Statement on the Report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities
The Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality believes the recommendations of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities are based on incomplete and flawed understandings of racism and how it operates within the institutions in our society. Racism is endemic in our society. It exists not only in individual acts of race hate but also within the policies and processes of institutions. Thus giving rise to the race and ethnic disparities which the Report attempts to explain away through the use of two well-worn tools, firstly, the “cultural background” of Black and global majority people as an explanation for their failure to succeed or secondly, the promulgation of a deficit discourse which serves to blame the victim and merely maintains the racial hierarchy already evident in society. The Report states and promotes the idea that institutional racism does not exist. This is a gross betrayal of the lived experiences of people from Black and global majority groups. The use of age-old explanations within the Report to further embed racial tropes serves to add insult to 400 years of injury endured by Black and global majority communities. People from Black and global majority heritage backgrounds are tired of being told it is our fault. That’s an easy way out. It is much harder to root out structural racism and so much easier to deny its existence.
Educational research over a number of years has shown how structural racism operates to impact on the educational outcomes of certain minority ethnic students. Data within any report can easily be used to promote ideological aims. It is used in such a manner within this report.
The Sewell Report notes the high attainment of Indian and Chinese students. Some of these high achieving students may well have high aspirations and succeed in gaining entry to study medicine. Medicine is considered as a high-status profession in all societies. However, research (Linton 2020, Shah and Ahluwalia 2019, GMC 2018, Appleby 2018, Royal College of Physicians 2018, Woolf et al. 2016) shows there is an awarding gap in medicine; that UK Black and global majority medical students are three times more likely to fail an exam than White counterparts; that 72% of ethnic minority foundation doctors applying for a speciality training programme succeeded on their first attempt, while 81% of white doctors do so; UK Black and global majority graduates are four times more likely to fail the Clinical Skills Assessment exams as White counterparts on the first attempt; that Black and global majority doctors are more likely to have to apply for more posts than White doctors, less likely to be shortlisted and less likely to be appointed. Black and global majority doctors are more likely to be referred to the General Medical Council, their cases are more likely to be investigated and they may face harsher sanctions afterwards. A minority ethnic medical consultant earns 4.9% less than their White counterpart. Why would that be the case if notions of deficit did not prevail within medical management (which is predominantly white)? This is the experience which may await the high aspiring and attaining Indian or Chinese students should they wish to enter a highly regarded profession such as medicine. Why do these disparities exist when they get to medical school? If not, institutional racism. Then what? Their cultural background? Their deficiency or their class? For those highly aspirational and high achieving minority ethnic youngsters who enter medicine they are still within a system which considers them less than or deficient. This is the journey and legacy of institutional racism.
The Sewell Report focusses on Black students in poverty and how their educational progress is impeded by poverty. However, it fails to identify how the intersectional factors of race and poverty impact on the life chances of Black Caribbean youngsters. Racism clearly plays a part. Research by Rollock et al (2015) traces the educational journeys of Black middle-class students. The findings show how racism at school evident in the low expectations of these students by their teachers and the meting out of harsher sanctions erodes the self-esteem and confidence of Black students. The research tells the story of Black middle-class parents’ constant battles with school authorities to halt the trajectory of detriment for their children. There is a need to better educate pre-service and in-service teachers to understand the effects of institutional racism as defined by the Macpherson Inquiry 1999 in order to expose and expunge the “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. It persists because of the failure of the organisation openly and adequately to recognise and address its existence and causes by policy, example and leadership”. The leadership of this Commission has disappointingly failed minority ethnic people in Britain.