Notes on: Miller, P. (2021) System Failure, Structural Racism and Anti-Racism in the United Kingdom: Evidence from Education and Beyond. Societies 11(2) , 42 [article number] .

Dave Harris

The death of George Floyd fuelled countless debates about racism and antiracism and much self-examination and new commitments to antiracism work. In the UK 'racism is deeply segmented in the psyche and fibre of all layers of society and this has been the case for generations' [and this is referenced , to a Guardian article by Olusaga! The article is really about urging us not to congratulate ourselves just because we in Britain do not have guns]. There is a lack of understanding encouraged covered by political correctness and a game of pacifying. There are four system conditions that can affect the spread of racism, and if these are not aligned we get system failure.

MacPherson defines racism as '"conduct or words or practices which advantage or disadvantage people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. In its more subtle form it is as damaging as in its overt form"' (2). Some examples include overt racism 'e.g. placard bearing and name-calling' and covert 'e.g. subtle acts to subvert, distort, restrict, gaslight et cetera'. Antiracism can operate at an organisation or individual level to redistribute and share power 'equitably' [the reference here points to a Civil Liberties website in Alberta which refers to  'power imbalances between  racialized people and non-racialized/white people. These imbalances play  out in the form of unearned privileges that white people benefit from and racialized people do not'. The link to further explain white privilege does not work]. We can further specify antiracism as an individual and organisational process which identifies and eliminates racism by changing system structures policies practices and attitudes 'so that power is re-distributed and shared equitably' [equitably isn't defined either]

That structural racism exists in UK society is a '"fact of life"' supported by several studies and reports dating back to the 1940s [some classic studies include the Rampton report, Gilroy, the Lawrence enquiry, the Lammy review]. It is underpinned or encouraged by certain system conditions, frameworks within which relevant services must operate, which shape performance and which improve or undermine processes and therefore change the way people think about and do their work. There are four in particular -- law and policies; statements of state representatives and public figures; national cultural values and attitudes; funding.

First, law policies and official reports. The law establishes what is acceptable and can guarantee equal rights and justice. A case study of overseas trained teachers [one of his] shows how it can operate [overseas trained teachers were required to achieve QTS or equivalent within four years of teaching, this was then waived for EU teachers after Bologna, and, in 2012, for teachers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, but not for teachers from elsewhere, from nonwhite non-industrialised countries. Another case study concerns the Equality Act of 2010. It is illegal to discriminate against anyone with nine protected characteristics including in recruitment, but it is also illegal to take any of these protected characteristics into account when making decisions about recruitment or progression [in other words sponsoring anyone] which produces 'a "zero sum game"' (3) [defines a meritocracy].

The Sewell Report criticised the confusing definition of institutional racism, and concluded that although racism was a real force, Britain was no longer a country which rigged the system against ethnic minorities and argued 'very few inequalities are directly to do with race'. It gave the impression that 'disparities are falling over time' it does not 'present all the available evidence' and has been severely criticised. Hundreds of organisations have rejected its findings and hundreds of thousands of people have petitioned for its withdrawal, so far without success.

The second condition turns on statements of state representatives and public figures who 'have a significant ability to influence public attitudes and opinions, 'it may well be assumed' [!] And 'may appeal to a fan base that is unquestioning of their opinions, some of which could be harmful'. As examples:

Kemi Badenoch attacks critical race theory which she said was breaking the law, and argued that the curriculum did not need to be decolonised, that people should support British values and oppose pernicious identity politics. The effect 'could force many persons thinking about doing antiracism work to do a double take, or those already involved in antiracism work, into a lock jam [sic]' (five) it would have delighted people who don't believe that racism exists. It shows a misunderstanding of CRT, 'which assumes a stance of non-neutrality although CRT refutes being nonracist as an acceptable position and prefers being antiracist, an active stance not merely a declaration [that's what she was arguing against]

Liz Truss criticised unconscious bias training and the excessive focus on discrimination by race religion sexual orientation and disability, and other protected characteristics which overlooks socio-economic status and geographic inequality. She emphasised the need for objective data. She criticised the '"soft bigotry of low expectations"' and advocated freedom and choice, opportunity and individual humanity instead. She rejected identity politics, lobbying and lived experience . Apparently unconscious bias training has been mandatory for civil servants since 2015, but the intention is to phase it out. Many Conservative MPs and senior figures have also promised a fightback against Black Lives Matter.

Laurence Fox argued with a 'university lecturer and race and ethnicity researcher' (six) over the way Megan Markle had been treated in the press, and denied it was racism. When accused of being a typical white privileged man, he replied that that was a racist comment. This was the latest of a series of 'unsavoury comments' including a remark about the casting of a Sikh soldier for which she had apologised. His views 'are consistent with views held by other public figures and members of the wider populace who may see him as a "mouthpiece"' [or who may not  who knows?]

Eamon Holmes called the Duchess of Sussex 'uppity', 'a word which was used as an insult to black slaves in the USA' [and lots of other people]. He was defended by saying he was unaware of the history of this term. Later he said he found her irritating week and manipulative and this undermined his apology it 'arguably captures the opinions of millions of people in the UK with similarly racist views'.

