An official UK report “Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities” has got into trouble by coming to the wrong conclusions. It has stated that the UK is not a racist state, and although there are instances of racism, in most ways the UK is a model of non-racism. The report says that the main source of different outcomes is family structures and class differences. Incidentally, this is what James Coleman (1966) found in his famous US report, namely that neither school nor funding was crucial, but family background and socio-economic status determined how well a child would learn. He also found that African-American children were several grade levels behind whites.
Some activist groups are very angry about the report. They consider it a white-wash, and have made bitter accusations against the chairman who led the inquiry. In the political jargon, they judge it to be “off message”.
Many of the criticisms are based on the quaint notion that every desirable occupation should be representative of the racial composition of the nation. Not so. Racial groups may differ in their interests, their cultural attitudes to particular occupations, and above all to the level and type of skills required. For example, not everyone wishes to, nor is able to fix malfunctioning computers. If everyone with this ability and this desire comes from the Indian sub-continent, why should anyone worry? If few men wish to be psychotherapists, so what? If a business desperate to get work fields a sales team which has the same demographics as the company bosses who may buy their wares, and preferably who go to the same golf-clubs, why prevent them from seeking business that way? And anyway, if a new entrant to this same market-place is composed entirely of affable Nigerians who never play golf, why should they be prevented from under-cutting the inflated prices demanded by golfers?
What is the Report like? By this I mean, what is it like to read, something the critics seem to have neglected to do. Not bad at all, and better than some of the many inquiries that went before it. There is a lot of material here, and at times it could have done with more tables and graphs so that patterns could be seen at a glance, rather than being discerned with difficulty from string of percentages in long paragraphs. It has taken a data rich approach, using government statistics and good research on educational achievement. Furthermore, it is in favour of the collection of further and more detailed racial data. The report is argued in a calm manner, with due balance given to different interpretations, though it leans towards particular cultural ones.
Sadly, there is no Reference list. There are numbered references at the bottom of the pages, which is fine enough, but it denies any reader the option to have a quick scan of the reference list, and decide whether the report is worth reading.
Second, the composition of the commission follows what is now a standard pattern on racial pronouncements: the Commissioners on Race and Ethnic Disparities are themselves almost entirely persons of Race and Ethnicity. This is such a commonplace that no one seeks to question it. The underlying argument seems to be “You can’t talk about it unless you’ve been through it yourself”. At one selection committee for aspiring clinical psychologists we decided to set that statement as a question for candidates to debate in their group discussions. The Consultant for Mental Handicap moaned: “Well, that cuts out my speciality”.
Of the 10 Commissioners, 9 appear to fulfil the essential qualification of being race-and-ethnic-in-person, with one apparent European. No fewer than 6 of the minority persons have received a Royal Honour, so they are minorities in terms of race, and extreme minorities in terms of their elevated public status. It is a funny way to lead a discussion on disparities! None of this should matter, but if 8 of the 10 commissioners were European (as per demographics) in the current atmosphere it would have been denounced as a White whitewash. It is an absurdity that factual matters on group differences should be tacitly assigned to judges on a genetic basis. On a brighter note, they are using the government Race and Disparity Unit dataset, which is now building up useful lists of findings, so the numbers should be more important than the ethnicity of the commissioners, which I think turns out to be the case.
In his Introduction, the Chairman says:
Put simply, we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism. Too often ‘racism’ is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined. The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism. That said, we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK.
Minorities are hardly a minor matter. According to the commission, 16 per cent of the UHK population belong to ethnic minorities.69
ONS, (2021), ‘Ethnicity and National Identity in England and Wales: 2011’. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/ethnicity/articles/ethnicityandnationalidentityinenglandandwales/2012-12-11
However, the actual link says:
“Whilst the majority of the population gave their ethnic group as “White” in the 2011 Census, results from the past 20 years show a decrease, falling from 94.1% in 1991 down to 86% in 2011.”
