Britain’s top black adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resigned, the government said on Thursday, the day after a racial disparities report concluded Britain did not have a systemic racism problem.
The government has denied any connection between Samuel Kasumu’s departure and the much-criticized report, which activists and academics have accused of ignoring the experiences of Britons of color.
The prime minister’s office said Kasumu would step down as special advisor to civil society and communities in May, as had been “his plan for several months”.
He denied that the resignation was linked to the release on Wednesday of a report by the government-appointed Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities, which concluded that Britain was not an institutionally racist country.
But Simon Woolley, a former government adviser on equality and a member of the UK House of Lords, said Kasumu’s exit was linked to the ‘dirty’ and ‘divisive’ report.
“(There is a) crisis at No. 10 when it comes to recognizing and dealing with persistent racial inequality,” Woolley said.
Kasumu had considered resigning in February. He wrote a letter of resignation, obtained by the BBC, which accused Johnson’s Conservative Party of pursuing “a policy of division”. He was persuaded to stay temporarily to work on a campaign encouraging Britons of color to get the coronavirus vaccine.
The Conservative government launched an inquiry into racial disparities following anti-racism protests last year. The expert panel concluded that while “outright racism” exists in Britain, the country is not “institutionally racist” or “rigged” against Britons of color.
Citing progress made in bridging the gaps between ethnic groups in educational and economic achievement, the report says race is becoming ‘less important’ as a factor creating disparities that are also fueled by class and family background. .
Many anti-racist activists were skeptical of the results, saying the commission ignored the real barriers to equality.
“Institutionally, we are always racist, and for a government appointed commission… denying its existence is deeply, deeply disturbing,” said Halima Begum, managing director of the Runnymede Trust, a racial equality think tank. .
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Doreen Lawrence, who became a leading anti-racist activist after her 18-year-old son Stephen was killed in a 1993 racist attack in London, said the report’s authors were “not in contact with the reality ”.
“Those people who paraded for Black Lives Matter?” It is to deny all that. George Floyd stuff? It’s all denied, ”she said.
The report was also widely decried by academics and scientists, who said it ignored the interplay of factors such as poverty, class and race in creating inequality.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted racial fault lines, with Britons from black Africa and the black Caribbean dying from COVID-19 more than twice as many as their white compatriots. Jobs, underlying health conditions and deprivation are all dividing factors.
In the British Medical Journal, public health experts Mohammad S. Razai, Azeem Majeed and Aneez Esmail said that “structural racism is a major contributor to ethnic disparities in health” and accused the report of using ” handpicked data ”to support a policy agenda.
“Its attempts to undermine the well-established and evidence-based role of ethnicity in health outcomes will lead to deepening systemic inequalities, further endangering the lives of ethnic minorities,” the authors said.
Blacks in Britain are also three times more likely than whites to be arrested and twice as likely to die in police custody.
Like other countries, Britain has faced an uncomfortable account of systemic racism since the death of George Floyd, a black American, at the knees of an American policeman in May 2020, sparked protests against racism in the whole world.
Large crowds at Black Lives Matter protests across the UK last summer called on government and institutions to face the legacy of the British Empire and the country’s vast profits from the slave trade .
The toppling of a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston in the city of Bristol in June sparked a heated debate over how to deal with Britain’s past. Many felt that such statues advocated racism and were an affront to black Britons. Others, including the Prime Minister, have argued that their removal is erasing part of history.
Johnson insisted on Thursday that his government was not playing down racism. He pointed out that the commission made 24 recommendations, including setting up an office for health disparities, sending juvenile offenders to the public health system rather than the criminal justice system and ensuring that police forces better represent the communities they serve.
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“Our society is facing very serious problems related to racism and we have to tackle it,” he said. “We have to do more to solve it, we have to understand the seriousness of the problem, and we will look at all the ideas that (the commission) has put forward, and we will make our response. ”