UN condemns Tory government for ‘reprehensible’ race report that ‘repackages racist tropes’

Boris Johnson in the government briefing room

A group of United Nations experts has condemned the “reprehensible” tactics of the Tory government’s race report, which denied the existence of systemic racism in the UK.

The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent said it “categorically rejects and condemns” the findings of the report, which it said attempts to “normalise white supremacy” and could “fuel racism” in the UK.

The government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was established to investigate racism in the UK after the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020 – but the UN council accuses the commission of “ignoring racial disparities” and “shifting the blame for the impacts of racism to the people most impacted by it”.

“In 2021, it is stunning to read a report on race and ethnicity that repackages racist tropes and stereotypes into fact, twisting data and misapplying statistics and studies into conclusory findings and ad hominem attacks on people of African descent,” it says in a damning statement.

“The report attacks the credibility of those working to mitigate and lessen institutional racism while denying the role of institutions, including educators and educational institutions, in the data on the expectations and aspirations of boys and girls of African descent.”

The widely-criticised report, compiled by a panel hand-picked by No 10, said that it encountered anecdotal evidence of racism but had found no proof that institutional racism exists.

It further claimed that the UK “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries” on race because children from ethnic minority backgrounds were found to do as well or better than their white counterparts in school.

But the UN found the race report cited “dubious evidence to make claims that rationalise white supremacy” by using the familiar arguments that have always justified racial hierarchy.

For example, the 200-year Atlantic slave trade was “rendered inconsequential” in favour of a more “sanitised version of history” that fails to acknowledge how the legacy of slavery continues to shape wealth disparities, they said.

The report’s central claim that institutional racism does not exist in the UK “ignores the pervasive role that the social construction of race was designed to play in society, particularly in normalising atrocity, in which the British state and institutions played a significant role”, it noted.

This attempt to “normalise” white supremacy despite considerable research and evidence of institutional racism is “an unfortunate sidestepping of the opportunity to acknowledge the atrocities of the past and the contributions of all in order to move forward,” they continued.

The group has urged the government to categorically reject the findings and called for the commission to be disbanded or reconstituted.

“The reality is that people of African descent continue to experience poor economic, social, and health outcomes at vastly disproportionate rates in the UK,” they conclude.

Downing Street has rejected the criticism and insisted that the UN group misrepresented the report’s findings. “This report in no way condones racist behaviour and in fact it highlights that racism and inequality are still problems for our country,” a spokesperson said.

The Commission has said any suggestion that it would play down the atrocities of slavery is “as absurd as it is offensive”.

At least 20 organisations and individuals who were listed as stakeholders have since distanced themselves from the report after its controversial findings were released.