The battle against the Left’s ideology of racial victimhood has only just begun
We have entered the opening phase of a vicious new culture war. A Government-commissioned review, launched in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matters protests, has come to the heretical conclusion that race is less important than family and class in explaining the outcomes of different groups. The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report is a forensic and unapologetic challenge to the liberal-Left conviction that the UK is structurally bigoted. It finds no evidence that institutional racism exists in Britain. In fact, it points out that, in some areas, such as education, particular ethnic minorities outperform their white counterparts. Even more boldly it ventures that UK should be seen as a model for other white-majority nations.
Hours before the report was even published, it had already been trashed by the Left-wing activists who dominate discourse on race in Britain. Maurice Mcleod, the chief executive of Race on the Agenda, blasted the report as “government level gaslighting”. Halima Begum, head of the Runnymede Trust, called it a “gross offence” to grieving families of ethnic minorities who have died of Covid. Black Lives Matter, which has bloomed from a grassroots rabble into a slick establishment operation, snipped that it was “perplexed” by the report’s methodology and “disappointed” by oversight of police racism.
A hostile reception is, on one level, a good sign. The report is a brave first step in confronting the Neo-Marxist ideology that has poisoned conversations about race. Its emphasis on concrete evidence rather than patronising theories – from critical race to unconcious bias – is radical. It is a deep rejection of “political blackness” – a post-communist doctrine seeded in the civil rights solidarity of 1960s, which lumps minorities together in a battle against capitalist white privilege. The inquiry’s jettisoning of the term BAME is not merely “semantics”, but the start of a fierce academic battle. The cliched acronym epitomises the 30-year colonisation of the cultural mainstream by the hard-Left, travelling from radicalised anthropology departments to executive boardrooms, public bodies, and media outfits.
Tony Sewell – the Brixton-born educationalist who led the Commission – is trying to shift the debate away from victimising meta-theories towards a more nuanced discussion about race. His investigation is barbed with inconvenient facts. The ethnic pay gap has shrunk to 2.3 per cent overall and barely registers for employees under 30. Diversity is improving in professions like medicine and law. Sewell’s report dares to broach the complexity of black Britain.
It finds, for example, that the exclusion rate for black Caribbean pupils is double that of their black African counterparts. Black Caribbean pupils are the only ethnic minority group that do not do as well or better than their white counterparts. Sewell has expressed his hope that this will go down as a landmark report which changes the dialogue over coming decades. That depends on how much fight – and skill – the centre-Right possesses.
It will have to overthrow a hard-Left nexus of academics, NGOs and political agitators. They have been calling the shots ever since a notorious coup against the Institute for Race Relations in 1972. A three-year guerilla assault on the body, led by the novelist Ambalavaner Sivanandan, resulted in resignations, and a watershed shift in research focus from black people to white institutions. Sivanandan’s theory of “institutional racism” – that it is first finds venomous roots in the laws of the land (for example in biased immigration legislation), and then branches out to the executive and judiciary – went mainstream in the wake of the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Since then its even more ambitious cousin, structural racism, has found evidence of oppression in everything from the benefits system to Kew Gardens’ plants. Unconscious bias training has become a multi-million pound industry. Youth groups pitch themselves as intermediaries between black teens and “white-dominated” police and social services. Lecturers ride a gravy train of anti-racism advocacy and book deals on decolonising human rights.
The only way to challenge such a vast, profitable and entrenched enterprise is to build a rival one in parallel. Funding must be secured for academic research into the challenges faced by the specific groups outlined in the Sewell report – particularly Caribbean Brits, the white working class and British Pakistanis. New NGOs and organisations with the same granular focus will also be needed. Yet this is the easy part. More difficult will be to contest a victimhood mentality that is becoming as entrenched as religious dogma. For all its troubles, America offers some inspiration here. Latinos and Afro-Americans identify as American in a way their British counterparts don’t because the country’s founding ideas – like freedom and the American Dream – are so bewitching. We desperately lack our own story of Britishness fired by energetic values.
Winning hearts and minds will also demand sensitivity and courage. The Tories need to tread carefully as they make inroads into the political vipers nest of “parental responsibility”. They will also have to alter their language. We need to shift the debate, not from “inequality” to “culture” – but to “counter-culture”. The problem is not the customs of some immigrant groups per se but the toxic attitudes that have spread among second and third generation Britons.
Most controversially, it is important not to fall into the trap of downplaying Britain’s race problems. Woke teachings have enjoyed such momentum in recent years because multiculturalism has failed. The orthodoxy that tensions resolve themselves if you give immigrants cultural “space” has proved naive. Conservatives must confront the basic truth that progress can be both enriching and a destructive. They might well find more support for this revelation than the home truths of the Sewell report.
It is no coincidence that the ethnic groups who feel the paradoxes of immigration most profoundly have rejected metropolitanland’s sunny mythology of “samba, saris and samosas” just as virulently as the white working class.
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