Claims of widespread systemic racism in the Anglosphere are overblown
As Rishi Sunak settles in as British prime minister, it’s time to revisit claims about racism in the Anglosphere, including the widespread assertions of systemic/institutional racism that now inform and, in many cases, guide public policy, corporate hiring and university staffing and admissions. That includes even federal government procurement contracts, which will now have a “race” component.
Sunak is, of course, the U.K.’s first non-white prime minister, a practicing Hindu of Indian descent. His parents emigrated from East Africa in the 1960s, and he was born in Southampton in 1980. Educated at Winchester College, Oxford and Stanford, where he received an MBA, he worked in the financial industry, including for Goldman Sachs, before entering politics. He is married to Akshata Murty, heiress to an Indian high-tech fortune. Their estimated net worth is US$830 million.
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Sunak was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Prime Minister Boris Johnson until resigning in July over policy differences and Johnson’s multiple ethical lapses. In June 2020, when the Black Lives Matter movement dominated headlines after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer, Sunak spoke of how “racism exists” in the U.K. He did so in apparent contrast to Johnson, whose position was that discrimination and racism were real but did not agree that the United Kingdom was systemically racist. In fact, Sunak said much the same thing, namely, that you can find racist views and acts but that does not mean Great Britain is a racist country.
So why the belief that the United Kingdom and other countries in the Anglosphere are deeply racist, as if we lived in 1722, not 2022? Part of the problem stems from the redefinition of racism by self-proclaimed “anti-racists” such as American radical-left academic Ibram X. Kendi. They regard racism as any difference in outcomes between statistical cohorts and not just, in the classic definition, discrimination against someone because of their colour or creed.
But Kendi’s redefinition is circular in reasoning, monocausal, and incorrect. As economist Thomas Sowell has demonstrated in a half-century of research, siblings with the exact same upbringing can have vastly different economic outcomes, so why would we expect group outcomes to be identical across groups? According to Sowell’s work, success or failure has multiple “inputs,” everything from whether kids have a library card to geography to the makeup of a family, in addition to religion, educational achievement and culture.
Another reason for the belief in deep “systemic” racism is that people don’t sufficiently distinguish it from personal bigotry; the self-proclaimed anti-racists conflate them as one and the same. Examples of personal prejudice may never leave us. The anti-Semitic ramblings from Kanye West are but the most recent proof of that. But in the Anglosphere, institutional discrimination is now extinct. San Francisco hospitals once refused to treat people of Chinese ancestry. That is unimaginable today.
Institutional discrimination has been illegal in Canada for half a century or more. For example, Ontario outlawed workplace discrimination and buying or selling property based on religion or race under the Fair Employment Practices Act of 1951. In 1954, it followed up with the Fair Accommodation Practices Act, which outlawed discrimination in services, accommodation and other public facilities.
In 2020, the British government established a “Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities” to investigate questions of systemic racism. The commissioners, nearly all non-white, published their 258-page report in 2021. It was notable for both its rigour with data and the clarity of its findings. Noting the many cases in which minority communities have been successful, it concluded ruefully that “These have often been ignored or have been seen to be of little interest (to the media).” And where success was not evident in a cohort, the commission noted family breakdown was a key reason. It also noted the “misapplication of the term ‘racism’ to account for every observed disparity.”
As for hard data contradicting scattershot assertions of systemic racism, the commission found that “white Irish, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups are on average earning notably more than the white British average.” The report also found that as of 2020, over 46 per cent of doctors working in Great Britain’s National Health Service were from an ethnic minority, which was more than triple the proportion of ethnic minorities in the country at large. The commission also found that in Scotland, “Asian ethnic groups have higher life expectancy than white ethnic groups.”
The commission did not conclude that the U.K. was a “post-racial” society where race and racism never matter. It explicitly mentioned online hate and trolls as examples of bigotry in their 21st-century form. But it also argued that such racism is rare in mainstream public opinion. As the report concluded, “Put simply, we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities.”
The rise of Rishi Sunak to the highest political office in the United Kingdom is a good thing for several reasons, but not least for demonstrating the success of individual Britons irrespective of colour and creed.
Mark Milke is executive director of The Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy. His newest book is The Victim Cult: How the grievance culture hurts everyone and wrecks civilizations. A version of this column first appeared in the Financial Post.
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