The forgotten people in Britain’s race debate

April 28, 2021
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During today’s Policy Exchange event on the Sewell report on race and ethnic disparities, a key problem was raised — which is that the review paid too little attention to Britain’s mixed-race population.

The director of think-tank British Future, Sunder Katwala (who is himself of mixed Indian and Irish heritage) highlighted this weakness. Indeed, the report fell into the trap of examining race and ethnicity within a reductive ‘majority – minority’ framework, which overlooks people of multi-racial parentage.

Inter-racial families are an established part of modern-day Britain. While this is seen as an indicator of social cohesion, mixed-race Britons face challenges too, which the report should have said more about. Citing difficulties rooted in identity and sense of belonging, a 2014 report published by the National Children’s Bureau documents experiences of discrimination (from both mono-racial white and non-white peers). These were a contributing factor to mental health risks among mixed-race young people.

For the school year 2018/19, mixed-race pupils in England were more likely to receive fixed-period exclusions than their White, Asian, and Black peers. This is a particular problem among mixed-race pupils of White and Black Caribbean heritage — with nearly 11% being temporarily excluded from school for that academic year. To put this in perspective, the corresponding figures for Indian- and Chinese-origin pupils were both below 1%.

In regard to self-reported stability of childhood family life and current-day life satisfaction, research findings for mixed-race British adults should raise concerns. A January 2021 poll by ICM Unlimited found that 46% of the general population felt they had a ‘very stable’ family life during their childhood, this dropped to 41% for Black British Africans, 34% for Britons of Black Caribbean heritage and just 14% for mixed-race people of White-Black parentage.

The same poll showed that 30% of the general population were dissatisfied with their life in contemporary Britain. This compares to 21% for people of Black African origin — a notable portion having fled considerable social unrest and rampant institutional corruption in their country of origin. People of Black Caribbean origin, more likely to have an exclusively British ‘frame of reference’ than the more recently-arrived Black African category, reported a life dissatisfaction figure of 35%. Worryingly, the equivalent figure for mixed-race people of White-Black parentage was 55%.

It seems clear to me that the challenges faced by mixed-race Britons deserve greater attention — especially when it comes to critical matters of life stability and satisfaction. The government-commissioned Sewell report failed to grasp the gravity of the issues involved. Putting that right is a priority as we take forward the debate over race in 21st century Britain.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is an independent expert on social cohesion and community relations.


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