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Is Britain “Structurally Racist?”

Some Britons are racists. However Britain is not structurally racist.

Summary

Posted 5 June 2022

My website makes it very easy for strangers to contact me. In December 2021 I received an email from a student at Manchester University.

The extracts below explained why she had contacted me:

I am ... part of the UN award winning leadership programme ‘ParliaMentors’. This is a programme ran by the The Faith and Belief Forum where students from certain Universities are mentored by their local MP [ours is Charlotte Nichols] and run a social action project alongside local policymakers to create positive change in the Manchester area. Our project is ‘Manchester Speaks’.

Manchester Speaks is a programme which aims to tackle the deficiency of youth turnout and engagement in politics. This will be achieved through running bi-monthly roundtable speaker events where key leaders come together to discuss issues that students care about in front of a live audience of students, with each event featuring an educational package to sum up the key takeaways of the debate and a fact-file of the speakers.

We were hoping that you would be interested in speaking at our talk on racism.

The event was scheduled for 11 May 2022.

Advance briefing

I was given a briefing pack in advance, and have reproduced the key parts of it below.

Our discussion will be on the topic of Structural Racism in the UK. Questions from the audience will be largely based on these ideas.

We have compiled a list of thematic questions which we will be appealing to as the topic of structural racism is so big. Roughly keeping in line with these questions will be fruitful for our discussion:

The event

The event took place in the Manchester University Student's Union building. Only the speakers and the Manchester Speaks team were present, with the audience online.

Copied below is part of the Eventbrite booking page information about the event.

Online Panel event on structural racism in Manchester.

ONLINE PANEL EVENT ON RACISM! What happens when a Labour MP, and EX- Chairman Conservative of CMF meet with students?

Our speakers for this event are:

Although the event was transmitted online, I have not been able to find a recording to embed here or link to.

However with the agreement of the organisers, I made an audio recording having given a commitment to only publish my own own words. (Obviously nobody can object to me recording and publishing myself speaking!)

How the talk was recorded

My first audio recording was done on the spur of the moment, just putting my iPhone 6 on the table and relying on its built in microphone. See my page Lecture: One Muslim’s Perspective on Religious Freedom.

Once I found recording talks and presentations worthwhile, I purchased a high quality Sennheiser digital lapel microphone which plugs into the lightning port of my iPhone. That produces a much better recording.

My prepared remarks

Each speaker was given about 8 minutes for prepared remarks. Mine are below.

Listen to my prepared remarks

Read my prepared remarks

I spoke from a written text, which I have edited to match the recording.

I want to do four things.

  1. Look at the definitions of racism, institutional racism and structural racism, because I think we need to be clear what we are talking about.
  2. Briefly assess the problems.
  3. Suggest some things Government can do.
  4. And also talk about what we as individuals can do.

Definitions

So starting with the definitions.

I studied maths at university and my career was spent as a tax adviser. That’s why I regard definitions as absolutely vital. Unless we can agree on the definitions, we can’t have a dialogue.

I looked at The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus. That’s got nothing to do with me being a Cambridge man and being biased against Oxford!

I found the following definitions.

Racism

I will read it out.

harmful or unfair things that people say, do, or think based on the belief that their own race makes them more intelligent, good, moral, etc. than people of other races

This is the bad behaviour and bad thinking of individual people. As a personal example, my late mother was very prejudiced about black people. She was racist about them.

Institutional Racism

policies, rules, practices, etc. that are a usual part of the way an organization works, and that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race

I suggest downloading "The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry" conducted by Sir William Macpherson which covers institutional racism extremely well.

Institutional racism means that an organisation produces bad race-based outcomes, even if the individuals in that organisation themselves are not  racist.

Structural Racism

laws, rules, or official policies in a society that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race

Structural racism means that the country as a whole has laws, rules or official policies which advantage some racial groups over other racial groups. If you want a nice concrete example, think of apartheid South Africa.

Assessing the problems briefly

Racism does exist in Britain today. I am aged 71. I am absolutely certain that there is far less racism amongst British individuals now than there was in the past.

I have lived here since 1952. I am a Punjabi, from Pakistan, I have a brown skin. I have encountered racism personally from time to time. But it has changed.

When I was young in the 1950s, interracial couples would often be jeered at on the street. Now, nobody bats an eye lid. The fastest growing ethnic group in this country is actually “mixed race.” My son-in-law is white British.

Life is always more complicated than you think though. Let’s look at politics.

YouGov have twice polled Conservative Party members. Something quite interesting for me because for 36 years I was a Conservative Party member, although I resigned on the day that Boris Johnson became the Party Leader. We can discuss that later if you want.

YouGov found amongst Conservative Party members deeply racist and anti-Muslim attitudes amongst quite a high proportion of the members. I won’t quote the exact figures; I would have to look them up anyway. You can find the details of this survey on the Hope Not Hate website.

However, it is a Conservative Party Government that has the most diverse Government in British history. I could give you an endless list of black and ethnic minority MPs at the top levels of our present Government.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, many white people were prejudiced against Pakistanis.

But at the same time, the education system even then was completely colour blind. Never mind the education system today, even in the 1950’s, the 1960’s, it was colour blind. Many Pakistani children, not just me, passed the 11+ exam which we had at that time and went on to grammar schools.

