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In part one of a two part series Lee Jasper joins an overwhelming consensus from our communities and wider society including, academics, politicians, think tanks, professional institutions, priests, and pastors alike in commending the widely discredited Sewell Report 

The Commission report published this time last year reached the controversial conclusion that institutional racism does not exist in the UK. The ridicule, factual rebuttal and denial that rained down in response saw the report enter the annuals of Black British History as the most significant political sell-out of Black and Asian and minority communities ever seen since Trevor Phillips shut down the Commission for Racial Equality in 2007

Throughout 2020 we witnessed the brutal murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter global anti-racist movements, and the dreadfully disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority communities. 

Boris Johnson’s response was taken straight from the Br’er Fox playbook. The sly old fox is a duplicitous fictional animated cartoon character representing slave owners in Disney’s 1946 film Song of the South, that classic white supremacist homage to the American antebellum period.  

Boris was shaken by the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and subject to widespread criticism over the Windrush compensation failures the unnecessary deaths of Black and Asian people and Boris decided in response he needed to be seen to be doing something whilst doing his favourite thing, nothing. 

The Sewell report response saw an overwhelming consensus emerge from our communities and wider society including, academics, politicians, think tanks, professional institutions, priests, and pastors alike. The public response was trenchant, absolute, and excoriating. 

As a result, this scandalous literally report died on the day of its publication. As they say in Jamaica, the land of my father, a “puppy show”, think of this as the reverse of the ‘dead cat’ strategy.

Upon reading its clear that the Commission failed to deliver on nine of its ten key objectives. The Government’s anaemic response gaslights non-white people as imagining the systematic basis for the racism we face and denies our shared lived experience of discrimination. 

As Sewell said in the conclusion of the report: 

Put simply; we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism.”

All big lies and effective political propaganda must include an element of truth, and so Kemi informs us of the following.

The panel found that racism does still exist in some areas and does still require action to overcome it, but the panel also found many minority groups have achieved successes that have gone unreported or unacknowledged, and far from the nature of our society and institutions constituting a bar to success, they are more often than not an enabler of opportunity.”

Of course, this extreme right-wing Government deploys its black arts propaganda relies on the contextual backdrop of a country built on racism, a country steeped in white advantage, racism and denial.  

The Government is well aware of rising ignorance and racial hatred rates in post-Brexit Britain. 

The report also seeks to divide and rule, suggesting that some minorities do well whilst others fare far less well – they collude from this Disneyesque formulaic that racism is not the problem as Chinese, and some Africans are succeeding. In contrast, poor white and some Black people, in general, do not. 

This, of course, ignores the fact that those who suffered through hundreds of years of transatlantic slavery cannot be contrasted or compared to others whose countries, faith, language, wealth remain intact despite their experience of colonialism.

Concerning the white working-class, the reality is that class disadvantage can be overcome by economic advancement. On the other hand, the reality for Black and Asian Brits is that racism trumps class; any time, all the time, just ask Louis Hamilton or Olympic track star Bianca Williams.  

The Government response is a nakedly political attempt to pathologies Black communities in the old blame the victim’s game. The report clarifies our supposed cultural dysfunctionality, lack of knowledge, understanding, unwillingness to integrate, adopt British values or any combination of the above, and essentially make Black people the authors of their misfortune. 

In the Kumbya introduction to the Government’s response, Minister Kemi Badenoch opines that `We’re already one of the fairest countries in the world.‘ 

Back here in Brexit Blighty, we see on the daily the tragic evidence that refutes such arrant nonsense. We beg to differ, The  United Nations’ Human Development Report 2019-2020) reports on such things, and the bad news for Kemi is that Britain isn’t event in the top ten. 

And the fact that since the publication of the Commission’s report a year ago, we have witnessed increasing numbers of severe incidents of racism cases effectively gaslighting the Commission’s politically motivated conclusions. 

In recent times these examples have become a flood.  

The cases of Sarah Reed and the merciless beating by a plainclothes police officer of a handcuffed 17-year-old black boy in 2019, the appalling circumstances of the officers involved in the defilement and desecration of murdered sisters Nichole Smallman and Biba Henry or the genuinely horrific case of #ChildQ subjected to a form of police racism and brutality that equates to medieval barbarism. 

From the continuing Windrush scandal to the fact that the PCS Union has just pulled out of a Gov racism review into racism into the Civil Service claiming the Governments is engaged in a total whitewash, or the case of Robert Mokaya as reported by the BBC. Robert is unique as the only Black professor of a total of 575 chemistry professors across the UK and has been consistently rejected for research funding for the last 15 years, and all provide ample example of the reality of systemic racism in policing and Government, 

Then there is the current crop of Tory legislation that constitute a full scale political, legislative attack on progressive civil and human rights legislations and policies. 

The Election Bill is a blatant attempt to suppress the Black and Asian vote in metropolitan areas by demanding that people will now need ID to vote. 

Nationality and Borders Bill that represent the most draconian and racist legislation that wants to abolish hat little asylum rights remain and hand the Home Secretary the power to strip citizenship and deport whoever she likes. The Bill also allows the PM to change immigration legalisation without recourse to parliament. 

The Police and Crime Bill will criminalise lawful protest giving the Police a battalion of unprecedented powers that will, in effect, see the officers able to stop and search anyone who has any kind of criminal record without reasonable suspicion. 

Finally, there is the dreaded and politically hostile Tory review of the Human Rights Act. 

Levelling up. 

The Government response talks about levelling up in the report and then, in what some would say typically Johnsonian fashion, immediately levels down by refusing to introduce ethnic pay gap reporting in line with gender pay gap reporting. 

They studiously ignore the insightful and powerful Lammy Review into racism in the Criminal Justice sector, highlighting the hugely worryingly and increased numbers of Black youth and Black women being disproportionately incarcerated. 

Explain or change. 

The authoritative challenge from British Black communities to Government, the private sector and broader society is simple as it is fundamental; they either credibly explain why racial disproportionality exists or make the necessary changes to eradicate it in our lifetime. It’s really that simple. The overwhelming unambitious report will not deliver substantial race equality in our lifetime. 

To be fair the report is not wholly without merit, and I think it’s essential that we acknowledge that there are some ideas such as local Safeguarding Trusts, scrutiny over stop and search and developing a new framework for police accountability that could potentially offer both hope and opportunity and are worthy of further exploration. 

That being said, none of the recommendations are game-changers. In a post, George Floyd’s world the Government response represented a tired rehash of old Black community demands and failed Policing policy approaches. 

Both Police and Government are institutionally addicted to racism, whilst the Government’s malign neglect and hostile intent reinforces a culture of racism and explains its abiding endurance and ability to survive and positively thrive. 

The fact that the Government response fails to respond to the stats and facts as forensically detailed in the Governments own Race Equality Audit website illustrates the deep confusion on race at the heart of this administration.  

Failure to recognise and tackle racism some at enormous cost to the country and 40 years on from Brixton 1981 and having failed to learn the lessons of the past we are in real danger of a repeat of widespread civil disorder as a result. 

Racism is nothing if not irrational. The Government infected with institutional racism itself is blind to it and explains its tepid response to Sewell’s weak and utterly discredited report speaks volumes.

The Tory response to claims of institutionalised racism is to deny that systemic racism doesn’t exist. In terms of racism, denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.


Lee Jasper is the Vice-Chair for Black & Asian Lawyers for Justice, co-founder of BARAC UK and Former Equality lead for the London Criminal Justice Board

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