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31 March 2021updated 23 Jul 2021 1:32pm

The government has made sure its new racism report is of no use whatsoever

The way the Race and Ethnic Disparities Commission report has been released tells us nothing about racism in Britain – and everything about the government.

By Ailbhe Rea

The Race and Ethnic Disparities Commission, established by Boris Johnson last year, publishes its much-anticipated report this morning at 11.30am.

That is worth emphasising. This high-profile, 264-page report has not yet, at the time of writing, been published, but it dominates the news cycle this morning, after an 800-word summary was released to the press in some rather cynical news management, as colleagues across the media have been quick to note.

It is quite literally impossible to report on or engage substantially with the report’s findings, when the report is not released. Instead, the discussion has been restricted to engaging with the spin around it: the summary indicates that the report finds “the well-meaning idealism of many young people who claim the country is still institutionally racist is not borne out by the evidence”. It argues that “overt racism” still exists but that institutional racism doesn’t, and that racism is “less important” in explaining social disparities.

The way this report has been released tells you all you need to know. The most important thing about it is that it is yet another signal of the government’s new way of talking about race and attacking head on the consensus around racial disparities that has existed across the British political spectrum.

As for its substance and recommendations, the report could contain sensible policy suggestions to address the disparities that it identifies, although it is not a promising start that the major recommendation leaked in advance – that the government ditches the term “Bame” (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) – is already government policy.

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But the report has been set up so that, on day one of the news cycle, it can only be engaged with on the level of spin. Tomorrow, after the full report has been published and read, its evidence and policy proposals will be in the public domain and ripe for analysis and debate. But it will be old news. 

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This report represents a “major shift in the race debate”, according to its own summary. It does. It will hurt a lot of people and rile others, and we will forever be arguing about the definition of “institutional racism”.

But that’s all. What this report doesn’t do is move the policy debate around racial disparities in the UK forward in any way whatsoever.

[see also: A lifetime of inequality: how black Britons face discrimination at every age]