Blog by Maurice Mcleod, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda.
Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss set out the Johnson administration’s overhaul the Government’s equalities work this week, but it turned out to be nothing more than gaslighting on a governmental scale.
Truss declared the fight for equality should be led by ‘facts, not fashion’ and claimed notions of structural racism, protected characteristics and intersectionality were simply the flavour of the month and had all been proven worthless.
The Minister started her speech by proclaiming that ‘No matter your skin colour, sexuality, religion or anything else, the United Kingdom is one of the best places in the world to live’. It went downhill from there.
While accepting that Britain was still riven with inequality, she argued that the focus should be more in geographic inequality rather than on race or other protected identities. But in claiming to be more interested in evidence and facts rather than feelings Truss chose to ignore the overwhelming existing body of evidence that proves racism is a significant factor in almost all forms of civic or societal interactions in Britain.
Racism is not just a feeling, it is endemic in British institutions and society. The Joint Committee on Human Right reported just last month that the Government had largely ignored the facts on racial inequality and the possible solutions - as provided by numerous reports.
The Minister’s speech, which had its full text redacted for being too political, said she would strive for equality ‘concentrating on data and research, rather than on campaigning and listening to those with the loudest voices.’ I can only assume this to mean the Government will neither be swayed by the public demands for progress nor the protestations of those of us working in the anti-racism sector, the very people who spend their lives working out how we end racism in Britain. It is ironic that these ‘loudest voices’ are also the ones the Government turns to when it wants evidence for its latest research.
Truss argued that the real inequality that needed to be tackled was geographical and that the Government’s ‘Levelling up’ agenda would address this but, as I argued in Class’s What Will it Take to Level Up:
“When looking at geographical, namely regional inequalities, we have to consider interregional inequalities. A failure to do so would simply maintain or increase local inequalities - leaving black, Asian and minority ethnic groups even further behind their white counterparts.”
If Truss’s speech were out of step with the rest of her Government, it would be easy to dismiss it as a Minister floating an idea to see how the public responds but her lines of argument were very much in keeping with the current Government’s own.
The Government has made it clear that it dismisses the idea of structural racism and believes that the only reason black people do not is because they keep being told they shouldn’t by the media and the race equality sector.
For all Boris Johnson’s limitations, he is an expert communicator. He is usually good at reading the public mood and then promising to give the people whatever they are asking for. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the whole world was calling out for action on racial inequality. Even in the midst of a pandemic, thousands of people marched and knelt and demanded Britain take racism seriously.
The Government felt compelled to respond and Johnson set up his Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. It seemed clear from the start though that the purpose of the report was to disprove racism not challenge it. In Johnson’s own words, he wanted the Commission to end “the sense of victimisation” that lead to black and minority ethnic communities claiming they experienced racial discrimination.
From the outset, ROTA as part of CORE (the Coalition of Race Equality Organisations) has expressed our concern that this Commission will be an excuse for yet more inaction from this Government on race equality. As leading race equality organisations, we have been outspoken in our fear that the Commission has failed to engage with the existence of structural or systemic racism.
The Government’s stance on equalities is more than just a difference of opinion though. In seeking to downplay the lived experiences of people of colour there is a concerted effort to minimise the calls for action on discrimination.
This will be done by diminishing the demos, exaggerating the demands to make them sound ridiculous and pointing to inequality that is not caused by race and asking why more attention isn’t paid to those issues. The plight of white working-class communities only seems relevant when it can be used to negate calls for equality from black working-class communities. We need to be doing everything we can to bridge Britain’s widening inequality gap rather than using the underachievement of working-class children against each other.
The Equalities Minister’s speech yesterday was the clearest confirmation yet that the Government intends to follow the Trump playbook and use the Black Lives Matter movement not as an opportunity to do things differently but as a chance to galvanise the section of society that is confused, worried by or just plain opposed to the swinging of the racial pendulum.
Last month Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch argued that critical race theory should not be taught in schools as if it were a fact. She rubbished calls to decolonise the curriculum and then, as is often the case when not arguing in good faith, she went on to describe this anti-racist theory in a way that bears no resemblance to what campaigners are calling for.
“The way that certain people want the history curriculum to be taught is about good people being black people, bad people being white people. I think that’s wrong," she said.
Ridding Britain of the racism that has been part of our national make up for centuries will not be a simple task. It will take will, collaboration, listening and bravery.
The Government’s plan to tackle racism seems to be to not talk about it in the hope it goes away. Too many people have waited too long for that to be an acceptable plan. Justice delayed is justice denied and the covid pandemic has shown us that inequality is Britain is stubbornly alive and kicking.
But the first step to solving a problem has to be acceptance that it is a problem at all. You cannot hope to solve inequality if you deny that it exists.
Blog by: Maurice Mcleod, ROTA Chief Executive