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Race report misses the mark

The Sheffield Race Equality Commission’s long-awaited report has been released and is a bit of a damp squib.

Benjamin elliott Cn Fo0 E Scs9o unsplash
Photo by Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash.

The Sheffield Race Equality Commission’s full report into race and equality in Sheffield has been released. The commission was set up in the summer of 2020 for what they call:

an independent strategic assessment of the nature, extent, causes and impacts of racism and race inequality within the city.

The group collected 150 pieces of evidence from a number of stakeholders. This evidence had a pattern of themes – crime (including justice and the police), education, health, and housing.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations and actions, and arguably the most important is the first one:

  • Recommendation 1: Sheffield: An Antiracist City - (Governance, Leadership & Workforce). All subsequent recommendations must be read in conjunction with this Antiracist City recommendation.

Much of the analysis and conclusions of the report centre around the idea of making Sheffield an anti-racist city. The other recommendations include:

  • Recommendation 2: Educating Future Generations and Showing Leadership in our Educational Institutions

  • Recommendation 3: Inclusive Healthy Communities: Wellbeing and Longevity for All

  • Recommendation 4: One Sheffield in Community Life: Inclusion, cohesion and confidence

  • Recommendation 5: Celebrating Sheffield Through Sport and Culture: Past, Present and Future

  • Recommendation 6: Proportionality and Equity in Crime and Justice

  • Recommendation 7: Sheffield Equal and Enterprising: Supporting Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic Business and Enterprise

Data can only take you so far

Data collection for communities of colour can often be severely lacking. It’s therefore important that this report includes some statistics on communities of colour in Sheffield. In one section the report explains how race intersects with class:

The Fairness Commission’s evidence used the Indices of Multiple Deprivation to demonstrate how areas in the South West of the city live in the least deprived 20% of the country, while over 30% of Sheffield’s population live in areas within 20% of the most deprived in the country. Those in the most deprived 20% are predominantly in the north and east of the city.

It’s not an accident that areas that have bigger areas of communities of colour are also areas that are deprived. Conversely, more affluent areas tend to have more white people.

The report also states:

In other words 19% of Sheffield residents are from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities: approximately 105, 861 people.

It is undoubtedly useful to know about the racial makeup of Sheffield. And, as the recommendations above show, the report ranges into health, education, and more. However, the first recommendation, that stakeholders in Sheffield should make their organisations anti-racist, requires a closer look.

What does becoming an anti-racist city mean?

The report makes it clear that whilst there isn’t a legal definition of anti-racism, they consider culture, leadership, empowered staff, and diverse membership the cornerstones of anti-racism.

The chair of the commission, Kevin Hylton, states in his foreword that during the summer of 2020, when George Floyd was murdered by the police, many conversations around race were tokenistic and vacuous. It cannot be repeated enough – anti-racist efforts led by white people are often simply for other white people. The goal of these programmes is often to be seen to be doing something, rather than to effect change that unseats power.

This brings us to the first question that many Sheffielders of colour will have – who is this report for? There are certainly respected and effective community organisers that have contributed to this report. However, the context and tone of the report is severely limited. After all, how many people who this report is actually about will read it? How likely is it that these recommendations will be followed?

That last comment in particular may seem cynical, but Sheffield has long been a racist city. It shouldn’t have taken the death of George Floyd to prompt the guilt of white people in being able to see racism in their own backyards. There is certainly valuable work happening in the report, particularly its acknowledgement of austerity and the social effects of the pandemic.

These conversations need to be happening, and whilst there isn’t a legal definition of anti-racism there is a wealth of critical race theory. The term has a long and varied history, and is the umbrella for other movements like decolonisation or abolition. The fact the report seems to miss this is a shame.

Police involvement

Anti-racism is a high bar. The reports recommendations come with a 2 year time limit for organisations to become anti-racist. This is faintly ridiculous. Anti-racism is not “achieved”; it is a constant practice. In order for anti-racism to be effective, certain structures must crumble. Is that really going to happen in 2 years?

One example of this is the presence of South Yorkshire Police and the use of their evidence in the report. The commission says that:

Police stop and search tactics have been considered a serious issue affecting trust and confidence, especially among young people…it was reported in the hearings that young people of colour feel over policed and that instances of racial profiling lead to a sense of feeling like constant suspects.

Just below this, a “senior police representative” says that while there is racism in the city, it’s also a case of “individual officers who may well have racist views.” Just this year, there have been a number of cases across the country which show that the police are institutionally racist. South Yorkshire Police specifically have disproportionately targeted Black youths during strip searches.

The police cannot be reformed into being an anti-racist organisation. They are fundamentally an institutionally racist organisation and their inclusion in the evidence of this report should be a scandal.

When the Chief Executive of Disability Sheffield, rightly and compassionately, points out that communities of colour in Sheffield are ignored, and that Black organisations are often the first ones slimmed down or cut entirely in comparison to white organisations – that is a point that deserves platforming. What it doesn’t deserve is to immediately be followed by a local MP claiming to be pleased with “the way South Yorkshire Police has handled local issues” and calling for them to have a bigger budget.

How can we take the report’s stated aims of anti-racism seriously? The commission makes an attempt to mention racism of the police, but they seem to uncritically use evidence from South Yorkshire Police without meaningfully engaging with anti-racist ideas of defunding and abolition.

Legacy

It remains to be seen how this report will go down in Sheffield’s many communities. The reaction from organisations who are being asked to develop anti-racist values will also be something to keep an eye on.

The report states:

It should be noted that long standing community activists reported a historical context of neglect of Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities and organisations particularly over the last 20 years, lack of support from Sheffield City Council, withdrawing of funds and dismantling of independent BME infrastructure.

This is true. But, most people of colour already knew this. So, who exactly is this report for?

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