15 April 2021
The Sewell Report published in March 2021 sought to identify and make recommendations on racism across the United Kingdom.
The Race Accountability and Listening Action Group (RALAG) does not agree with the substantive assertion that the report makes that there is no institutional racism in the UK. The report's language, direction, and recommendations indeed highlight the existence of the very issues it seeks to dismiss as non-existent. There is a lacking nuance in the scope of the information considered, and this is reflected in the recommendations that have come out of the report.
The commitments we are making as an institution highlight the importance of grounding race and race relations issues in the UK, particularly in the way they affect the most marginalised of our community. As members of the RALAG, we attribute the dismissive nature of this report to the lack of responsibility and accountability when it comes to addressing racism and inequality in the UK. We have all seen the implications of COVID-19 for the BME community, and of course remember the protests and manifestations last summer as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.
For some this seemed too-far removed, as the death of George Floyd happened in the US, and not in the UK. We acknowledge that this often deflects the issue at hand, which is the comparison that institutional racism goes beyond the surface layer of individual racism. The fact that Black men are 19 times more likely to be stopped and searched, that Black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth, and twice as likely to experience stillbirth. And of course the fact that living in more urban or deprived areas affects the death rate of COVID-19, and that certain ethnic groups are more affected by this as they are more likely to live in high populated urban areas. Similarly, the fact that people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent have the lowest median incomes in the UK, and refugee children face difficulties accessing education where in 2018 up to a quarter were waiting for more than three months for a placement and some up to a year.
It is indicative of the inequalities and unbalanced distribution of wealth and health within the UK population, and particularly how institutional commitment has been able to address this. Particularly in the context of Higher Education, the persistent awarding, attainment, retention, and overall success gaps of students from Black and Brown populations is evidence that there is not equitable opportunity for those from Marginalised races.
At SOAS, we recognise that these commitments are bigger than just our institutional approach, and we continue to learn from our community. SOAS is in many ways very active in different parts of the society, and shapes the conversation around race, socio-political and economic issues in the UK and beyond, and that is integral to the work that is needed to counter the misrepresentation of this report.
We acknowledge that there are elements of the report that reflect the needs of the community, such as the recommendation to do away with the use of the acronym BAME, and SOAS has been working toward this through our ‘Don’t Call me BAME’ project that launched last month, and has been part of ongoing work since October last year.
As an institution, we continue to learn and adapt to the changes necessary by acknowledging the responsibility we have, and the measures that are necessary to making lasting change. We will continue doing this by holding ourselves accountable and to a standard that is reflective of the society we want to serve. This means listening to, understanding and learning from our community.
RALAG will continue the work to identify instances and structures of racism both within and outside of SOAS, and bring accountability to them.
Lucia Kula and Dr Melanie-Marie Haywood
Race Accountability & Listening Action Group Co-Chairs