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Race commission chair Tony Sewell defends report after backlash

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The chair of the government’s race commission today dismissed ‘ridiculous and offensive’ claims that it downplayed the ‘evil’ of the slave trade.

The long-awaited study was branded a ‘whitewash’ yesterday as it concluded there is little evidence of institutional racism in Britain. 

Factors such as geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion were found to have more impact on life chances than racism.

And the authors were accused of trying to put a ‘positive spin on slavery’ after they called on schools to use history lessons to ‘tell the multiple, nuanced stories of the contributions made by different groups that have made this country the one it is today’.

In his foreword, chair Tony Sewell said there was a new story to be told about the ‘slave period’ and about how ‘culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodelled African/Britain’.

But Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think-tank, said: ‘I’m absolutely flabbergasted to see the slave trade apparently redefined as ”the Caribbean Experience”; as though it’s something Thomas Cook should be selling – a one-way shackled cruise to purgatory. 

‘The cultural deafness of this report is only going to become clearer in the coming days and weeks.’

But Dr Sewell said the criticism was ‘absurd’. ‘It is absurd to suggest that the commission is trying to downplay the evil of the slave trade,’ he said.

‘It is both ridiculous and offensive to each and every commissioner.

‘The report merely says that, in the face of the inhumanity of slavery, African people preserved their humanity and culture.’ 

Dr Tony Sewell

The report

Overseen by chair Dr Tony Sewell, the findings from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities were branded a ‘whitewash’ by the Left, but welcomed by other campaigners

Labour MPs and campaigners lined up to slam the report findings last night, although others backed it

Labour MPs and campaigners lined up to slam the report findings last night, although others backed it

The landmark review found children from many ethnic minorities do as well or better at school than white pupils

The landmark review found children from many ethnic minorities do as well or better at school than white pupils

Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to Middlesbrough today) said the findings were 'interesting', but the government might not accept 'everything' it concluded

Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to Middlesbrough today) said the findings were ‘interesting’, but the government might not accept ‘everything’ it concluded

The commissioners behind the report

Dr Tony Sewell (chairman): Brixton-born son of Jamaican immigrants who has previously questioned claims of institutional racism in Britain. The 62-year-old was raised in London and worked as a teacher, first in London and then for two years in Jamaica. He gained a PhD for a thesis called ‘Black masculinities and schooling’.

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock: Space scientist and presenter of The Sky At Night since 2014, when she replaced Sir Patrick Moore. Born in London to Nigerian parents. The married mother-of-one, 53, is a physicist and mechanical engineer once helped create a hand-held landmine detector. Works to inspire schoolchildren to work in science and technology.

Aftab Chughtai: A retail businessman who runs Aftabs in Alum Rock, Birmingham. A member of the Grenfell taskforce he was awarded an MBE in 2015 for services to business and the community. chairman of the West Midlands Police Independent Advisory Group and co-founder of Brexiteer group Muslims for Britain.

Keith Fraser: A former police officer who worked for the Met and West Midlands police in a career spanning 32 years, rising to the rank of superintendent. Currently chairman of the Youth Justice Board. Birmingham-born son of Jamaican immigrants who became a bus driver and secretary respectively. Last year he spoke of being a victim of stop and search when a serving officer and accused forces of ‘unconscious bias’.

Naureen Khalid: Experienced school governor and educatuion blogger who set up @ukgovchat, an online forum for school governors. Mother of three who originally trained as a geneticist before moving into education.

Dr Dambisa Moyo: Economist and author who was previously on the board of Barclays Bank. Born in Zamia and educated at Oxford and Harvard she was one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2009. Author of ‘How Boards Work’ and ‘Dead Aid’, which criticised post-war economic support for African countries. Her website described her as ‘a pre-eminent thinker, who influences key decision-makers in strategic investment and public policy’.

Mercy Muroki: Oxford-educated social policy researcher at the Centre for Social Justice, commentator and columnist. Born in Kenya to parents who moved the family to Northampton. Became a single mother at the age of 18 to daughter Rosalind and has spoken about surviving on Universal Credit. Brexiteer Tory who introduced Sajid Javid at the 2019 Conservative Party Conference. This month she told the Sun: ‘I just don’t subscribe to woke, academic culture.’