That would mean 14% are minorities, so the 16% must be a figure which has been updated from somewhere, or defined in some different way. At other points in the report they give the percentage for whites as 80.5%. Either way, minorities are sizeable proportions of the UK population, with some predictions that on current trends whites will be a minority by 2066.
The Report makes 24 recommendations. Moses got by with 10.
The recommendations are the usual ones, and it is hard to pick out anything which has not been tried before. Here’s one that made me smile: “Prevent harm, reduce crime and divert young people away from the criminal justice system” (The answer seems to be to downgrade Class B drug possession).
Actually, to argue against myself, I found one which would not have been requested in 1963: “Improve the transparency and use of artificial intelligence”. This is the new dilemma: if machine learning picks up racial differences, is that itself proof of bias at the input stage, or additional confirmation of actual differences?
There is also a suggestion that BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) has had its day, and should go the way of Coloured, Afro, African British, and Black British. Their point is that some immigrants do better than the white average, and that other immigrants do worse. Black immigrants tend to be in the latter category.
They ask for an extended school day for “disadvantaged” children.
They ask for funding for all of this, and that the funding be “ring-fenced”.
The data quoted are very interesting, in that they show that newly arrived Africans from Africa do somewhat better scholastically than Africans from the West Indies, who were part of the original migration to England. This finding goes against most popular cultural explanations. Africans from the West Indies have had the longest period to adapt to, and benefit from, the richer life created by Europeans. They have had two generations of health care, housing, welfare benefits and employment opportunities, to say nothing of a long immersion in British humour. By any cultural standards, they should be streets ahead of kids brought up in Africa itself, where low intelligence test results are usually attributed to deep poverty in that continent. Racism is unlikely to be an explanation for poor West Indian performance, since if teachers are prejudiced against black kids even with English accents, surely they would be even more hostile to full-blown Africans from Africa?
The answer may be that Caribbean immigrants in 1950s were less skilled than the more recent migrants from Africa, but that is not yet clear. On the other hand, if no selection bias has occurred in the case of recent African immigrants (now more numerous than West Indians) then it would weaken genetic hypotheses about ability as well.
On the contentious issue of race and crime, the commissioners report on page 145 “Ethnic minority people, and specifically Black people, are disproportionately victims of violent crime and homicide; for every White victim of homicide aged 16 to 24 in 2018/19, there were 24 Black victims”. To the casual reader, this seems prima facie evidence of white racism.
Later, on page 146 they say:
“In the year ending March 2018, homicide rates were more than 4 times higher for Black victims than for White victims and 8 times higher for Black suspects than for White suspects.”
That is a bit difficult to parse. I think it means that blacks are 8 times more likely to be perpetrators than whites, but that interpretation does not jump out at the reader. They attribute this difference to deprivation and blacks being a younger age group on average. They say (page 149) that these figures “contribute to negative stereotypes of young black men”. Well, that is one way of putting it. The other way would be: “this accounts for people being understandably afraid of young black men because they are 8 times more dangerous”.
They mention the “8 times” figure on page 156 as part of the Parliamentary evidence given by the Police Commissioner Cressida Dick. However, they then go on to talk about disparities in arrest rates, stop and search, sentences and imprisonment, without linking back to that 8 times figure, which could lead them to say that the justice figures are not discrepancies as such, but are proportional to actual racial differences in criminal behaviour.
I have explained what it means for Stop and Search here, showing that it seems a highly successful intervention:
Further on in the text the report seems to agree that Stop and Search is a good policy, but that it needs better explanations. I propose this one: “I am stopping you because I think you have a knife, and the more people I search who might be carrying knives, the safer you will be”.
The section on race differences in health is circumspect, and often calls for further research, well aware that racism is very probably not the cause of the observed differences in health outcomes. For example:
The Wessely Review found Black people were 8 times more likely to be subjected to community treatment orders than White people, and 4 times more likely to be detained. Figures from the Race Disparity Unit show there were 306.8 detentions per 100,000 for Black people compared with 72.9 per 100,000 White people (not adjusted for age and deprivation).
