The authors of the government’s controversial racism report have accused critics of wilfully misrepresenting its findings, following days of backlash.
The review, published on Wednesday, was attacked for suggesting that “institutional racism” does not exist in Britain.
In a statement late on Friday, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities said that in some cases “robust disagreement with the commission’s work has tipped into misrepresentation”.
“This misrepresentation risks undermining the purpose of the report – understanding and addressing the causes of inequality in the UK – and any of the positive work that results from it,” the body said.
“We have never said that racism does not exist in society or in institutions. We say the contrary: racism is real and we must do more to tackle it. We reaffirm the Macpherson definition of institutional racism, though we did not find conclusive evidence that it exists in the areas we examined.”
It added: “We said that ‘both the reality and the perception of unfairness matter’, which is why our recommendations are underpinned by four themes – to build trust, promote fairness, create agency and to achieve inclusivity.”
Dealing specifically with claims made by figures such as Marsha de Cordova, the shadow women and equalities secretary, that the report appeared to “glorify slavery”, the commission said this was “a wilful misrepresentation” of its conclusions.
“The idea that the commission would downplay the atrocities of slavery is as absurd as it is offensive to every one of us,” it said.
“The report merely says that in the face of the inhumanity of slavery, African people preserved their humanity and culture. The commission’s recommendation for government to create inclusive curriculum resources is about teaching these histories which often do not get the attention they deserve.”
After the report was published it was condemned by MPs, academics and even some public bodies, including the NHS’s Race and Health Observatory.
Dr Halima Begum, the chief executive of the race equality think-tank Runnymede Trust, said she felt “deeply, massively let down” by it.
She told The Independent it was wrong to suggest institutional racism did not exist. She said: “Tell that to the black young mother who is four times more likely to die in childbirth than her young white neighbour, tell that to 60 per cent of NHS doctors and nurses who died from Covid and were black and ethnic minority workers. You can’t tell them, because they are dead.”
Meanwhile, Labour MP David Lammy, who was praised this week for calmly responding to a caller on a radio programme who claimed he could not be both Afro-Caribbean and English, also took issue with it. He claimed the document was an “insult to anybody and everybody across this country who experiences institutional racism”.
“This report could have been a turning point and a moment to come together. Instead, it has chosen to divide us once more and keep us debating the existence of racism rather than doing anything about it,” he said.
The commission branded such criticisms “attacks” and said some claims made by politicians and other public figures were “irresponsible and dangerous”.
“One MP presented commissioners as members of the KKK. Robust debate we welcome. But to depict us as racism deniers, slavery apologists or worse is unacceptable,” the authors said.
The commission ended by saying it hoped the report would be “read carefully and considered in the round”.