IRR: Sewell report seeks to sideline structural factors attached to racism

Updated 10 May 2021: Racism in action: Guardian: Celebrities unite to back #StopAsianHate campaign

Marvel film stars Gemma Chan and Benedict Wong among prominent east and south-east Asian people taking action on UK’s wave of Covid-related sinophobia

The Marvel film star Gemma Chan has revealed that she is frightened for her family in the UK after a surge in hate crimes against Chinese, Japanese and south-east Asian people.

Speaking to the Observer to help raise awareness for a national #StopAsianHate campaign, Chan said she was “deeply concerned and disturbed” at police figures revealing that, in London alone, attacks on east and south-east Asian people (ESEA) have tripled over the past year.

“Like many others, I worry for family members every time they leave the house or use public transport,” said Chan. “My mum has worked for the NHS for most of her life. She and my dad have been followed and subjected to a number of verbal assaults since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Chan said that while the attacks on her parents did not become physical, many victims did face violence. Among several incidents, she cited an unprovoked attack on a 26-year-old woman in Edinburgh last week that ended in her hospitalisation, the vicious beating of a university lecturer out jogging in Southampton and a physical assault on Singaporean student Jonathan Mok on Oxford Street in London. She warned that a tipping point had been reached.

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14 April 2021: IRR: Sewell, stigma and the policing of race

Ultimately, what we at the IRR fear is that such disaggregated, ethnic-specific data will be used to create a kind of league table of good and bad, successful and failing groups. A variation of the ‘good migrant’ ‘bad migrant’ scenario. A kind of stigmatisation via comparison. Sewell, the chair of the commission, has form here – and we already see this in his report, contrasting good parenting techniques and enterprising family structures in the Black African community with family dysfunction or breakdown in other communities, most notably the Black Caribbean.

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31 March 2021: Institute of Race Relations – IRR: The IRR responds to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report

From what we have seen, both the findings and the recommendations of the government-commissioned Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report fit neatly with the government’s attempts, post-Brexit, to portray the British nation as a beacon of good race relations and a diversity model, in the report’s words, for ‘white majority countries’ across the globe. The methodology of the report appears to be one that, in severing issues of race from class and treating issues of structural racism as ‘historic’ but not contemporary, leads to the stigmatisation of some ethnic minorities on the back of the valorisation of others.

Black Caribbeans, for instance, are contrasted with Black Africans, and deemed to have internalised past injustices to the detriment of their own social advancement. While much is made of the differences between communities, primarily in educational attainment and elite employment, we can see no attempt here to address the common ethnic minority experience of structural racism within areas such as the criminal justice system. Where racism in Britain is acknowledged in the report, the emphasis is placed on online abuse, which is very much in line with the wider drift in British politics and society away from understanding racism in terms of structural factors and locating it instead in prejudice and bigotry. The pre-publicity for the report – borne out in the recommendations – suggested that the aggregating term ‘BAME’ will now be ditched in official government research reports. The IRR would anticipate that it is the post-Macpherson narrative on institutional racism that the government, on the back of this report, will be most eager to sideline. We would further anticipate that future government research on inequality will be framed by issues of ‘ethnic disadvantage’, with differences in ethnic outcomes attributed to cultural and genetic factors, rather than the discriminatory hand of state institutions.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.


The controversial Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) report is a right wing ideological attempt to shift the narrative on racism away from discussing how to address institutional racism to questioning its very existence. It ignores an abundance of evidence illustrating institutional racism across a range of sectors. Many – including some of the commissioners – have accused CRED of cherry-picking data used in the report to suit this narrative. 

CRED attempts to put a positive spin on slavery, is divisive, undermines the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, and seeks to roll back several decades the debate on race relations in Britain. It is a shameful rebuttal of the findings of the landmark Stephen Lawrence report and nothing short of a propaganda exercise. 

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