Such disparity is often taken as evidence of racism. However, it must be benchmarked against disparity in the prevalence of mental illness. A meta-analysis conducted by Halvorsrud et al (2019) of 28 studies concluded there were significantly higher risks of diagnosed schizophrenia among ethnic minority groups, and that they were most pronounced among Black groups. For instance, the relative risk for the Black African group was 5.72 (compared with White British), for Black Caribbean 5.2. Elevated risks were also found for South Asian (2.27), White Other (2.24) and Mixed (2.24) ethnic groups.
There were several things that should have been in the report.
More international comparisons. There is mention of US racial disparities in scholastic attainment being much larger than the UK ones, but no European comparisons, which would have been instructive.
In fact the report includes the EU survey on minorities and discrimination in 2018/2019 asking “In the past 12 months have you ever felt discriminated against because of skin colour/ethnic origin/religion (in 10 areas of life). The highest country score for discrimination against minorities was 50%, the group average 24% and the UK score 15%, so the UK was the least discriminatory country.
Marriages. The standard trope against black immigrants was “Would you let your daughter marry one?” In fact, rates of inter-racial marriage are quite high, which gives the lie to this most intimate measure of potential racism. It would be good if they had made this point. The success of these marriages is another matter. Generally, inter-racial marriages more often lead to divorce than same race marriages, if one partner, generally the father, is black. The one exception is where the person in the marriage is Chinese, in which case those marriages last longer than white/white marriages.
Steve Sailer’s explanation is that women marrying outside their race are looking for more masculine men (thus getting black men), and men marrying outside their race are looking for more feminine women (thus getting Asian brides). Whatever the truth of that, a simple approach to unbroken marriages is that they are yet another intelligence test: can people predict how they will get on with each other in the long term?
Intelligence. There is no reference to cognitive ability or human intelligence. This is a massive gap in the explanatory firmament. On this matter the Commissioners do not welcome diversity of hypotheses. Results are available for almost all UK students on the Cognitive Assessment Test, so it should have been included for comparative purposes. On those measures the Chinese are way ahead on maths and non-verbal reasoning, simply out of reach of other races. The Chinese are one standard deviation above the Africans on quantitative reasoning (maths), and almost 1.4 sd above them on non-verbal reasoning. There are no intelligence differences between Africans from Caribbean and African on these measures. As found by Jensen, the African standard deviation is a more restricted 12.9 points, compared to 14.2 for White British and 14.5 for the Chinese. Hard to see how this could be a cultural effect, and even harder to see how this could be due to racism. It might be a genetic difference. To be clear, I don’t think intelligence is the whole explanation for black scholastic achievement and life outcomes, but it is certainly an important part of it.
They give scholastic attainments at age 16 which are correlated at 0.8 with intelligence at age 11, but the implication of the former is that more and better teaching is required, though given the UK’s high level of investment in schooling (by international standards), that is unlikely to add more than 10% to any child’s attainments. (See Detterman). Poverty is implied to be a reason for African under-achievement, and much is made of the FSM category (free school meals) in these analyses, but poverty is also a proxy for parental intelligence. As you would expect from me, I think that the “school-far” measure of cognitive ability provided by an intelligence test is less prone to social factors than the “school-near” scholastic tests, which may be influenced by curriculums, variable teaching standards, private tuition and ease of doing homework.
In fact, it turns out that page 61 shows that they know that although school interventions may be easier to deliver than those targeted at home, the relative contribution of schools is smaller than that of parental, family and student factors.
Re-immigration. The report does not discuss the rate at which immigrants either return home or move to better pastures in other countries. If a nation is bigoted, one would assume a fair amount of re-immigration, as discouraged citizens leave to improve their prospects elsewhere. As far as I know, re-immigration of working age immigrants is slight, so this might be counted in the UK’s favour.
