Just as the coronavirus pandemic shines a light on existing inequalities, Runnymede releases important deep analysis on race and racism in the UK. Here, Dr Omar Khan, Runnymede Director and co-author of the freely available book, outlines what you can expect to find in it.
Today the Runnymede Trust publishes a landmark study, Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK: State of the Nation, which outlines the extent of ethnic inequalities across the country.
The joint report with 14 academics and the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) and Policy Press at the University of Bristol, contains evidence of inequalities across criminal justice, education, employment, housing and health.
Of course, health inequalities have been thrown into sharp relief by the coronavirus pandemic. But as the impact of the crisis is felt, two points related to inequalities more generally are clear. First, that inequalities in Britain were already significant and systemic before COVID19; and second, that the consequences of the pandemic are likely to increase social and economic inequalities, as well as health inequalities.
In the State of the Nation, each chapter presents data outlining the nature of ethnic inequalities in Britain today. But as Runnymede argues in the conclusion, data by itself cannot tackle inequalities. We have made 53 recommendations at the end of the report, so that policymakers and other decision-makers can tackle longstanding racial inequalities. Many of these will be familiar to researchers and activists and as we put it in the conclusion "the failure to implement these recommendations partly reflects the gap between the understanding of racism among those who work on the topic, and the policymakers and wider public who don’t." (page 229)
Three themes cut across the chapters. The first is that history matters in the context of understanding inequalities in Britain because those inequalities are not randomly patterned. The reasons why particular groups, with particular surnames or phenotypes experience injustices is linked to stereotypes developed to centuries ago to justify the enslavement of African people and colonialism, even in retrospect. Runnymede and many others have been arguing for decades that Britain needs to do a better job recognising this history, including in our schools. However this is not just a question of accurate history. It’s about understanding why ethnic inequalities persist today in Britain, and the deep vein of racist thinking in our society.
Enforcement of anti-discrimination law
The second theme is the need to better enforce and build on existing anti-discrimination law and policy. The Windrush scandal showed a government unable to understand why its hostile immigration policies were racially discriminatory, even when apologising to Caribbean Prime Ministers. Meanwile, tools such as the public sector equality duty have been deliberately weakened, eroding accountability and making it more likely that racial inequalities will worsen.
But to tackle the extent and persistence of racial inequalities in Britain today we need to go beyond a non-discrimination approach. We need to see systemic changes in our institutions both in their practices and outcomes. The focus must be about tackling inequalities generally – of class, gender, sexuality – if we are to address racial inequalities specifically.
Democracy and identity
The third and final theme is how tackling racism relates to our democracy and identity. Racial inequalities have sadly been a common feature of British history and identity over the past four centuries. There should be greater recognition of the struggles of black people in making progress towards equality, rather than imagining those values have been embryonic in our culture since Magna Carta.
As these three themes - and the 53 recommendations - suggest, we must first acknowledge that things have not always been positive when it comes to race in Britain. Policy and practice have rarely directly targeted racial inequalities as a matter of principle. At the same time we need a positive vision for our future, that links all our fates together; a vision that may seem more plausible in in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
A Britain free of racism and other forms of injustice has been Runnymede’s ambitious goal since it was founded more than 50 years ago. If the analysis in State of the Nation shows how far we have to go to realise that vision, the recommendations and arguments in the book outline a path to progress for the millions of people whose lives continue to be blighted by racism ingrained in the structures that organise our society.
Dr Omar Khan tweets here: @OmarOmalleyKhan