British Commission on Race: ‘Immigrant Optimism’ Contradicts Narrative of Racism

This post follows up on the previous one here.


On March 31, the British Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities issued its report. Last summer, ten commissioners, all but one of whom are black or a member of an ethnic minority group, were appointed to “consider important questions about the state of race relations today, and [make] a thorough examination of why so many disparities persist.” Such was the Commission’s brief from the Prime Minister himself. The Commission examined “race and ethnic disparities in education, employment, crime and policing and health.”




All the while we have been supported by the Cabinet Office’s Race and Disparity Unit (RDU) which was set up in 2016. It has accumulated all the important data on race and ethnicity, in one database. For the first time we have been able to use this dataset to understand the impact of ethnicity and other factors on outcomes. That also means, unlike previous reviews focused on particular issues such as the workplace or criminal justice, we have been able to look more widely and investigate the deeper underlying causes of key disparities.


So the Commission had at its disposal the latest data on racial and ethnic disparities in Great Britain and was the first to use same to understand why disparities between groups exist. Commissioners not only examined data, they talked extensively with people as well.


As we met with people in round table discussions, in our versions of the ‘Moral Maze’ and listened to people from all sections of society, we were taken by the distinctions being drawn between causes that were external to the individual and those that could be influenced by the actions of the individual himself or herself. As our investigations proceeded, we increasingly felt that an unexplored approach to closing disparity gaps was to examine the extent individuals and their communities could help themselves through their own agency, rather than wait for invisible external forces to assemble to do the job.


And that, friends, is what so enraged the woke mob. The idea that people can “help themselves through their own agency” without the intervention of massive government programs is an anathema to those who laughingly call themselves “anti-racists.” The fact that doing for oneself is “an unexplored approach to closing disparity gaps” speaks volumes about the state of society, public discourse and public policy today. Some, like Americans Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, considered self-help to be the first and most important avenue for blacks out of subordinate status, but the notion is now considered so bizarre as to be unworthy of comment. The commissioners spoke the unspeakable and, in so doing, moved beyond the pale, beyond the bounds of civilized discourse and rendered themselves fit only to be defamed, which they duly were.


But, to their everlasting credit, the commissioners didn’t bow to what they surely understood would be the mob’s response to such heresy. No, in stark contrast to almost the totality of public discourse about race and racial disparities, the commissioners followed where the data led. And where it led should supplant the woke narrative on the subject and guide the British to sensible public policy.


Let me be clear: it should guide U.S. policy too. U.S. policies on race must be based on data and not on woke wishful thinking. They must acknowledge reality and set aside the fictional narrative that all racial disparities in outcomes are solely the result of anti-black racism on the part of whites. I of course know of the many differences between British and American histories regarding race and between British and American societies today. But much of the language of the British Commission’s report also describes today’s racial landscape in the U.S. and should be read as such.


So the commissioners acknowledge past wrongs done to racial minorities, when doors were literally closed in the faces of black immigrants from the Caribbean and elsewhere, but also that British society has dramatically changed over the past half-century.


But this report speaks to a new period, which we have described as the era of ‘participation’. We can only speak of ‘participation’ if we acknowledge that the UK has fundamentally shifted since those periods in the past and has become a more open society. We have spoken in this report about how the UK is open to all its communities. But we are acutely aware that the door may be only half open to some, including the White working class.


“Participation” of course suggests doing for oneself. Yes, there may be barriers to participation and those should be removed, but if the door is open, individuals, including those of the white working class, should do what they can to walk through it. And that is precisely what many blacks and ethnic minorities in the U.K. have been doing.


We have found that some ethnic minorities have been able to ‘participate’ better than others. We were impressed by the ‘immigrant optimism’ of some of the new African communities. They are among the new high achievers in our education system. As their Caribbean peers sit in the same classrooms, it is difficult to blame racism in education for the latter’s underachievement.


So, the U.K.’s history of black immigration saw blacks from Caribbean countries arrive first. They were the ones to experience the overt, and overtly hostile racism of the 50s and 60s. (For an idea of that experience, read V.S. Naipaul’s short story Tell Me Who to Kill.) And they’re the ones whose fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers experienced that racism and who’ve passed their learning down to their children and grandchildren. It is those children and grandchildren who tend to see the door as closed the way it used to be. Newer arrivals are far more likely to see the opportunity that the current U.K. offers. The same holds true in the U.S. where new African and Caribbean immigrants routinely outperform both American blacks and many whites as well in education and earnings.


That appears to be the great divide among blacks in the U.K. – new arrivals don’t have the experience of racism and they don’t have it taught to them by their families. Second or third generation Brits do.


And that reality tends to corroborate the idea, expressed again and again by the Commission, that times have changed, that actual, overt institutional racism in the U.K. is, to a large extent, a thing of the past. The challenge then would seem to be to get the more established blacks to acknowledge the fact and start walking through that door. Again, the situation in the U.S. is much the same.


More on this next time.

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