the effect of emboldening racists and further help justify discriminatory government practices.

In light of the above, CPD absolutely condemns the report and its conclusions.