This was a chance for an honest report about Black lives and the progress on racial equality. Instead we have been served a toxic mix of ideological wrongheadedness and cynical electoral strategy.
First, let’s be clear: institutional racism exists in this country. We only have to look at the pandemic for proof: Black and ethnic minority people are more likely to have died during this pandemic, more likely to be frontline workers at high risk, and more likely to be on low pay.
More widely, ethnic minorities are more likely to be stopped and searched, to be arrested, and to end up in prison but less likely to own their own homes. Minority women are far more likely to die in childbirth. The idea that Britain is, as the report claims, “a model for white majority countries” simply denies the lived experience of millions of people.
The very first step to tackling racism in the 21st Century is to acknowledge the scale of the problem, not brush it under the carpet.
Twenty years on from the landmark Macpherson Inquiry, which identified institutionalised racism in the police force and encouraged organisations to take a long hard look at themselves, the government risks taking us backwards.
The very first step to tackling racism in the 21st Century is to acknowledge the scale of the problem, not brush it under the carpet. As national secretary for public services at GMB representing thousands of workers of colour, I have a responsibility to call this report exactly what it is: a dangerous polemic that cherry picks statistics and perpetuates false narratives.
More cynically, this report shows yet again how the government is mirroring Trumpian tactics to try and divide and rule working class people and communities. It is trying to goad Labour into an argument about identity through a misguided notion of what so-called “red wall” voters want.
I live in “red wall” Darlington. We must not accept this division. People in white working-class communities want fairness. They are not stupid, and they are not racist. We all know very well that socio-economic status and what your parents earn is a huge factor in how you get on in life.
Those who seek to divide white and Black and ethnic minority working class people do so to protect and advance their own power.
This is not a zero-sum game but the dangers the government’s strategy holds are profound – it is deliberately pitched to divide at a time of increased insecurity across the whole economy. That division will ultimately benefit the far right, who, make no mistake, will use this report as a talking point for the far right. The government know this, and simply does not care.
Those who seek to divide white and Black and ethnic minority working class people do so to protect and advance their own power. They have no interest in addressing the structural inequality in our society because the system works very well for them as it is.
Much of what is being said is what many Tory politicians believe. It is ideology underpinned with privilege and aligned to an electoral plan. That is why, while the Prime Minister’s strategy is dangerous and divisive, it cannot be not surprising.
By denying the existence of institutional racism, the government is intentionally denying the opportunity to tackle burning injustices that are still plague us.
Rehana Azam is national secretary at GMB
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