Chelmsford Diocese Task Group writes to MPs calling for withdrawal of Government Race and Ethnic Disparity Report
29th Apr 2021
The Bishop of Colchester, the Rt Revd Roger Morris, Chair of the Diocese of Chelmsford Racial Justice Task and Finish Group, has written to MPs in Essex and East London urging them to request that the Government withdraws the March 2021 Report from the Commission on Race and Disparities. The letter was co-signed by members of the Diocese of Chelmsford Racial Justice Task and Finish Group.
In the letter, Bishop Roger and the Racial Justice Task and Finish Group members state that the Government report is 'divisive', arguing that 'The Black Lives Matter protests opened the eyes of many people and institutions to the racism that exists in our society and brought real momentum to the work of ridding us of it. The Government had a golden opportunity to get behind that ground-swell of action from many different quarters with the possibility of accelerating progress in this area. Instead the work of the Commission has set things back."
The full text of the letter is set out below:
To Members of Parliament in the Diocese of Chelmsford
Dear Member of Parliament
Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Report (March 2021)
You will be aware that the Church of England recently published ‘From Lament to Action’, a report from the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce. The report’s findings support the assertion of the Archbishop of Canterbury last year, that the Church of England is institutionally racist and highlights our failure over many years to take meaningful action to tackle racism.
Like many organisations and institutions in our country, we in the Church of England were spurred into action by the Black Lives Matter movement. And like many organisations and institutions, we in the Church of England recognise that we must address our ongoing failure. Not only must we recognise where racism exists in our structures, systems, culture and behaviour, but we must take meaningful action to bring about long overdue and desperately needed change. Change not only within our churches but in the communities we serve. In Essex and East London, the Diocese of Chelmsford Racial Justice Task and Finish Group has been working with community partners to help bring about that change.
We are therefore writing to convey the dismay and hurt that many within our Diocese feel about the recent report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparity. What is often called “race relations” is a very sensitive subject because of decades of bad treatment that many Black and other people of the Global Majority living in the UK have experienced. Those who are wise tread very carefully so that even if they do not make a positive contribution they avoid doing further damage or reopening old wounds.
Sadly, this is precisely what the recent report by the Commission has done. By being so easily dismissive of the well documented existence of institutional racism, the Commission was in effect disregarding many previous reports and many accounts by Black and other people of the Global Majority living in the UK of their lived experiences. This is something with which those affected would be familiar – of being told that things are not really what they seem and that they should allow more "knowledgeable", more "insightful" "experts" to tell them how things really are. This Commission arrogated to itself the power to interpret reality for Black and other Global Majority people and consequently left many people feeling demeaned and distressed.
We also found the report very divisive. A Commission that was set up to look at racism and ethnic disparity seemed much more comfortable looking elsewhere and pointing to other problems. In particular, the Commission spent much time pointing to issues among the poor white population, as though the nation
is faced with a binary choice of improving the life of one group or the other. This approach to the work of the Commission plays one group of people off against the other, and is something no responsible Government should ever do or condone.
We do have to mention the quite superficial understanding of racism that runs through the report. In many parts, the report sees racism in terms of specific, deliberate acts of discrimination. This is very unsophisticated. Racism ought not be seen only in terms of deliberate acts but also, importantly, in systemic terms, in relation to the processes and the culture within an organisation or society in general. That such a high-level Commission should approach the issue with such superficiality raises the question of whether this was ever a genuine examination. Our doubt regarding the genuineness of the inquiry is further strengthened by the appointment of a chair, Dr Tony Sewell, who was already known to have been sceptical about the existence of institutional racism.
What makes all this so sad is that it is a lost opportunity. The Black Lives Matter protests opened the eyes of many people and institutions to the racism that exists in our society and brought real momentum to the work of ridding us of it. The Government had a golden opportunity to get behind that ground-swell of action from many different quarters with the possibility of accelerating progress in this area. Instead, the work of the Commission has set things back.
As our elected representatives, we urge you to request that HM Government withdraws this report immediately.
The Right Reverend Roger Morris
Area Bishop of Colchester.
Chair of the Racial Justice Task and Finish Group for the Diocese of Chelmsford
Revd Canon Dr Chigor Chike – Chair of the Chelmsford Diocese Committee for Minority Ethnic AnglicanConcerns; Vicar, Emmanuel Forest Gate
Revd Tim Elbourne - Director of Education, Diocese of Chelmsford
Revd Sandra Eldridge - Curate St Matthews West Ham; Professor of Biostatistics/ Director of the UKCRC Registered Pragmatic Clinical Trials Unit and lead for EDI, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry School
Mr David Neita - Barrister and poet
Revd David Peterson - Team Vicar, Grays Thurrock Team Ministry
Revd Sharon Quilter - Curate Halstead Area Team Ministry
The Ven Elwin Wesley Cockett - The Archdeacon of West Ham
Ms Aleishia Lewis - Deputy Head, St Mary’s Prittlewell CofE School
Mr Nathan Whitehead - Secretary to the Task Group
The Diocese of Chelmsford Racial Justice Task and Finish Group
The Diocese of Chelmsford Racial Justice Task and Finish Group was set up following the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. The protests prompted various institutions to respond with anti-racism work. The Task Group is made up of clergy and lay members from across the diocese who bring a wide variety of personal and professional insight and expertise. The Task Group has divided its task into five workstreams which include addressing systemic issues, education and training and racial justice and advocacy beyond the church.
The Task Group is working to produce a report in November 2021. The report will include a clear implementation plan, recognising that the failure of past anti racism efforts in the Church has been due in large part to a lack of commitment to or proper attention to implementation.