Response to the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities

The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was commissioned in the wake of last summer’s mass protests in over sixty countries and over several localities in Britain following the killing of George Floyd in the USA. The Black Lives Matter movement and mass protests meant that the struggle for racial justice become more relevant than ever.

The report’s main theme is an attempt to shift decades of understanding of the role of structural factors in determining the life chances of Britain’s ethnic minority population, to a focus on the failings of groups and individuals. The narrative of the report presents a view that for some ethnic minority groups, they have ‘never had it so good’. Whilst for others their lack of success or progress is reflective of the inability to grasp the boundless opportunities. Within this perspective, the importance of notions of institutional and structural racism, in understanding race and ethnic disparities/inequality are out of favour.

However, on the same day as the publication of the report hundreds of students staged a protest over allegations of racism in a London secondary school ( The school had introduced new uniform policies which effectively banned hairstyles that “blocked the views of others”. One parent said her son had received a detention because of his afro hair. Such a policy is clearly discriminatory and institutional. It is in effect aimed at a particular ethnic group. As such it is an example of institutional racism that the report denies the existence of.

In the report educational achievement becomes the prism evidencing the nature of success, namely, “Education is the single most emphatic success story of British ethnic minority”.  It is often, the escalator to social mobility and transformative change. Interestingly, different educational outcomes between different ethnic minority groups with students of Indian and Chinese heritage achieving above national average outcomes.  By contrast Black Caribbean students persistently “underperform” and feature disproportionately in the unfavourable school exclusion statistics, particularly males.

 Similarly, we are reminded, after over 50 years in the British education system, Black Caribbean students continue to be denied the label of a model ethnicity, when it is compared with “new African communities,” which are among the new high achievers in the education system. As their Caribbean peers sit in the same classrooms. It is difficult to blame racism in education for the latter’s underachievement”. The theme exemplified here by the report is if certain ethnic minorities can be “successful” but others are not then the causes is to be found in those ethnic minorities themselves. This assumes that racism and racial stereotypes operate evenly. They do not. Stereotypes concerning one Black group in a classroom can be very different from stereotypes relating to another. The report avoids such realities and prefers the view that certain Black groups are deficient in their culture, behaviour, attitude and so forth.

On the issue of institutions and institutional racism, the report without stating it, denies its existence. However, simply on the issue of school exclusions, Black boys do not exclude/suspend themselves from school. Exclusion is a decision made by the representatives of the institution which is the school.

 Conversely, my new co-authored book( with Maylor ,U and Pickup, T[,2020]), Young British African and Caribbean Men Achieving Educational Success Disrupting Deficit Discourses about Black Male Achievement, Routledge, based on research conducted with young British African and Caribbean men in London , Birmingham and Nottingham in the United Kingdom charts Black Caribbean males students’ educational experience from secondary school to university. We argue for an end to the deficit model which culturally pathologies Black Caribbean educational underperformance by ascribing it to, inter alia deficits, cultural differences and family practices.

  In contrast to the report focus on the underperformance of young Black males in the British education system. The dominant notion of this book is educational success. The young men found the education system a challenge due to institutional and structural racism. A persistent theme among Black young men, is their sense of confidence, hope, optimism and resilience. In addition, we show that contrary to dominant misconception that Black people, particularly those of Caribbean heritage, place little value on education and fail to recognise the importance of academic success, the research showed Black families prioritise, place an urgency on, and are willing to

go “above and beyond” to ensure immediate and future generations of

young Black people achieve academic success. Throughout the UK, Black Caribbean people established in their own communities’ supplementary schools. Why? Because they saw their children underperforming in state schools and were keen to address the issue. This is a consequence of the value they place on education. There are even today, parents in the UK who send their children to schools in Jamaica, where they believe they will have a better chance of educational success So, despite their experiences with racism and discrimination, Black youth tend to live with a sense of hope and optimism which seem to nurture and sustain their resilience.

In essence, there is an increasing need to intervene into the deficit

discourse of Black Caribbean young men and highlight the ways in which they take agency, set educational and career goals, and skilfully set about to realise their aspirations. Nonetheless the fact remains, stereotyping and concomitantly racialisation remains a major issue that continues to limit the educational opportunities, possibilities and successes of Black Caribbean youth.

Young British African and Caribbean Men Achieving Educational Success Disrupting Deficit Discourses about Black Male Achievement, Routledge

Cecile Wright,

Professor of Sociology, University of Nottingham