Boris Johnson referred to flag-waving piccanninies, watermelon smiles and defended British colonialism in Africa, although he claimed that these remarks had been taken out of context. He later said it was natural for the public to be scared of Islam which was the most sectarian of all religions heartless and vicious. He said it was incompatible with British values. He compared Muslim women wearing burkhas to letterboxes and bank robbers. This illustrates 'racist attitudes towards black Africans and Muslims, consistent with 'the UK's officially adopted definition of racism' [probably right].

Thirdly a framework of laws and other rules can be seen in operation with institutions such as Prevent and Fundamental British Values (FBV). OFSTED defined FBV as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. FBV were to be promoted through spiritual moral social and cultural development, the curriculum and school leadership There was a connection with the Prevent strategy intended to reduce the threat to the UK from terrorism by: responding to the ideological challenge of terrorism; preventing people from being drawn into terrorism by offering appropriate advice and support; working with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation. Dealing with extremism meant dealing with any vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values. Miller points out that several [normal]  individuals and groups might therefore have contravened this definition.

Prevent was seen as divisive because it disproportionately targeted British Muslims and undermined community cohesion. The policy can be seen as an exercise in domination, 'a mechanism for stoking racism imposed by the ruling class', not something 'co-constructed with society for the "common good"' [naive] (eight). For example, FBVs did not include equity or justice, fairness.

There has been racist abuse directed at British footballers of BAME heritage who take the knee at football matches, and general racist abuse. 'Fans and commentators continue to chart names' [commentators?]. A cabinet minister failed to condemn Millwall football fans who booed players. Some adverts by Sainsbury's attracted a flurry of racist comments on social media because they featured black families.
40 Conservative MPs refused to take unconscious bias training [these are all in the same list of examples] the Teacher Diversity Steering Group has never met since Johnson became Prime Minister. Several examples show that students of BAME heritage have been racially abused at UK universities [scraping the barrel here] (nine). So he is not suggesting that all people of the same beliefs or values but if these values are defined by and subscribed to by all of society then 'members of that society will show an inclination to these values and to each other' but if these values are imposed by the political class and where tensions anxieties and fears among ethnic groups are exploited, 'this can only make the work of antiracism much more difficult'[confused and weaselly].

Funding. Antiracism efforts require considerable financial investment. One project --  the Leadership for Equality and Diversity Fund (2014) --  set out to help teachers from  protected characteristics progress into leadership to increase the diversity of the teaching workforce, especially by addressing the underrepresentation of women and ethnic minority teachers. Eight regional hub schools would allocate funding to school led projects. 2 million quid were invested 2018--2020. Funding was delayed first by covid, and then, in 2020, scrapped altogether, in favour of exploring other programs [my own guess is that Brexit had a role]. Without funding, antiracism work remains 'largely philosophical and shallow'.

There should be positive social engineering through the law, but as the case studies show, the UK is more likely to create a two tier system, 'a foundational element of structural racism' (10). The overseas trained teachers episode shows that, and so does the treatment of the Windrush generation, [initially welcomed and then treated as second-class citizens]. The prevent strategy has created fractures and a lack of trust rather than building community and social cohesion. We should understand this through the notion of hegemony in the way in which it pacifies and dis-empowers people allegedly 'in the interest of the common good'. Instead 'Hegemony enlists the help of the disempowered in their own disempowerment' amplifying a '"cloak of whiteness" -- structures that reproduce white privilege power and domination' (11) [the references here are to Dubois and also Picower --  the latter a good article, but not really about hegemonic reproduction]. The double bind of the Equality Act is another example. The unintended consequences of applying rules laws and other practices are important, but we can also read off how the racist views of state representatives and public figures 'has severe implications for the moral and social fibre of society' (11).

Failure to realise this will produce colourblindness or post racialism [I gather the latter is a form of denial], numbness and deafness, the normalisation of racism in everyday practice. Dismantling racism require significant financial investment and the creation of pathways for levelling up BAME staff, consultancy, audits and the rest. This will require a proper alignment of the four system conditions. Misalignment arises from lots of possible malfunctions including poor development practices, institutional pathology, the overconcentration of power and so on. In particular, 'that state actors and public figures can spew racism and stoke racist tensions under the guise of parliamentary privilege or "free speech" is problematic' (12).

There is currently a crisis, a system failure for antiracism, a new disharmony and suspicion and lack of trust. One sign of disharmony, oddly is 'the system continues to promote strong kinship and ethnic affinities and disregard the larger umbrella system' (13), but the reference given is to an article on causes of conflict in Africa]. He finds that there are 'current levels of public support for and displays of racism and the current wave of anti-antiracism'.

We must get the system conditions right, new policies and laws, a proper promotion and guarantee of equity, he bangs on again about overseas teachers ['racialised knowledge'], and the abolition [?] of Prevent. He identifies a 'perilous push by very powerful forces in elements of British society to silence those who speak out against racism and to get the already marginalised to be complicit in their own marginalisation'. We need urgent political and organisational leadership financial investment in public scrutiny, and racism should be 'classified as a safeguarding issue' (14).