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Response to Sewell Report

The Sewell Report had the makings of a landmark event. However, on the evidence so far, it has clearly landed so far wide of the mark that even the government is uncharacteristically shy of being associated with its own creation.

It is a strange piece of work. Lacking in methodology, selective in its use of evidence and heavy on anecdote, it sets out from a thesis of denial which it then seeks to prove.

The report insists on disaggregating minorities, effectively grouping the population into well- performing and under-performing groups, crudely pitting them against each other: The decision to raise the plight of the white working class (and only men specifically) in a report about racism is perhaps the most direct example of how the wider political agenda is brought to the very front even if one tries to read this polemic with an open mind. Despite its recognition that minorities are not a homogenous group, there is no real effort to recognise class variances within minorities, creating the impression that all minorities are essentially working class or that the distinctions are not relevant in the context of wider UK society. What is striking is that in all the comparisons, there is none made with the attainment of white middle class people, and all comparisons are made only with white working class males so that differences are exaggerated where it suits the thesis and narrowed where they don’t.

The report tries to have it both ways, acknowledging racism remains an issue but going out of its way to minimise its relevance in the present day. It almost accidentally acknowledges that race based limitations and barriers to achievement for minorities are deep lying and hard-wired into the way society functions. Instead, it terms this as the more benign and cuddly-sounding affinity bias. In so doing, it denies the lived experience of race-based discrimination that our members face on a daily basis. Getting in and getting on in the profession remains a challenge for our members and reports of racist language in the workplace, uninformed comments about our accents, our competence and our commitment are still commonplace.

Most damagingly, it creates an arbitrary framework for defining what the various manifestations of racism are, barely acknowledging the great body of work in this field and creating such an impossibly high bar for verifying these instances that they can comfortably deny institutional racism exists. Incongruous anecdotes feature with little to no context, which seem to only serve as a ‘dog whistle’ for the oppressed honest majority - for example a non- specific and seemingly random reference to a study where some probationary officers were allegedly unwilling to speak freely for fear of being racist.

The best that can be said about the report is that it is a missed opportunity. It could have brought attention to the fact that some things are better, or at least not as terrible as in the past or as some places are currently, while at the same time acknowledging that there is still much room for improvement. There is still a way to go before minority populations can feel sufficiently secure in UK society that we will be judged on our own merits and hard work, not to have our presence treated with suspicion, that when a little more help is needed that we do not have to grovel for what should be ours by right and that we will be taken seriously. That to belong in UK society you can be yourself and celebrate your heritage as equally as your British identity without having to manage the feelings of white sections of society.

This report has provided a prominent platform for the particular beliefs of the authors and reassurance to those who are happier to frame minorities as outside elements and a reservoir of problems to be managed rather than a resource for the growth and benefit of a society they are part of. It forces us to conclude that whilst it is about us, it was never intended for us.

The response can be downloaded from here

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