In 1968 Clare College Cambridge chose to give me a place instead of the white British public-school boy who was being interviewed on the same day that I was being interviewed.

On the other hand, as an example of the persistence of racism, even today, surveys which involve sending identical CVs to employers, but using either names that look white or names that obviously indicate an ethnic minority background, find significant amounts of discrimination.

On the other hand, the country’s largest accounting firm, my old firm of PwC, revealed in its 2021 accounts, and I was very pleased to see this, that it had completely eliminated its ethnic minority pay gap. In fact, on average ethnic minorities at PwC earn slightly more than white people.

The most important message I have got is this. It goes back to what the Sewell Report was saying, which I thought was a very good report even if it had occasional flaws in some of its data analysis.

If you look at group outcomes, and find that ethnic minorities are doing worse, it may be due to racism, or there may be other causes.

Until you do more research, you don’t know the reasons, you only know there is a disparity. Assuming the reason is racism is frankly intellectually sloppy.

Looking back at the definition of structural racism I read out earlier, and I am not going to read the definition again unless you want me to, I see no reason to believe that Britain is structurally racist.

Now what can the Government do?

Most of the hard work has been done. The Equality Act 2010 is really good. But I think it does need stronger enforcement.

I would like the Government in particular to make name-blind recruitment mandatory in both the public sector and the private sector. So when you apply for a job you are not asked to give your name, just as it is against the law to ask you your age.

What about individuals. What can individuals do for themselves?

I think the single biggest thing holding back many people from ethnic minorities is their own expectation of discrimination. It often stops them applying to the best universities because they think that such universities are not for people like them.

It stops them trying to join the top employers. Even though the top employers all welcome ethnic minority applicants. PwC, where I was on the Supervisory Board as well as being a partner, can prove with rock solid data that you are just as likely to get a job at PwC if you are an ethnic minority applicant or if you are a white British applicant.

I can still remember a conversation I had a few years ago with a young Pakistani who was thinking about a career in accountancy. I think he was at school or university, and his dad asked me to have a chat with him.

The limit of his ambition was setting up a small insolvency practice in Bradford to serve other Asians in Bradford. That is how he thought.

The fact that he thinks that way is nothing to do with racism and it’s entirely to do with self-limiting beliefs. I think that there are too many people from ethnic minorities who unfortunately do suffer from self-limiting beliefs and expectations of discrimination.

I have spent my entirely life as the only brown face in the room and you just get used to it.

Question and answer session

The question and answer session was also recorded. However, as explained above, I am only publishing me speaking.

Accordingly, I have listened to the Q&A session, written down a condensed version of the questions, and then published the audio of my own answers.

1. Do you think that self-limiting beliefs create structural racism?

Recording of my 30-second answer.

2. Could it be that these self-limiting beliefs you talk about arise from people’s experiences of racism and in turn give rise to structural racism?

Recording of my 16-second answer.

3. Charlotte Nichols MP referred to her friend whose names include both British components and Nigerian components. When applying for jobs, she found far more employer interest when using the British components of her name.

I responded by reminding everyone about the difference between racism, which unfortunately is can still be found in Britain, and structural racism, which I consider does not exist in Britain.

Recording of my 6-second answer.

4. Charlotte contended that there was widespread discrimination by employers, and therefore structural racism, despite the existence of a few good employers such as PwC.

Recording of my 35-second answer.

5. Charlotte pointed out that being the only ethnic minority person in an organisation means that you have no ethnic minority role models or mentors. She contended that this led to systemic racism.

I referenced Kemi Badenoch MP in my response.

Recording of my 50-second answer.

6. I addressed something Charlotte had touched on earlier when she mentioned micro-aggressions.

I explain how I deal with the question "Where are you from?"

Recording of my 36-second answer.

7. Can you share what you have learned about tackling Islamophobia?

Due to lack of time, I resisted the temptation to share my views on the word "Islamophobia" itself, which I have written about in "The word Islamophobia should be abandoned." Instead I emphasised the difference between Muslim communities and the diversity of British Muslims.

Recording of my 100-second answer.

8. Charlotte gave some good examples of institutional racism, such as the fact that medical textbooks have historically illustrated skin rashes using only photographs of white skin. The result has been that doctors are less able to identify skin rashes suffered by black people.

I emphasised the difference between institutional racism and structural racism, and reiterated the importance of ethnic monitoring data. See also my piece "In praise of ethnic monitoring."

Recording of my 48-second answer.

9. I gave an example of how PwC had used ethnic monitoring data.

Recording of my 28-second answer.

10. Discrimination takes many forms. How can we ensure that while tackling racism we are not failing to tackle other forms of discrimination such as class and gender?

Recording of my 22-second answer.

11. Charlotte spoke about the many kinds of “oppression” on grounds such as class as well as race

I repeated my point that just because a group has disparate, worse, outcomes, that does not automatically mean that it is oppressed.

Recording of my 37-second answer.

12. Do you think universities are doing anything genuinely enough in terms of inclusion? If not, what else should universities be doing?

I rejected the premise underlying the question.

Recording of my 8-second answer.

 

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