Following publication of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report by the government’s Race Disparity Unit (published 31 March 2021) the BSA wants to make clear that the conclusion of this report contradicts a considerable body of scientific research by sociologists (and other disciplines) that evidences the structural factors affecting racialised groups in the UK. This critical body expertise on race in the UK appears to be absent from the Report. Consequently, the underpinnings of the report are deeply flawed, particularly with regard to institutional racism, the ongoing legacy of colonialism and slavery, the processes that link race and ethnicity to , education and employment, the day-to-day experiences of living with discrimination and racism, and the depth of social change that is required for the UK to actually become a beacon of race equality.

For now we will focus specifically on the issue of education, since the report gives so much weight to this and presents the UK as a glowing success story, for some individuals. However, the relationship between educational attainment, race and ethnicity, and transitions into employment is more complex and troubling than a story of the benefits of aspiration and individual success. We remain concerned that the report falls into the trope that the real losers in the UK education system are white, working class, boys. This manages to simultaneously deny the experiences of minoritized students and fuel a politics of division that have come to characterise the Brexit . .

As a professional association, the BSA recognises the need to look at our own practices and the institutional setting of Sociology, particularly in Universities. Last year the BSA commissioned its own report, Race and Ethnicity in British Sociology, and its conclusions could not differ more starkly than the Commission’s report. As a result of this robust and rigorous piece of research, the BSA has identified the structural factors that we need to address to change the outcomes and drive towards equality in British Universities, notably:

  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students are under-represented at Russell Group Universities.
  • There is an awarding gap of 14.9% between White and BME students in Sociology – higher than that across the sector as a whole (13.4%). This awarding gap is particularly high for students from Black African and Pakistani backgrounds.
  • The under-representation of academics of colour at all stages of the career ladder, but noticeably at Professorial level.
  • A quarter of courses made no explicit reference to race, ethnicity or racism and that Race and Ethnicity was often taught as an add-on rather than as something fundamental to the discipline.
  • Many respondents felt that resistance at institutional levels plays a deciding factor in the extent to which race and ethnicity was taught.
  • Staff reported a lack of institutional, departmental or course level, mechanism for documenting the presence or absence of race and ethnicity.
  • Several staff remarked that the lack of BME staff (and particularly professors) in proportion to the student population was a barrier to the teaching of race and ethnicity, and a problem for UK Sociology more broadly.
  • 50% of all respondents felt that the teaching of race and ethnicity was more challenging than the teaching of other topics, and BME staff report facing particular challenges due to their racial identities.
  • Only 10% of White staff and 20% of BME staff reported having received formal training related to the teaching of race and ethnicity topics and was inadequate as a means of producing significant change.
  • Staff reported that student resistance to the teaching of race and ethnicity served as a significant barrier, and this was in part a consequence of institutional and departmental failures to prepare students for discussions about race, ethnicity and racism.
  • Respondents noted that other staff posed a barrier to the teaching of race and ethnicity, often through defensiveness around, and denial of, issues to do with race, ethnicity and racism.

We support individual academics and organisations working on race inequality who are providing sound rebuttal of the Commission’s report and will produce a more detailed response to its underlying logic in due course. We are deeply concerned that this report represents a significant step back in UK government approaches to recognising the extent and rooted nature of racism in our society. An opportunity has been lost and it is the members of minoritized communities who will carry the cost.