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'White privilege' a counter-productive and divisive term, Boris Johnson's race commission says

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29: Britain's Prime Minister, Boris Johnson gives an update on the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic during a virtual press conference in the new £2.6million No9 briefing room on March 29, 2021 in London, England. Outdoor sports and up to six people or two households can gather as from today in the first stage of England easing lockdown measures. (Photo by Hollie Adams - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson's race commission has said the term 'white privilege' should be rejected. (Hollie Adams/pool/Getty Images)

The term “white privilege” is counter-productive, divisive and should be rejected, Boris Johnson’s race commission has said.

Part of its report – commissioned by the prime minister last summer in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement – argues the term reinforces a perception that being an ethnic minority in the UK automatically means being disadvantaged.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, published on Wednesday, cites data suggesting 76% of Black people believe there is white privilege, as well as 59% of all ethnic minorities and 29% of white people.

However, in a section addressing language and race, the report says the term is "highly controversial and contested".

It reads: “The phrase, coined in the USA, is undoubtedly alienating to those who do not feel especially privileged by their skin colour.

Watch: Britain is not institutionally racist, says landmark report

“Phrases like ‘white privilege’ and ‘white fragility’ imply that it is white people’s attitudes and behaviours that primarily cause the disadvantage experienced by ethnic minorities.

“It also reinforces the perception that being an ethnic minority in the UK is to be treated unfairly by default. The evidence we have studied does not support this.”

The commission said it “rejects this approach”, believing “it fails to identify the real causes for disparities – and that it is counter-productive and divisive”.

The overall report, while saying racism still exists in Britain, said it is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.

It said geography, family influence, socioeconomic background, culture and religion all impact life chances more than racism.

The commission also criticised the “confusing” way the term “institutional racism” has been applied, saying this should only be used when deep-seated, systemic racism is proved and not as a “catch-all” phrase for any micro-aggression.

Read more:

Slavery ‘not just about profit and suffering’, government-backed race report claims

'It's vicious': What it's like living through the UK’s coronavirus racism (from July 2020)

The report’s findings have been rejected in some quarters:

  • Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said it was an “insult” to “downplay institutional racism in a pandemic where Black, Asian and ethnic minority people have died disproportionately and are now twice as likely to be unemployed”

  • The Institute of Race Relations think tank said “we can see no attempt here to address the common ethnic minority experience of structural racism within areas such as the criminal justice system”

  • TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the commission had “chosen to deny the experiences of black and minority ethnic workers”, and insisted institutional racism trapped people in poverty, insecurity and low pay

The prime minister, on the other hand, accepted the report’s findings, saying his government will “take the action needed to address disparities wherever they exist”.

“It is now right that the government considers their recommendations in detail, and assesses the implications for future government policy," Johnson said.

Watch: Jenrick: I don't think UK is institutionally racist