The UK’s Official Report on Racism is a Travesty

Photograph Source: Katie Crampton (WMUK) – CC BY-SA 4.0

Protests over the killing of George Floyd occurred outside the US. In the UK these protests prompted the government to order an official report on racial inequality.

The setting-up of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED, a sardonic appellation worthy of George Orwell’s 1984) by Boris “BoJo” Johnson was a version of an age-old strategy, namely, appoint a commission of trusties who can then be guaranteed to deliver a whitewash (even though the 10-person commission had only 1 white member).

The 258-page report, commissioned last year and published last Wednesday, came to conclusions that beggared belief and prompted widespread public derision. A sample of CRED’s conclusions:

+ CRED found that although more needs to be done, Britain should be seen as a “model for other white-majority countries”.

+ CRED’s report claimed institutional racism does not exist in the UK, that the term “structural racism” was “too liberally used”, and that influences such as socioeconomic background, culture and religion had a “more significant impact on life chances”. After CRED’s report was released, the government admitted that a “considerable number” of people giving evidence, many from ethnic minorities, had in fact testified to CRED that structural racism was a serious problem.

+ While CRED’s report accepted that more needed to be done on the British Empire and colonization in schools, it suggested that the history curriculum in British schools should teach “a new story” about slavery, and emphasize that slavery is not only “about profit and suffering”, but how “culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain”. CRED’s critics pointed out that this looks like fantasy-attempt to imbue slavery with at least one redeeming feature, when slavery had none. American readers may recall how the egregious Trump-supporter Ben Carson (an Afro-American) described slaves as “economic immigrants”. Ukanian officialdom now appears to have a similar version of this mendacious narrative.

+ CRED’s chapter on health acknowledges differences across ethnic backgrounds but describes the situation as “much more variable”, citing the part played by individual choices, and advising people, in the familiar right-wing libertarian way, to “take control of their own health”. CRED had no medical experts.

+ The major immigrant Windrush scandal, is mentioned just twice in CRED’s report. The report concludes that Britain is no longer a place where “the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”, despite this scandal constituting an undeniable example in recent times where Tory government decisions had appalling racially discriminatory, consequences. Saying the Windrush disgrace is an instance “where ethnic minority communities have rightly felt let down”, CRED’s report continues: “Outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted”.

The shameful truth here is quite different. Many of those affected by the Windrush scandal had been born British subjects, they and their parents having arrived legally in the UK before 1973, from Caribbean countries as members of the “Windrush generation” (named after the Empire Windrush), the ship bringing one of the first groups of West Indian migrants to the UK in 1948. Ukania at that time was in desperate need of migrant labour for its postwar reconstruction.

Numerous members of the Windrush generation, as a result of the current Tory “hostile environment” policy towards these legal immigrants, were deported because they were given entry documents subsequently destroyed by the Home Office (Ukania’s interior ministry), an unknown number were placed in detention, lost their jobs or homes, and had legally-issued passports confiscated or were denied welfare benefits or medical care for which they qualified by law.

An independent investigation into the underlying context of the Windrush scandal published last year, said the Home Office displayed “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” on race issues, “consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism”.

To say of the Windrush fiasco, as CRED did, that “outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted” reflects completely the depths of the government’s cynicism.

+ CRED also mischaracterized significantly the part played by experts in its compilation, and some have reacted with an understandable fury. The report’s Appendix D, headed “Stakeholders list of organisations and individuals”, said CRED had “heard evidence from many during the course of its work” and “would like to thank the following for their participation”. This characterization turned out to be false. To quote The Huffington Post:

“Author SI Martin, who is black, said he only discovered his name was in the appendix, under a sub-heading entitled “Academics and individuals”, on the day after the report was published and claimed CRED had not contacted him.

Asked for his reaction, he told the PA news agency: “Initially, hilarity. Because of all of the names that could have appeared on that document attesting to its credibility, mine would have been the least”.

“If they’d known the first thing about me I’d have been the last person chosen.”

He said that “publicly and in writing, in every public arena, all of my ideas and sentiment are diametrically opposed to practically everything in that document”.

“Those who know me, those who know anything about me, would understand the ridiculousness of my name being associated with that”, he added.

It is understood that Martin was named in error and will be removed from the acknowledgements”.