Martyn Oliver: Teacher, chief executive of Outwood Grange Academies Trust which runs more than 30 schools and runs a zero-tolerance discipline regime. He backs moves to extend the school day, especially in deprived areas. He told Schools Week today: ‘The evidence is clear: give schools the resources to extend the school day and they will enrich the social and cultural capital of every child while boosting their academic performance.’

Dr Samir Shah: TV producer, a former deputy chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum and a non-executive Director on the BBC Board. His firm Juniper TV produced Boris: The London Years and Theresa Vs Boris: How May Became PM for the BBC in 2016 and 2017 respectively. 

Kunle Olulode: Director of the Voice4Change England charity which has more than 400 organisations as members. A member of the Government’s Windrush Working Group in 2018 he co-curated the Black And Banned season at London’s South Bank which ‘considered the impact of censorship in black film, literature and music’.

Blondel Cluff: Chairman of the National Lottery Community Fund, which hands out money to charity, since February. Solicitor and former diplomat for the British Overseas Territory (BOT) of Anguilla, who is chief executive of the West India Committee charity

The race report was months in the making and produced by a group of 12 experts – only one of whom was white. 

The report, commissioned by the Prime Minister after last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, said Britain was no longer a country where the ‘system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities’.

In a foreword, Dr Sewell rebuked ‘negative calls for ”decolonising” the curriculum’.

He said a Making Of Modern Britain teaching resource should focus on the influence of the UK during its Empire period, how ‘Britishness influenced the Commonwealth’ and how local communities influenced ‘modern Britain’.

He added: ‘There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodelled African/Britain.’ 

Mr Johnson insisted today there are ‘serious issues that our society faces to do with racism’ and that work needed to be done to ‘fix it’.

And he suggested the government will not agree with ‘everything’ in the report’s conclusions. 

‘Look, this is a very interesting piece of work,’ he said.

‘I don’t say the Government is going to agree with absolutely everything in it, but it has some original and stimulating work in it that I think people need to read and to consider.

‘There are very serious issues that our society faces to do with racism that we need to address.

‘We’ve got to do more to fix it, we need to understand the severity of the problem, and we’re going to be looking at all the ideas that they have put forward, and we’ll be making our response.’

Although the study came under heavy fire, many campaigners voiced support. 

Duwayne Brooks, a friend of Stephen Lawrence, said he agreed that not all disparities in the UK were caused by racism.

The activist told Times Radio: ‘What the report is doing is comparing life for the ethnic minorities in Britain, in comparison to the European countries, where life would be much, much worse than how it is today.’

He added: ‘It’s not as simple to just say that the black people of Britain cannot get jobs because they’re black. 

‘And that’s what people want the report to say.’

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, added: ‘This report rightly identifies the varied causes of disparities and by making recommendations to address them gives the Government the opportunity to design policy targeting the sources of inequality.’  

‘It is no wonder they are losing the expertise from their team.’

Yesterday Dr Sewell, who insisted that the commission simply hadn’t found evidence of institutional racism in Britain, said some communities were haunted by historic racism and there was a ‘reluctance to acknowledge that the UK had become open and fairer’.

He said the review found some evidence of bias, but often it was a perception that the wider society could not be trusted.

NHS Providers said it disagreed with the report’s conclusions and said there was ‘clear and unmistakable’ evidence that NHS ethnic minority staff had worse experiences and faced more barriers than white counterparts.

Sabby Dhalu, of Stand Up To Racism, said: ‘Suggesting Britain should be regarded as a ‘model for other white-majority countries’ is an insult to all those who lost their lives due to racism.’

But Chancellor Rishi Sunak said progress had been made in tackling racism, telling ITV’s Peston: ‘If I think about the things that happened to me when I was a kid, I can’t imagine those things happening to me now.’

The 264-page report also called on ministers to tackle online abuse, lengthen the school day to help disadvantaged pupils, force police to switch on body cameras during stop-and-search encounters, and establish an independent body to target health disparities. 

The report said: ‘The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism. 

‘That said, we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK.’ 

It added: ‘We have argued for the use of the term ‘institutional racism’ to be applied only when deep-seated racism can be proven on a systemic level and not be used as a general catch-all phrase for any microaggression, witting or unwitting.’

