'A slap in the face': Report into race criticised for overlooking reality

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square, London, following the death of

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square in London last year. - Credit: PA

The findings of a government-commissioned race report have been criticised for overlooking the realities of life for ethnic people in the region, reports Sarah Hussain.

The commission to investigate race and ethnic disparities in the UK in response to the Black Lives Matter protests said that while overt racism exists, the UK "no longer had a system rigged against minorities."

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities stated that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have a greater impact on people's opportunities than racial injustice.

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square, London, following the death of

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square in London last year. - Credit: PA

It focused mainly on education and training employment, fairness at work and enterprise, crime and policing and health.

But Norwich MP Clive Lewis and Norfolk actor Ashton Owen said the report overlooks people's lived experiences, with Mr Lewis accusing those involved of 'gaslighting' ethnic minorities.

Commission chair Tony Sewell said they did not believe that the UK is yet a post-racial society and that outright racism still exists in the UK, but there was a reluctance "to acknowledge that the UK had become open and fairer."

South Norwich Labour MP Clive Lewis Photo: UK Parliament

South Norwich Labour MP Clive Lewis Photo: UK Parliament - Credit: UK Parliament

The report also said that America and the UK are different and face "different race-related challenges," but that some places in the UK, especially in Black inner-city communities, have been left with a "deep legacy of mistrust", as a result of historical wrongs by the state and police.

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But the commission concluded it "no longer sees a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities".

Mr Lewis, said the findings were 'phenomenal', calling into question those on the commission for concluding structural racism does not exist.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Pic: Yui Mok/PA Images

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Pic: Yui Mok/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

He said: "This government has gas lit millions of black people and their lived experience of racism, and it will embolden those who want to ignore, deny or perpetrate racism.

"The lived experience of black people in Norwich, Norfolk and beyond is not just microaggression but overt racism - in housing and health practices. 

"There are huge disparities between ethnicities in police stop and search, court sentencing and within prison populations. But the report has little to say on why any of this happens.

"This report will do very little for the lived reality of people across Norfolk. The people who are in positions of power and authority, who will be looking to take a leaf from the government, will now be encouraged to carry on as they are, because they're told there is no problem and they're doing just fine."

The MP said we should be looking to tackle structural racism and make sure people are not judged by the colour of their skin, ethnicity or religious beliefs.

He added: "In Norfolk, this will set back the potential to be able to make strides on the issue of racism and tackling it."

Speaking of his experience of racism in his role, he revealed he has often received racist hate mail from people in the county and beyond.

He said: "That's because I'm doing my job, as an MP I expect people to challenge my political views, but to call into question my race, to give me slurs because of the colour of my skin, because of where my parents come from?

"This is the 21st century and it happens still. It's not just about a few bad apples."

Ashton Owen, who lives in Norwich, recently spoke about the difficulties of growing up as a mixed-raced person in Norfolk after suffering taunts and racial slurs as a child.

Ashton Owen rehearsing for his Outskirts show, which is part of Sheringham Little Theatre's Rewriting Rural Racism project. 

Ashton Owen rehearsing for his Outskirts show, which is part of Sheringham Little Theatre's Rewriting Rural Racism project. - Credit: Mark Benfield / SLT

The actor said the report seemed like it was 'ticking boxes' to conclude there was no institutional racism, which he said sets back the work people have done tackling the subject.

The 25-year-old, who runs anti-racism workshops, drew on his own school experience in Norfolk, saying it was 'difficult' being one of the only pupils of colour and questioned the work environment and opportunities for ethnic people who may not have their applications read because their names 'aren't typically British'.

He said: "The report feels like a slap in the face, because of all the work you've done it feels like there is no need to do it because 'there is no racism,' which I'm fully against that idea.

Ashton Owen in one-man show Outskirts an online production for Sheringham Little Theatre

Ashton Owen in one-man show Outskirts an online production for Sheringham Little Theatre - Credit: Mark Benfield/Sheringham Little Theatre

"I support the fact things are getting better but they could be more better.

"What happened to George Floyd and with Black Lives Matter becoming more prominent in the media, it made me question a lot of the things I've grown up with."

The 25-year-old said things have improved compared to 20 years ago but more needs to be done following the events last Summer, with Norfolk needing to be made 'more accessible' for ethnic communities.

He said: "The idea of moving to Norfolk is quite intimidating because there is a stigma that it is not welcoming to people of colour.

"I'm not saying it's a county that is racist. I have grown up in this environment where people will say ignorant things but that is because they don't know any better or haven't been challenged on it before."

Pallavi Devulapalli, a GP in Downham Market of Indian origin, also said the report's conclusion that there is no institutional racism in Britain has been called into doubt by people in her profession.

Pallavi Devulapalli, a GP from Downham Market, has joined calls asking the government to introduce a

Pallavi Devulapalli, a GP from Downham Market, has joined calls asking the government to introduce a policy which would see the public wearing face masks. Picture: West Norfolk Green Party - Credit: Archant

She said: "Racism is usually covert - being overlooked for jobs and promotions, having assumptions made on character, there is lots of gaslighting, and unconscious bias, exclusion from social events.

"The report fails to address the harms done by ignoring our history of colonialism and slavery. 

"By overlooking this ugly aspect of our past, we risk alienating a significant section of our people  and perpetuating the myths around Empire which are very prevalent today and which in my opinion, lead to the covert and overt racism and xenophobia that we see today."

The commission put forward 24 recommendations that it thinks will improve the lives and experiences of individuals and communities across the UK which includes the acronym BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) no longer being used.

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