In a similar position to Martin was Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University. After seeing his name on CRED’s list, Bell told the Daily Telegraph: “Totally news to me. I never spoke to them… I did support this office and had a call with them, but that is not the report – it is different”.

Stephen Bourne, a historian, told PA Media he was contacted last June by No 10’s adviser on racial and ethnic issues, Samuel Kasumu (who resigned the day after CRED’s report was published), and invited to a Zoom meeting during Black History month alongside other historians of black Britain.

He later accepted the invitation in October, but was not told “anything about a commission”.

Bourne added: “I knew nothing about this commission, knew nothing about a report, they didn’t even mention historians, but I just assumed that is what it would be”.

Bourne delivered his lecture to a group of people on Zoom, without any introductions beforehand. He was flabbergasted to find out later what their CRED roles were after looking-up their names online.

Bourne said he then contacted Samuel Kasumu and “read him the riot act”, saying it was “unprofessional and discourteous” to mislead him into thinking he was participating in a roundtable discussion with other academics when it was in fact a session intended for CRED and its report.

Bourne said he had been “misled” and was “very disappointed and very upset” that his name was “attached to a report as a stakeholder when I didn’t have anything to do with it and I don’t actually agree with the report” — “The report is flawed and I’m not happy with the report”.

A spokesperson for CRED said: “Stephen Bourne participated in a 10 Downing Street event for Black History Month, in which he made a valuable contribution about the curriculum which influenced the thinking of the commissioners on the subject”, before going on to say that “We thanked him as a courtesy.”

As already mentioned, Downing Street’s most senior Black adviser, Samuel Kasumu, quit his post the day after the report’s publication, although No.10 sources maintained his leaving had “absolutely nothing to do with the report”.

The Runnymede Trust, a race equality think-tank, said the report was “littered with racist tropes”, such as pointing to the “optimism” of some immigrants as opposed to others (thereby invoking the “model minority” myth, mainly to do with Asian immigrants), references to absent Black fathers, and claims of “rising sensitivity” among ethnic minorities to racism (as if racism is not a problem, albeit of a different kind, for the white majority as well).

The government stuffed CRED with institutional-racism deniers to distort the evidence and arrive at pre-determined conclusions in line with its agenda for a culture war on the issues of race and education– the Tories having signalled their intention to make education more “patriotic” some time ago.

CRED’s aim, in accord with the Tory government’s agenda, was thus not to focus on the realities of racial disparities in the UK, but to contain and steer a volatile debate in a direction where this racism can be rebranded as an issue over-stated by anti-racist “activists” pursuing their own “radical political agenda”, and so forth.

The task confronting Brits now is to compel CRED to disclose any terms of reference given it by BoJo, as well as the criteria he used for the composition of CRED, and the criteria for evidence used by the commission BoJo appointed. The shady role of the suddenly vanished Samuel Kasumu must also be investigated.

Compelling evidence that the CRED report is little more than an exercise in gaslighting is provided by its failure to interview during its consultative process the person who appointed it, BoJo himself. The members of CRED would have found that this is what the palpable racist BoJo has written or said in the past:

+ Calling women wearing the burqa “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.

+ Writing a ditty about the Turkish President having sex with a goat.

+ Writing about the Congo: “No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird”.

+ Dismissing “part-Kenyan” Barack Obama’s views on Britain.

+ Describing Commonwealth citizens as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.

+ Describing Ugandan children who sang for him as “Aids-ridden choristers”.


+ Calling Papua New Guinea a country with “orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing”.

+ Calling Africa “that country”.

+ Saying Malaysian women go to university to “find men to marry”.

+ Saying Africa “may be a blot, but not on our conscience. … The problem is, we are not in charge anymore”.

+ Refusing to condemn an aide who said that “black people have lower IQs on average”.

+ On FGM in Africa: “some readers may feel vaguely that the African male should not be stampeded into abandoning his ancient prerogatives”.

A country with a proven racist serving as its leader, had that leader appoint a commission, CRED the incredible, which concluded that Ukania is as “a model of racial equality”.

Only so much cynicism can be absorbed, even by the most languidly blasé.

But absorbed it will be by BoJo’s Little Englander base, especially in the absence of a firm Labour opposition.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.