Simply put, when I think about Tony Sewell’s race report, it makes me feel an emotion I’m all too familiar with. The emotion isn’t felt by everyone but it isn’t new to me; and I can only assume I’ll feel it many more times in the future. It’s a feeling almost physical, sitting in the middle of my chest, a ball of fury that rises like indigestion until I feel a lump in my throat, eventually subsiding into a resignation that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
The Sewell report left me disappointed but not surprised. We’re being gaslighted by “government evidence”. Our lived experiences are being denied. Why must we undertake a constant battle for recognition of the most basic thing we all know to be true? “Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”, the report includes.
The report into race and ethnic disparities was commissioned by the Government following on from the Black Lives Matter protests that took place last summer. To be completely honest, I don’t think anyone expected much, but after struggling through the 258 pages of watered down recommendations and weird-but-extremely-offensive narrative, there’s no way not to feel let down.
“I know for a fact that the findings of the report simply aren’t true: being racialised affects the way you’re treated before you’re even born.”
As a Black person, being told that institutional racism doesn’t exist feels much the same as someone tripping me up whilst I’m running, then blaming me for falling on the floor.
The use of Black lives as a political tool by the Government isn’t what we were demanding when we were out protesting on the streets – or what our elders have been shouting for, for decades – but it’s what we’ve got. In remoulding the experiences of ethnic minorities to fit their narrative, the Commission have completely ignored the actual lived experiences of Black and brown people across the UK.
From a personal perspective, Sewell’s conclusion that race is not a major factor in determining the outcome of people’s interactions with institutions reignited the fire that has been smouldering in the pit of my stomach. I know for a fact that the findings of the report simply aren’t true: being racialised affects the way you’re treated before you’re even born.
“Sewell and his sidekicks use a kind of ‘everything but’ mentality to reason away the possibility of systemic racism”
When my Mum was pregnant with me, she was automatically assigned a social worker when the hospital found out her child was going to be mixed race. That wasn’t her, the white woman, getting given extra assistance; it was me, the Black child, provoking extra concern due to my ethnicity. Admittedly, that was 25 years ago, but having read this report, I feel as though deep-rooted societal preconceptions clearly haven’t changed much since then.
Even the rhetoric in the report is reminiscent of that era, or earlier. Sewell and his sidekicks use a kind of ‘everything but’ mentality to reason away the possibility of systemic racism, to the extent of blaming the underperformance of Black Caribbean kids in school on family breakdown and single parents – is that Thatcher I can hear applauding from down below?
My experience of being the only minority in the classroom is not unsurprising, given the fact that the area I grew up in was overwhelmingly white. Neither is it unique that I’ve worked in an office of over 100 people and been the only non-white face.
The workplace I’m referring to had only ever had four non-white people employed there, including myself at the time of my leaving; two of whom had either quit within a few months, or been fired. My time there was very different to that of my white counterparts. I experienced a lot of things that they had not – micromanaging, a prolonged probationary period and stunted professional growth. Even though micro-aggressions don’t instantly equate to structural racism, there was plenty of that too. Without any diversity initiatives, adequate discrimination training or policies of the same vein, it didn’t make for a particularly inclusive workplace. In fact, it’s almost as if it was racist, but as an institution. If only there was a term for that kind of thing…
Systemic inequalities go deeper than just being passed up for a promotion. Evan Smith died from sepsis after having to dial 999 from his hospital bed in order to obtain adequate care, and it’s unacceptable to state that the “lack of understanding of sickle cell disease in the medical and nursing staff”. As such, when looking at the fact that maternal deaths are 4.5 times greater for Black women than their white counterparts, it’s painfully disrespectful to suggest that it’s unfair to use this statistic as “the rates are still very low in themselves”.
“In denying the existence of institutional racism, the Commission is not only gaslighting millions of people across the country, it is attempting to transfer the blame from the oppressive systems to the marginalised people.”
Not only have these healthcare disparities been happening, they still happen now and will continue to do so until we accept and address the insidious institutional racism that exists within our healthcare system and beyond. When did everyone become desensitised to black death? When did ethnic minorities dying at an alarmingly higher rate than white become something that is just a fact of life?
It hurts my heart to think about the number of Black and brown people that, like me, have had to sit through YouTube livestreamed funerals of loved ones whilst alone in their houses. Our communities have been decimated by the pandemic and we have been left to pick the pieces up ourselves, without an adequate explanation as why it has been so much worse for us than it has for them.
In denying the existence of institutional racism, the Commission is not only gaslighting millions of people across the country, it is attempting to transfer the blame from the oppressive systems to the marginalised people. But, the Government’s endeavours to eradicate progress won’t stop us from pushing on. We will not let our stories and struggles be erased or rewritten by those that do not attempt to understand us.
They may not see our experiences as valid, but we see each other. The conversation is not over until we say it is.
Sign the petition and #RejectTheReport here.
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