LONDON – Nine minutes on a Minneapolis street last May sparked a long, defiant summer of protests around the world.
Now that the first trial into George Floyd’s death is underway, an official UK report on racial inequality ordered in his wake has sparked new anger and calls for change.
The much anticipated report – Commissioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year and released on Wednesday – noted that while more needs to be done, Britain should be seen as a “model for other white majority countries”.
This conclusion has sparked anger among critics who have described the report as “divisive” and a “missed opportunity” for the UK. Tens of thousands protested across the country last year to condemn racism and stand up for the Black Lives Matter movement.
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“This race report is a whitewash, a blow to all the anti-racism efforts that are being made today.” Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, An attorney, activist, and author of This Is Why I Resist told NBC News.
“It sheds light on the entire nation in denying that racism is structural,” she said. “As a nation, we should be ashamed of this.”
The release of the 258-page report during the ongoing process was “completely disrespectful,” said Mos-Shogbamimu, adding that blacks on both sides of the Atlantic routinely face problems such as police brutality and mass detention.
The report was prepared by an independent committee on race and ethnic differences, nine of which ten were black. Johnson founded the commission last year after the nationwide protests against Floyd’s death.
It found that “there are barriers and differences, but they are different and, ironically, very few are directly related to racism,” said Dr. Tony Sewell, Chairman of the Commission, in the foreword to the report. “Simply put, we no longer see a UK where the system is deliberately directed against ethnic minorities.”
Johnson called the report “very interesting work” on Thursday and said his administration would consider its recommendations before drafting a broader response.
“I’m not saying that the government will be okay with absolutely anything in it, but it does contain some original and inspiring work that I think people need to read and consider,” he told reporters. “There are very serious racism-related issues our society faces that we need to address.”
Some commentators have tried to frame the report as part of a broader “culture war” raging post-Brexit in Britain – often fueled by Johnson’s Conservative government.
In recent months there have been clashes between nationalist anthems, the Union Jack flag, and the status of statues and museum exhibits from the colonial era.
“Is that real?” Marsha de Cordova, an opposition MP, tweeted on Wednesday.
“This report was an opportunity to look seriously at the reality of inequality and institutional racism in Britain,” said de Cordova, the shadow secretary for women and equality, in a statement. “Instead, we have a divisive polemic that selects statistics.”
Author Kehinde Andrews, a professor of black studies at Birmingham City University, told Sky News the commission had painted a “fairytale” picture of Britain. (Sky News is owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC News.)
“Let’s face it, this has never been a real attempt to address the issue of racism,” he said.
As part of last year’s protests, statues of slaveholders were overthrown, soccer stars knelt, Hollywood actor John Boyega gave a passionate speech, and public debates examined colonialism and Winston Churchill’s legacy.
From Buckingham Palace to Downing Street, the erupting race bill forced businesses, colleagues and royal families to grapple with issues of race and identity.
For Mercy Longe, 22, a student in London, the recent allegations by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, about racism in the royal family were evidence of “persistent racist tension” in Britain at all levels of society.
Longe said she was “disturbed” by the government report.
“The UK has a very long way to go and it is quite shocking to applaud yourself with such massive debates going on,” she said. “Basically to boast about how other countries should follow suit, I just thought it was pretty ridiculous.”
The report noted that overt and outright racism persists, especially online, and acknowledged that Britain is not yet a “post-racial society” of equal opportunities.
However, it concluded that family influence, socio-economic background, culture, and religion were more important factors in life chances than the existence of racism.
The educational level of ethnic minorities was also recognized as evidence that institutional racism is not responsible for social differences.
However for Halima Begum, Director of the Racial Equality Think Tank, Runnymede Trust, Educational success should instead be seen as “clear recognition” of the fact that immigrants and minorities “are often pulled up by their boots and urge their children to achieve too much in school precisely because they do not have the necessary institutional support. “
According to the think tank, black Britons were more likely to be stopped and searched by police, died in childbirth and were excluded from schools, while black communities also suffered disproportionately during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The government seems completely incapable of recognizing or even showing empathy for the occurrence of racism in the UK,” Begum said via email.
Gary McFarlane, 60, a British Black Lives Matter activist from London, said he was “sick and tired” of government-backed reports and investigations.
“In terms of institutions, it’s getting worse … but in many ways you could argue on the ground, where people actually live together, things have actually gotten better,” he said.
“That gives me hope for the future.”