Lola Okolosie: Forty more years of underachievement is not an optionIn 1971 the Grenadian teacher and writer Bernard Coard exposed the disproportionate use of “sin bins”, disciplinary units for black children. More than 40 years on, today’s report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) tells us that black Caribbean and mixed white/black Caribbean pupils are three times more likely to be permanently excluded than the pupil population as a whole. It is a statistic that is miserably consistent in terms of the yawning imbalance it highlights.
While there is discussion over the underachievement of ethnic minority pupils, there is far less focus on the system in which it exists. People from ethnic minorities are twice as likely to live in poverty as their white counterparts.
With all of the above, you would expect a frenzied debate about the nature of institutional racism in education. A discussion that goes beyond the recycled woolly strategies that often put the blame on parents, or the students themselves for failing to have enough “self-esteem” to make it academically. When figures tell us that black workers with degrees on average earn 23% less than white workers with degrees, it’s hard not to conclude that we are worth less.
To tackle the issues, schools have to continuously ask themselves tough questions about the underachievement of their ethnic minority pupils. Did Roweena not achieve her level 5 because of her own disaffection or because key teachers simply didn’t believe she was ever capable of doing so?
As for the government, we need a curriculum that reflects this nation’s rich cultural diversity. We need more teachers from ethnic minorities in our classrooms, and we need them to be more than role models. We need to recognise that certain groups of students will need extra support and that the schools teaching them will require increased funding as a result. It all might sound radical, but really isn’t. Forty more years of woeful discrimination and underachievement is not an option.
Kehinde Andrews: The loss of public sector jobs has shattered one of our few footholdsThe report has laid bare the entrenched nature of racial inequality in Britain, with a particular impact on the young. Over the past five years there has been a 49% increase in ethnic-minority long-term youth unemployment, compared with a 2% fall in white youth unemployment. The report also found that black and Asian workers are more than twice as likely to be in the insecure work that is blighting Britain.
Nothing about these findings should be surprising: black young people have historically suffered from disproportionately high levels of unemployment and limited opportunities. However, it is no coincidence that inequalities have worsened since 2010, when the coalition government began dismantling social provision. This report is evidence that austerity has hit ethnic-minority groups the hardest.
The mass closure of Sure Start centres and the defunding of youth services were obviously going to have an impact on minority young people, who are more likely to live in the inner-city communities where these services are most needed. Perhaps the bigger issue has been the loss of decently paid, secure public sector work that offered ethnic minorities decent employment.
When left to its own devices the free market has shown again and again that it will racially discriminate. This is why the Race Relations Act was passed in 1965, and ethnic minorities have largely relied on public sector employment for career advancement. The loss of more than a million public sector jobs, either disappearing completely or outsourced to the private sector, has shattered one of the few footholds for ethnic minority young people to gain a real stake in society. To begin to address these inequalities the government must end the nightmare of austerity; invest in services for ethnic-minority young people; and provide the kind of secure employment opportunities that are ever more decreasing.
Diane Abbott: Look at the unspoken ways in which exclusion happensThe report calls for a comprehensive race equality strategy. But it is 40 years since the Commission for Racial Equality, the predecessor body to the EHRC, was set up with that exact remit. Are we destined to go round in circles on race equality? Or worse, in some respects are we going backwards?
The report points out that “when it comes to who runs Britain, overall ethnic minorities are still hugely underrepresented in positions of power”. For instance the proportion of BAME – black, Asian and minority ethnic – MPs is still only 6.3%, despite 12% of Britons being from a BAME background; in 2012, of judges who were prepared to declare their ethnicity only 5.9% were BAME; and as of May this year, 11 police forces in England and Wales have no ethnic minority officers above the rank of inspector and there were no ethnic-minority chief constables.
For decades the professions have paid lip service to issues of representation and a mix of exhortation and mentoring has been attempted. But progress has been painfully slow. Forty years after society first realised that we need a “race relations strategy” we must do better.
The recent Chakrabarti inquiry into racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism in the Labour party had some insights into how discrimination works. She said: “I am sorry to report that a ‘welcoming environment’ has not been the overwhelming experience of many BAME members, including those from Afro-Caribbean, Muslim and Sikh communities in particular.” I have heard many stories from across the country of members who felt that they were “good enough to deliver votes and leaflets” but not for staff or leadership positions within the party or to be candidates for public office. Monitoring, mentoring and targets have their place. But we also need to look at the unspoken ways in which exclusion happens.
Onjali Rauf: Until agencies talk to us, our fellow women will continue to dieIn July 2011 my aunt was murdered after failing to convince the courts, police, children’s services and her GP – and any other agency you can think of – that a violent man she’d had the guts to leave would kill her. She was made to feel, all too keenly, the fact that she “was just another Asian woman too stupid to get out of this on her own”. And she was made to feel this not once, not twice, but every day by every agency she so desperately turned to.
That gutting feeling that you will not be taken seriously, that you will not be listened to, that your voice is somehow less important because it is expelled from a throat that happens to be coloured brown or black – or any other colour that isn’t white – is one that every abuse survivor from a BAME background I have ever encountered is drowning in. And their fears of being treated harshly, unfairly, unjustly, insensitively because they happen to have a scarf or cornrows on their head is – as this much welcomed report highlights – not unfounded. From suffering the daily humiliations of unemployment to being bombarded by discussions of what you should be wearing, the message is clear: “You are not one of us.”
So when a non-white woman finds herself trapped in an abusive marriage, or wakes up one morning after having been raped or sexually abused by someone she knows, who will she turn to for help, understanding, and a safe way out? Probably not the predominantly white, male-centric services that so openly continue to fail even their white female counterparts. It will be friends. Family. The women’s service two boroughs away where the workers look and speak like her can understand completely the culture she is coming from, and take the time to help her find the safest escape route.
Ever since I began Making Herstory it has consistently shocked me how the blindingly obvious is still treated as new information in the women’s human rights sector. The fact that “white women are more likely to report being a victim of domestic abuse than ethnic minority women” is nothing new. BAME women’s rights organisations decades older than us have been screaming about this fact for years. And until the agencies we need so desperately to work with bother to sit up and listen to us, protect us, and heed our solutions to their inert and systematic prejudices, our fellow women will continue to die.
Liz Fekete: This report shatters the self-congratulatory idea of a ‘post-racial’ BritainWe at the Institute of Race Relations welcome the fact that the report highlighs that, at every level, once young people from BAME communities enter the criminal justice system, they are failed. Flagged up here are many of the burning issues that BAME communities face: endemic discrimination in stop and search, massive disproportionality in prosecution and sentencing. Disappointing, though, given the racialisation of the “gangs” issue, by police, CPS and media alike, is the failure to mention the joint enterprise laws. This doctrine has operated over the years as a mechanism to create guilt by association, hoovering up and criminalising young poor men and children with alarming regularity. Nevertheless, the report is timely. It disrupts the self-congratulatory narrative, established soon after the Macpherson report, that Britain has entered a post-racial era. If there is racism, it’s an individual failing – not the problem of the system.
If the report’s findings are backed up by the Lammy independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, BAME individuals in the criminal justice system, then this could strengthen the call from community organisations for much needed radical reform. But if this is to happen, we have to get beyond an approach that sidetracks the debate into one of recruitment and retention of more BAME police officers, prosecutors, judges. The problems for young BAME people lie far deeper than this.