The report said: ‘The life chances of the child of a Harrow-raised British Indian accountant and the child of a Bradford-raised British Pakistani taxi-driver are as wide apart as they are, partly because of the UK’s economic geography. 

‘Meanwhile, the numerically largest disadvantaged group is low income White boys, especially those from former industrial and coastal towns, who are failing at secondary school and are the people least likely to go to university. 

‘Unlike many other reports on race and ethnicity we have included the White group in our deliberations. 

‘For a range of outcomes, White working class children trail behind their peers in almost all ethnic minority groups, although the extent of these disparities vary by area.’  

The review highlighted the different fortunes of ethnic groups, pointing out that white British boys from poorer backgrounds are among the most disadvantaged. These figures show the difference between the mean score for the group and the grand mean score across all pupils - which is equivalent to zero

The review highlighted the different fortunes of ethnic groups, pointing out that white British boys from poorer backgrounds are among the most disadvantaged. These figures show the difference between the mean score for the group and the grand mean score across all pupils – which is equivalent to zero

No10 frantically plays down dramatic resignation of PM’s adviser on ethnic minorities 

Downing Street today frantically played down the resignation of the PM’s most senior black aide as ministers faced backlash over a ‘whitewash’ race report.

Boris Johnson heaped praise on Samuel Kasumu’s ‘great’ work in encouraging vaccine take-up among ethnic minorities after it emerged he is leaving No10.

The news surfaced after the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities published a controversial study on inequality in Britain.

But a spokesman for the PM said Mr Kasumu had planned to go for ‘months’, and will be staying until May. 

‘Any suggestion that this decision has been made this week or that this is linked to the CRED report is completely inaccurate,’ the spokesman said.

Mr Kasumu had tendered his resignation in February, penning a letter warning that ministers were pursuing a ‘politics steeped in division’ and voicing ‘concern’ about how equalities minister Kemi Badenoch handled a spat with a journalist. At that stage he was talked out of going, even though the letter was leaked.

The 33-year-old informed No10 colleagues yesterday that he was leaving, according to Politico. 

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi is believed to have tried unsuccessfully to persuade Mr Kasumu to change his mind again. 

During a visit to Middlesbrough, Mr Johnson told reporters: ‘I worked very closely with Samuel in the last year or so and he’s done some great stuff.

‘I thank him very much, particularly on helping to encourage vaccine take-up amongst more hesitant groups and communities. And, actually, we’re seeing some real success there.

‘It is true that different groups have been coming forward at different paces, everybody is increasing their take-ups, so I thank him very much for that.’

The race report, which was months in the making and produced by a group of 12 experts – only one of whom was white – concluded that there was no evidence of institutional racism in this country.

Overseen by chair Dr Tony Sewell, its findings were branded a ‘whitewash’ by the Left, but welcomed by other campaigners. 

Samuel Kasumu, who advised Boris Johnson on ethnic minorities is understood to have handed in his resignation after long-running tensions

Samuel Kasumu, who advised Boris Johnson on ethnic minorities is understood to have handed in his resignation after long-running tensions

Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to Middlesbrough today) heaped praise on Mr Kasumu's 'great' work in encouraging vaccine take-up among ethnic minorities after it emerged he is leaving No10

Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to Middlesbrough today) heaped praise on Mr Kasumu’s ‘great’ work in encouraging vaccine take-up among ethnic minorities after it emerged he is leaving No10

Dr Tony Sewell

The report

Overseen by chair Dr Tony Sewell, the findings from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities were branded a ‘whitewash’ by the Left, but welcomed by other campaigners

Samuel Kasumu: From Tory activist and HuffPost writer to advising the PM on ethnic minorities

Samuel Kasumu, originally from Barnet but now living in St Albans, studied business and management accounting at Brunel University – where he was student President and Vice President and left with a 2:1 – and a postgraduate degree in Ethnicity, Migration, & Policy from Birkbeck, University of London.

While at Brunel, in 2006, he was also the President of the largest African and Caribbean Society on a university campus in the country, the HuffPost says.

He is married to Barbara Kasumu, who held an advisory position at the Cabinet Office in 2018.

