UK has regressed on racial equality, activists say ahead of renewed protests

Racial equality in the UK has worsened since George Floyd’s police killing in the US sparked protests in 2020, activists have said.

Campaign group leaders have pointed to examples of where the government has “undermined” progress over the past year. They include the controversial Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Last summer’s protests saw thousands of people in cities across the UK march for greater equality following Floyd’s murder in the US on 25 May.

‘One step forward and five steps back’

Imarn Ayton founded the Black Reformist Movement (BRM), a group which marched alongside Black Lives Matter and others last summer. Ayton said the UK has taken “one step forward and five steps back” in terms of progress for race relations since then.

Speaking in Trafalgar Square, the site of several protests last summer, Ayton said:

The recent report on race and ethnic disparities which is commissioned by Boris Johnson ultimately said that institutionalised racism does not exist in the UK.

So what that report has done is it has undermined those pivotal conversations that have taken place over the past year.

We were just about making progress, and now we’re actually going backwards, we’re in a regressive state.

We’ve taken one step forwards and five steps back due to that recent report

Black Lives Matter protests
Imarn Ayton has said racial equality in the UK has taken a step backwards since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests (Aaron Chown/PA)

She added:

The only progress I would say categorically is the fact that we now have a greater level of societal consciousness, that I think is the biggest thing that I can take away from the BLM movement, that we are so much more open to having these awkward conversations around institutionalised racism.

Distraction

Kwadwo Kyerewaa, a Black Lives Matter UK activist in London, agreed the report and Bill had set Britain back.

When asked whether anything has changed in the UK since last summer, Kyerewaa said:

In the UK, I wouldn’t say nothing has changed – I would say things have got even worse.

Kyerewaa criticised the Commission’s report for its “statement of intent to deny that there is such a thing as structural racism in the police, in the criminal justice system, in employment” and for stating that “we need to talk about the positive aspects of the experience in the African slave movement”.

He said:

It tries to wilfully misunderstand the problems so that we don’t tackle the root of racism.

We’re instead distracted by other things like people saying the wrong phrases, as opposed to systems of power that discriminate, cause premature deaths that we can see in statistics in lots of ways.

By denying that structural racism exists, the Government is saying the reason why there are disproportionalities, is due to the deficiencies of particular communities – it’s a form of victim blaming.

Protests

The comments come as campaign groups and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) prepare for a fresh crop of peaceful protests on Saturday 22 May. These are to to mark the upcoming one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder on 25 May. Locations will include the US Embassy in London, Sheffield Town Hall and Brighton Police Station.

Saturday’s protests are due to take place in cities including Manchester, London, Glasgow and Swansea. And they’ll be followed by an online rally. It will include speeches from university professors, solicitors, race equality campaign groups and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott MP.

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