Designed to fail: Britain’s commission on race

In April 2021, the UN accused the British government of attempting to “normalise white supremacy” following the publication of The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) in March. Established in 2020, CRED was the government’s attempt to investigate race and ethnic disparities in the UK following the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. 

According to GOV.UK, the United Kingdom public sector information website, the commission sets out a “new positive agenda for change” by looking into “why disparities exist” to help “drive effective and lasting change” for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. 

Despite CRED’s seemingly good intentions, the commission has been condemned by the United Nations. One expert stated that the report presented racism as “a product of people of African descent” whilst the “pervasive role that the social construction of race was designed to play in society, particularly in normalizing atrocity” was entirely ignored. 

The document makes many questionable suggestions regarding how “effective and lasting change” ought to be driven. One such proposition was the introduction of a new school resource with which children would be taught that the “Caribbean experience” of “the slave period” was “not only […] about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain”.

The school resource reflects the general nature of CRED in which colonial damage caused to BAME communities is overlooked, Black history is countermand and white ideals of how Black identity ought to be, are prioritised. These instances help to explain why the commission has been accused of “putting a positive spin on slavery and empire”. The UN likened CRED’s findings to the imperialistic attitudes of colonial Britain stating, “the report cites dubious evidence to make claims that rationalise white supremacy by using the familiar arguments that have always justified racial hierarchy”.

Munira Mirza was elected by Boris Johnson to recruit members of the commission. However, Mirza had previously voiced problematic opinions regarding race and religion in the UK such as a comment that reffered to British Muslims as “a nation within a nation”. However, in 2020, when Boris Johnson was asked by Grazia magazine which five women inspired him the most, he picked Mirza and stated, “she is a powerful nonsense detector”. Mirza considers the existence of institutional racism nonsense, stating it is “a perception more than a reality”.

Institutional racism is discrimination or unequal treatment of a particular ethnic or marginalized group arising from systems structures or expectations that become established within an institution. Denying that institutional racism exists is linked to the wider belief that BAME people have the same privileges as white people which is untrue for mutliple reasons. For example, in 2020 The Social Metric Commissions found that 46% of people living in families where the head of household was Black/African/Caribbean/Black British were living in poverty compared to just 19% of those living in families where the head of the household was white. This divide reflects centuries of white privilege that have made it difficult for BAME people to reach an equal level of economic security. 

When considering the social disparity between white and BAME people in the UK, it is ironic that Mirza, who denies the existence of institutional racism, was put in charge of a commission seeking a “positive agenda for change” for BAME communities. 

Although it presents itself as improving the lives of BAME people in the UK, CRED is not “a positive agenda for change”. Instead, CRED represents the shocking reality that in 2021, the government is desperate to detach people of colour from their cultural histories and dismiss any struggles they continue to face as a result of generations of systematic oppression. 

Based on Boris Johnson’s appointment of Munira Mirza, the publication of a watered-down reflection of racial injustice in the UK seems to have been the intention behind the establishment of CRED. 

Madeleine Williams