Implicitly, we don’t expect anything like this in a government report about race, but there are no recommendations about future immigration. Why not? What we are discussing is one of the consequences of immigration. In the opinion of the Commissioners, should it be slowed down until current problems are solved? It is certainly an option which might give a breathing space for all the proposed measures to have some effect, and provides time to check whether they have any effect, and if not to try something else.
On that point, British policies on immigration have been muddled, absent-minded, naïve and often distracted by race. Parliament granted the right to settle in Britain to millions of Commonwealth citizens, believing that few people would want to do so, and that once they had experienced the weather, they would go back home. At times the wish to be seen as non-racist led to a reluctance to test whether immigration itself was a good policy. Until relatively recently, UK governments did not systematically collect data on immigrants.
The best evaluation of immigration, like any other policy, is whether it benefits local residents. A good way of achieving this might be to grant entry only to those who are better than the local average. That means that immigrants should have higher abilities, skills and qualifications and be of better character than the locals. Given that more funds are being requested even for second and third generations in this report, many citizens might suggest that immigrants should be better selected in future.
Quite why so much venom has been directed at the Chairman of this report is hard to fathom. Perhaps some critics are venomous, and assume that those who do not share their views are insufficiently ethnic, or that ethnicity is synonymous with a particular interpretation of reality. The Chairman’s crime appears to be that he did not agree that all-pervasive, insidious, institutional and systemic racism was the cause of all racial differences. The Report thinks that it is many other things, among them absent fathers. 63% of Black Caribbean kids lack one. Most other races have fathers at home for more of the time, the Chinese particularly so.
The rage against the report is for its failure to toe the line, and to follow an approved script. For this the Commissioners are to be congratulated. It will be a nuisance for them to be cancelled and excoriated for not being truly black, but these denunciations are part and parcel of having any independent opinions. They have followed the data, and published regardless. They have aimed at achievable objectives, and have been cautious in what they propose. They admit to having had “challenging conversations” about the complex realities of race, internal discussions which may eventually end up as the basis for a documentary expose, or with better luck, an opera. For once, the calm faction seems to have won the day. That said, their recommendations are largely the same ones that have been proposed in various forms for decades, and have mostly failed to deliver since the 1960s.
This report is data-based, and the commissioners are well aware that there are many things which cannot be explained by the putative pervasive and profoundly disabling effects of white racism. The commissioners are clear that they think that racism exists, but not that it accounts for all racial differences. Chinese and Indians do better than the white locals, and are net contributors, Africans less so. The Commissioners are not enamored of unconscious bias training, and hope that society can be made fairer by procedures such as name-blind job applications. They are less keen about token appointments to company boards. “Greater emphasis should be placed on diversity of thought and perspective around a board table which is not associated with anyone’s race or ethnicity.” I agree, but ever the contrarian, I think some boards need far less diversity of perspective, and instead need a stronger team with the shared perspective of getting basic jobs done.
In terms of style, the report headlines some apparent discrepancies, and then often qualifies and softens them in the body of the text. There is sober stuff in many of those paragraphs, and a welcome reliance on surveys and published papers.
The report has a wish list, as these reports always do. To be clear, I am in favour of education, encouragement, homework, guidance, and mentoring. Many of the recommendations are unexceptional, and some may do good, while others will wither on the vine, as so many have done before. Intelligence researchers are aware that many interventions have been proposed to lift intelligence, scholastic attainment, healthy living and pro-social behaviour, and after initial promise have failed to deliver.
But here we are, 73 years after the Empire Windrush heralded West Indian immigration, still getting requests that more money has to be spent, more lessons need to be given after school, more must be done for disruptive children expelled from school, more effort has to be expended to prevent crime, and additional steps have to be taken to make the British school curriculum more inclusive. One more push, the Commissioners say.
Perhaps so, but I wonder what the next commission on disparities will say. We will know before too long.