Citing strides to close gaps between ethnic groups in educational and economic achievement, the report said race was becoming “less important” as a factor in creating disparities that also are fuelled by class and family backgrounds.
Many anti-racism activists were sceptical of the findings, saying the commission ignored real barriers to equality.
“Institutionally, we are still racist and for a government-appointed commission … to deny its existence is deeply, deeply worrying,” said Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, a racial equality think tank.
Doreen Lawrence, who became a leading anti-racism campaigner after her 18-year-old son Stephen was killed in a racist 1993 attack in London, said the report’s authors were “not in touch with reality”.
“Those people who marched for Black Lives Matter? It’s denying all of that. The George Floyd stuff? It’s denied all of that,” she said.
One minister was forced to deny the race disparity report “glorifies slavery”, a charge levelled by Labour’s Marsha de Cordova. One section suggests the slave trade was “not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain”.
Speaking to Sky News, Gillian Keegan, minister for skills, said: “It doesn’t glorify the slave trade. It is an independent report… the most important thing is to read the report, and not reports of the report.”
Asked about the departure of Mr Kasumu, she told Times Radio: “I don’t even know who he is.”
The report was also widely disparaged by academics and scientists, who said it ignored the interplay of factors such as poverty, class and race in creating inequality.
Some academics thanked for their help in the report have claimed they were never consulted about its contents and gave their input unwittingly, including Oxford scientist Sir John Bell, who said he’d only had one phone call from the commission, but had never formally contributed to the report.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted racial fault lines, with Britons from black African and Caribbean backgrounds dying from COVID-19 at more than twice the rate as their white compatriots. Jobs, underlying health conditions and deprivation are all factors in the divide.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, public health experts Mohammad S. Razai, Azeem Majeed and Aneez Esmail said “structural racism is an important factor in ethnic disparities in health” and accused the report of using “cherry-picked data” to support a political agenda.
“Its attempts to undermine the well-established and evidence-based role of ethnicity on health outcomes will lead to a worsening of systemic inequalities, putting more ethnic minority lives at risk,” the authors said.
Black people in Britain are also three times as likely as white people to be arrested and twice as likely to die in police custody.
Like other countries, Britain has faced an uncomfortable reckoning with race since the death of George Floyd, a black American, at the knee of a police officer in May 2020 sparked anti-racism protests around the world.
Large crowds at Black Lives Matter protests across the UK last summer called on the government and institutions to face up to the legacy of the British Empire and the country’s extensive profits from the slave trade.
The toppling of a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston in the city of Bristol in June prompted a pointed debate about how to deal with Britain’s past. Many felt such statues extol racism. Others, including the Prime Minister, argued that removing them was erasing a piece of history.
Johnson insisted on Thursday night AEDT that his government was not downplaying racism. He pointed out that the commission made 24 recommendations, including setting up an office for health disparities, sending low-level drug offenders into the public health system rather than the criminal justice system and ensuring police forces better represent the communities they serve.
“There are very serious issues that our society faces to do with racism that we need to address,” he said. “We’ve got to do more to fix it, we need to understand the severity of the problem, and we’re going to be looking at all the ideas that (the commission) have put forward, and we’ll be making our response.”
AP, The Telegraph London