The reaction to the recent report from the Commission on Race & Ethnic Disparities (CRED) has been almost exactly as one might have predicted.
An earnest publication, worthy of consideration by those interested in improving lives, it was greeted with vitriol and ridicule by many who take a different view on things – often without even engaging with the report itself.
Why disparities between ethnic and racial groups persist in areas like education and health is a really important issue to explore. To believe that systemic or institutional racism is the main cause of these is a perfectly legitimate view to hold. It is a heavily contested view, and one not held by many – but people are entitled to hold any belief and worldview they wish.
To hold a different view – for instance, that racism is a genuine problem in society but doesn’t necessarily explain the disparities experienced – is also a legitimate and logical stance. It is supported by lots of evidence, and is the general view held by those on the CRED. It is also the view we hold at the Campaign for Common Sense.
Some of the more depressing sights upon the report’s publication were the personal attacks on the Commissioners; believers in systemic racism refused to accept that those involved had good intentions. Vile abuse, racist and otherwise, has been hurled. No one deserves this, regardless of what they believe or say. That it has come from people who claim to be “anti-racist” holds a certain irony, one that makes it even more despicable.
However, it is explicable when one considers that radical “anti-racist” views are held in the same way that religious views are. They stem from an unprovable belief in hidden forces that shape the world and explain to believers why many of the bad things happen.
Like other religious beliefs, they tend to be held in good faith and cherished. They form the basis of the holder’s worldview, and thus influence their values and actions. To not share those beliefs is hard enough for many believers to accept, but to actively act or speak out against them is blasphemy or heresy.
In this case, Critical Race Theory is the religion, systemic & institutional racism is a key doctrine, and relying on real-world evidence is useless in this faith as facts are in-and-of-themselves parts of the racism itself.
And so just as it is impossible to reason a believer out of their faith, it is with holders of “anti-racist” dogma. Indeed, trying to discuss the issue with most just confirms how much of a racist heretic one is. Presenting evidence, such as the CRED report did last week, just antagonises and induces the “backfire effect” – the phenomenon whereby presenting contradictory evidence actually strengthens a holder’s commitment to the belief.
I can completely empathise with much of this, having grown up in a very religious household that held pretty extreme traditional beliefs. I left these behind in my twenties and am an atheist now, but I still remember well the wariness of non-believers and their intentions. I also vividly recall the sense of righteousness that came from knowing how right we all were. (I’m sure some who know me now would say I’ve not dropped this feeling yet…)
What then can we do to move on from here? How do we bridge such wide and entrenched divisions?
Taking a step back from the furious reactions in the media, it seems to me that the best way forward for those of us who want to bring people together is the same now as ever. And it’s exactly what religious people and organisations do when the chips are down: focus on what we have in common, finding practical things that will make a difference.
Other than the most extreme of folk, people with different views can always find lots in common with others. It’s how we get by in life, and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same when addressing sensitive issues like those examined by CRED.
Indeed – it’s what most people already do as they go about their day-to-day lives. Whether at home or the local community, at work, or elsewhere – people generally have an inclination to make the world a better place for those they care about or live amongst. And the starting point for this is finding things in common with people, and building upon those interests.
And once relationships are formed, the starting points in beliefs matter less, and you move onto actually improving things. It’s why different faiths can work together to help the vulnerable, provide humanitarian relief after disasters, and so on. Different political beliefs can do the same.
Whether you think different experiences of the police and criminal justice systems stem from “institutional racism” or other factors, you can probably get behind moves to provide police officers with better training or more scrutiny of stop-and-search footage.
You might believe that unconscious bias and prejudice is why people with certain backgrounds fare differently at work. Or you might put it down to other factors. Regardless, you can probably support measures to encourage entrepreneurs from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds.
There are so many things that can be done to improve people’s lot. The CRED report is full of good ideas. That some felt the need to belittle and dismiss them without engaging in good faith is disappointing, albeit not surprising.
Ultimately, It’s about trying to see the best in others, and not making the perfect the enemy of the good. It’s about that old-fashioned thing, compromise.
This is never popular among those who hold power or extreme views, but if we’re going to give more people a decent chance in life and further reduce disparities, then this is going to be vital. Practical changes and pragmatism need to take priority over purity. We need a little less conversation, and a little more action – and I for one hope that the kind of actions suggested by CRED are taken up.