The couple ran Elevation Networks until 2018, which was setup to help young and under-represented people in the job market. 

Mrs Kasumu has worked for similar social enterprises including The Kids Network and The Foyer Federation. 

During the 2011 London riots he acted as a community representative calling for peace, particularly in the Tottenham area in the north of the capital. That same year the political adviser also featured in a campaign called Operation Black Vote, where he was presented as a leading entrepreneur and future political figure.

Since leaving university the Liverpool football fan has worked as a councillor, with faith groups and started out in politics at a local level. He was a contributor for the HuffPost and is still described on its website as a ‘young political commentator’.

He has also written for the Guardian, New Statesman and was a columnist for Nigerian Watch. In 2012 he wrote his first book called Winning the Race, which criticised what he saw as a lack of action by the Tories in appealing to ethnic minorities.

But he was best known for being the founder of Elevation Networks – a student level social enterprise in Euston which tries to give underrepresented young people a more competitive stance in the labour market. 

During the 2010 general election he campaigned for Theresa Villiars MP, David Borrowes MP, and Philipa Stroud. He has worked as a special adviser in Downing Street for the past year and a half. 

The report, commissioned by the Prime Minister after last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, said Britain was no longer a country where the ‘system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities’.

It said factors such as geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion all impacted life chances more than racism, and concluded the UK was a ‘beacon’ to the world as a successful multi-ethnic nation which displayed much more tolerance than its neighbours.

But unions said the report denied the experiences of black and minority ethnic workers. 

Labour justice spokesman David Lammy said black Britons were being ‘gaslighted’ and called the report an insult to anyone in Britain who had experienced structural racism.

The report’s authors were also accused of trying to put a ‘positive spin on slavery’ after they called on schools to use history lessons to ‘tell the multiple, nuanced stories of the contributions made by different groups that have made this country the one it is today’.

In his foreword, Dr Sewell said there was a new story to be told about the ‘slave period’ and about how ‘culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodelled African/Britain’.

But Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think-tank, said: ‘I’m absolutely flabbergasted to see the slave trade apparently redefined as ‘the Caribbean Experience’; as though it’s something Thomas Cook should be selling – a one-way shackled cruise to purgatory. 

‘The cultural deafness of this report is only going to become clearer in the coming days and weeks.’

But Dr Sewell said it was ‘absurd to suggest that the commission is trying to downplay the evil of the slave trade’. 

Mr Kasumu wrote a resignation letter from his job, paid up to £75,000 a year, in February.

Although he later retracted it, the BBC obtained a copy. 

In it, Mr Kasumu accused the Conservative Party of pursuing ‘a politics steeped in division’ and suggested Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch may have broken the ministerial code in her public spat with a journalist.

He wrote: ‘I fear for what may become of the party in the future by choosing to pursue a politics steeped in division.’

The former Conservative activist and councillor who grew up in Barnet, north London, said ‘the damage that is often caused by our actions is not much considered’, adding: ‘As someone that has spent his whole adult life serving others, that tension has been at times unbearable.’

He reportedly described the actions of Ms Badenoch as ‘concerning’.

Ms Badenoch accused HuffPost reporter Nadine White of ‘creepy and bizarre’ behaviour after the journalist contacted her requesting a comment for a story.

The minister posted screenshots of Ms White’s emails online sparking a backlash against the reporter. 

Mr Kasumu apparently notified the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, that he will be leaving last week, and told colleagues yesterday. 

Shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said: ‘To have your most senior advisor on ethnic minorities quit as you publish a so-called landmark report on race in the UK is telling of how far removed the Tories are from the everyday lived experiences of Black, Asian and ethnic minority people.

‘Their divisive report appears to glorify slavery and suggests that institutional racism does not exist despite the evidence to the contrary. 

‘It is no wonder they are losing the expertise from their team.’

The BBC said he also described the actions of equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (pictured), who launched an online tirade against a journalist last week, as 'concerning'

Pictured: HuffPost reporter Nadine White

In a resignation letter leaked to the BBC in February but later retracted, Mr Kasumu voiced ‘concern’ about the actions of equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (left), who launched an online tirade against HuffPost reporter Nadine White (right)

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