Has institutional racism in the UK disappeared?
The government’s recent race report has ironically, in claiming the diseappearance of systemic racism in the UK, disproven its own conclusion. Eirwen Abberley Watton discusses the ways in which institutional racism still pervades British society.
A recent report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has claimed that institutional racism is no longer a prevalent issue in the UK. The report comes after a resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. In the words of the report, “we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities.” Accordingly, the government has decided to deny petitions campaigning for education about colonialism and slavery to be a mandatory part of the British curriculum.
The report dismisses institutional racism, using justifications such as how non-white children often perform better than white children in education, and how the ethnic pay gap has fallen to an average of 2.3 per cent. It suggests that family structure and social class have a greater impact on people’s lives than race. The unemployment rate of Black and Muslim minorities, however, is double that of their white British peers. They are twice as likely to live in overcrowded housing. They are also much more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. In a recent example, the mortality rate for deaths involving COVID-19 was highest among males of Black ethnic background—almost three times greater than that of white males. The attempt to shift the focus from race onto social class seems to ignore the correlation between minority ethnicities and lower social class.
Asserting “Britishness” as the pillar of our current, white-centred curriculum reproduces the marginalisation of non-white British history and achievements
Impact of Omission, an organisation fighting for racial equality in the UK, has emphasised the importance of education in making meaningful change. Their petition to decolonise the curriculum has gained over 250,000 signatures. The campaign to make education on Britain’s imperial past a compulsory part of education is driven by a survey that received over 56,000 responses. The results found that while 86 per cent of respondents learned about The Tudors in school, only 9.9 per cent were taught about the role of slavery in the British Industrial Revolution, and only 1.9 per cent about the colonisation of Africa. The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, however, takes a disparaging stance towards petitions calling for the British curriculum to be ‘decolonised.’ It describes the suggested inclusion of Black history, including both colonial history and the achievements of Black pioneers, as “token […] achievement[s].” Given the evidence of enduring racial inequality in the UK today, the government’s refusal to make education on Britain’s colonial past compulsory has provoked anger and shock from those fighting for greater equality.
The report is a frustrating step backwards that overshadows Wales’ recent decision to make BAME history a mandatory part of the curriculum. Wales’ Minister for Education Kirsty Williams has promised £500,000 to anti-racism training for teachers, scholarships for BAME student teachers and resources for the new curriculum. This promising result proves that the letters we send and the petitions we sign can create hopeful change. For now, though, the report’s emphasis on “Britishness,” while in the same breath refusing to make colonial history a mandatory part of the curriculum, suggests that the representation of ethnic minorities in British education is not a priority. Asserting “Britishness” as the pillar of our current, white-centred curriculum reproduces the marginalisation of non-white British history and achievements.