The Voice: Why Boris Johnson needs to reject The Sewell Report and launch an action plan to implement previous race reports

IT IS now over a week since the publication of Tony Sewell’s race report which the community, by and large, has given a massive thumbs down because it demeans our individual and collective lived experience of structural racism.

The report reminds me of the ones done in the 1960s and 1970s. Those reports suggested that immigrant children could survive the colour bar of their parents if they worked hard and were grateful to be British.

Instead of being forward thinking and adding a new debate on race, the report is almost stuck in a time warp or even ‘lost in space’. It does not face the true realities of 2021.

We are in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed current inequalities and structural racism in society (though we have known about these problems for decades and they have been highlighted by previous independent commissioned reports.)

It is disappointing that the report fails to look at school exclusion, racism in schools, increasing demand for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and behavioural support. All these issues form part of a toxic environment, and the new way that racism is transmitted.

I must admit it is different from my experience of going to school, when a lot of us were classed as educationally ‘subnormal’ and told that going to university was not an option!

Without proper policies, accountability and transformational change in public, private and voluntary sector institutions, young people who are of school age will be like lambs to the slaughter – in the same way their parents and grandparents were.

The pervasive nature of the legacies of enslavement and colonisation, and the ways they play out in higher education or the world of work, mixed with the cocktails of everyday racism and micro-aggressions will impact aspirations. As a result of this, it will also affect the wellbeing of black young people.

The report is both a denial of the past and future in a post pandemic Brexit Britain.

Downplaying the past

What I found especially disturbing was the report’s efforts to play down the transatlantic slave trade and colonisation which caused injustice to millions of our people over 400 years.

We are told that the Maafa or the Maangamizi was ‘character building’ and we ‘need to move’ on from this crime against humanity.

Maafa is also known as the African holocaust, the Holocaust of Enslavement or the Black Holocaust, according to many activists and campaigners.

The word Maangamizi is a Kiswahili term which roughly translates to annihilation. The term is used by some of the main reparations campaigners in the UK.

Half the people on the commission do not understand the history of Britain, the impact and implications of enslavement, or modern-day racism. One of the commissioners Blondel Cuff still represents the West India Committee which was the lobbying group of plantation owners who tried their best to extend the period of enslavement in the Caribbean. This Committee  successfully negotiated £30 million (around a trillion in modern day money) compensation in 1833.

Our ancestors had to work an extra five years as indentured labourers on the plantations as part of the settlement. Taxpayers were still paying off the debt until 2015. The Whip by Juliet  Gilkes Romeo explores this disturbing history.

This is the equivalent of a Holocaust denier being asked to develop a strategy on antisemitism. We need to seriously consider whether it’s right that this organisation chairs the National Lottery Fund.

Moving forward

We hope the prime minster seriously rejects the commissioned race report and makes a commitment to support existing race equality legislation and best practice by promoting the Public Sector Equality duty.

It is important that he acknowledges the lived experiences of minoritised communities and especially those experiencing the hostile environment and the ongoing impact of the Windrush Scandal. Institutionalised racism is still alive and kicking in Britain today.

That is why over 100 people including, lawyers, Windrush campaigners and victims of the scandal have written to Tony Sewell expressing our disappointment with his report.

We also presented a letter signed by 21,000 people to Downing Street on Friday, asking the prime minister to reject the report. It was coordinated by the Runnymede Trust and Ubele Initiative.

Also, over 7000 people have signed the Operation Black Vote petition demanding full implementation of previous reports. Together we can defeat this report so we can get on with the real work of fighting for social justice and equity whilst implementing solutions that give us a chance to thrive and shape Britain.

We need to campaign for anti-racist progressive equalities legislation and a culture shift to dismantle structural racism and call out people and institutions which fail us and deliberately use cultural wars as a pretext to maintain the status quo.

We have a long proud history of resistance and rebellion to draw on.

Patrick Vernon is a social commentator, campaigner and cultural historian. He co-authored 100 Great Black Britons with Dr Angelina Osborne. The collection highlights the history of black achievement. It contains the biographies of individuals dealing with adversities such as structural racism and the British empire.


Originally published in The Voice here