After Britain’s Black Lives Matter protests, Boris Johnson commissioned a report on racism in Britain so we could see what we’re dealing with. Or at least so he could move the discussion to a back room so we could all forget about it, please.
Well, the report’s now complete and it tells us that a determined person could maybe find little whiffs of racism if they sniffed around long enough, but structural racism? No, we don’t have anything like that over here. Not anymore.
It also offers us a new way of seeing slavery and suggests that the schools teach it this way. It wasn’t all “about profit and suffering,” you’ll be pleased to hear. It was also about how “culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain.”
How did people transform themselves into what seems to be a smashup of human and geographical or political entity? That’s not clear from the excerpts I’ve seen, but just think how lucky the slaves were to have taken part in the process. I’m sure they’d have volunteered if they hadn’t been kidnapped instead.
This is the point where I’d usually say that I couldn’t make this stuff up, but the truth is I could. I’m cynical enough. The difference is that it would be made up. It would be satire. This is real.
Historian David Olusoga says that part of the report is a version of “an argument that was used by the slave owners themselves in defense of slavery 200 years ago: the idea that by becoming culturally British, black people were somehow beneficiaries of the system.”
About systemic racism, the report says, “Most of the disparities we examined, which some attribute to racial discrimination, often do not have their origins in racism.” Some communities are “haunted” by “historic cases” of racism, creating “deep mistrust” in the system. And that could be a barrier to success.
If I’m translating that correctly, it means, “It’s your own damn fault. If you’d get that chip off your shoulder, you’d be more successful and so would your hooligan children.”
Okay, I put my thumb on one side of the scales just the tiniest bit there. But then, so did the commission–something I know because an assortment of experts whose work they cited and who they thanked as if they’d helped draft the report have gone public to say they had nothing to do with it and are horrified to find their names used.
The experts speak, and mostly they say, “You did what???”
Stephen Bourne, a historian who’s listed as a stakeholder (that’s a bit of British bureaucro-speak meaning someone involved in one way or another, although I have yet to figure out what that way is), said he was invited to be part a one-hour discussion with other historians of Black British history only to find that he was the only historian there.
“I was asked to give my presentation and I said, ‘What presentation? I wasn’t asked to give the presentation.’ “ He winged it for ten minutes. “I didn’t even know they were writing a report until it was published . . . and discovered to my horror I was cited.”
So that went well.
Another historian who was cited initially thought it was hilarious, then realized that his name would be “attached to such a shameful document and used” to give it a veneer of respectability. He said he’d had no contact with the commission at all.
A professor of psychology whose work is also cited called the report “poor scholarship, really poor chairmanship and interpretation. . . . You can’t explain it other than [to say that] people are just working backwards from their prior ideologies and assumptions and [they] retrofit the data.”
A former senior police officer, Dal Babu, said he was sorry he took part and that the consultation was shambolic–like the TV show Fawlty Towers.
“I think they almost had an exam question with the answer already written on it.”
Public health experts are just as impressed, saying the report cherry-picked its data.
“The panel doesn’t contain any health experts, and they overlook 30 or 40 years of evidence about health inequalities,” sad Professor Azeem Majeed of Imperial College London’s primary care and public health department.
It’s not entirely irrelevant that Johnson’s most senior Black advisor, Samuel Kasumu, just resigned. When someone asked the parliamentary undersecretary for the Department for Education about it, she said, “I don’t even know who he is.”
Meanwhile, the Windrush scandal continues to echo through the corridors of the Certifiably Non-Sructually Racist Home Office, which just signed a legal agreement with the equalities watchdog promising to “rectify its failure to comply” with equality law when it introduced its hostile environment for–well, it was supposed to be for illegal immigrants but it ended up deporting a bunch of thoroughly legal immigrants who just happened, by the purest non-racist accident, to be Black. And whose documentation the Home Office had destroyed, making it impossible for some of them to prove they had a right to be in the country.
How do you rectify that? No idea, but the quote’s from a news story, not directly from a document. I’d translate it into human language but I have no idea what it means. Maybe that they promise not to do it again. And they’ve signed a document, so every day in every way everything’s getting better and better.
A fund was set up to compensate the people whose lives were torn apart, since they lost jobs and homes and family and whatever sense of safety they had and the country they’d lived in since they were children. In January 2021, almost two years after the fund was set up, 17% of the people who’d submitted claims had been paid and 84 of the people whose claims were working their way through the system had died. The process is said to be roughly as user-unfriendly as you’d expect.
The fund initially offered a minimum of £250 and a maximum of £10,000. After all hell broke out, those went up to £10,000 and £100,000. Which doesn’t repair a life and doesn’t help if you can’t get it.
Anyway, the Home Office has promised to be good and never do it again. And it wasn’t racism anyway, so could everybody stop grumbling, please?
Another report, this one on policing
We’ve also had a report on the policing of a spontaneous vigil mourning Sarah Everard, who was killed by a serving police officer as she walked home. It says the police handled the vigil well. In no way did they break up a peaceful gathering, fail to engage with would-be organizers over how the vigil could be made Covid-safe, or overreact. Women protesting violence against women were not manhandled.
So we’re okay there too.
I send you greetings from Britain, where everything is proceeding exactly as it should in this best of all possible worlds.
Meanwhile, the kids are taking matters into their own hands
Students at a London school, the Pimlico Academy, organized a protest when a new headteacher made changes that they consider racist to both the history curriculum and the school uniform.
Silly them. If only they’d read the commission’s report.
The issue with uniforms is that the kids are not allowed to wear hijabs that are “too colourful” or hairstyles that might “block the view of others,” which makes me think the kids were walking around with entire apartment buildings on their heads. As a short person whose view is always blocked not just by others’ hairstyles but by their heads, necks, and sometimes shoulders–well, you learn to lean left and right and see around them, and the world continues to turn. I can’t remember ever being overly inconvenienced by an Afro, although I have sometimes thought the world should ban tall people.
In practice, the changes meant that Muslim girls and kids with Afro hairstyles got grief from the school.
I haven’t been able to find out what the curriculum changes were, or whether they’ve only been proposed or were put in place. The headteacher seems to have backed down, but it doesn’t sound like anyone’s fallen in love with his leadership. A number of teachers have resigned and there’s talk of strikes–possibly over the same issues, possibly over different ones. That part’s still a little murky.
And an irrelevant piece of news from the U.S.
For a couple of minutes at the end of March, it looked like the U.S. Strategic Command Twitter account had been hacked, which was worrying since this is the agency that counts the country’s nuclear weapons, sings them to sleep, and makes sure they’re safe. The account sent out the message “;l;;gmlxzssaw.”
Was it the Russians, sending a signal that they’d taken control of the account? That looked possible. You know how Russian gathers up strings of consonants and ties them in knots that the English-trained tongue can’t untangle. Borscht. Shcherbakov. Zdravstvuyte. Yakutsk. Blagoveshchensk.
Okay, I’m having fun but that’s probably enough.
Just one more. Please? Pskov.
It turned out not to be the Russians, though. First because Russian doesn’t land semicolons in the middle of its words. I wasn’t sure it uses them at all, but disappointingly Lord Google tells me it does. I’m sure they’re as silly in Russian as they are in English. I’m not above tossing into the middle of a sentence but you can run an entire language without ever letting them in the room.
But forget the semicolon. What happened was that someone’s kid got at the keyboard. The tweet was taken down. The nuclear weapons were all given ice cream at bedtime and security was restored.
Sleep well. The world is a safe place.