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Sensemaker: An international beacon of racial equality

Wednesday 31 March 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • The heads of all three branches of the Brazilian defence forces quit in what is seen as a protest against President Bolsonaro’s attempts to exert undue control over the military.
  • India reportedly blocked the bank accounts of ByteDance, owner of TikTok, for alleged tax evasion. The video sharing app is already banned in the country. 
  • Lady Gaga’s dog walker had to have part of his lung removed after being shot in the chest during a dog-napping in Hollywood in February (the three dogs were returned unharmed). 

An international beacon of racial equality

That’s the topline from a landmark report published today by the UK government in response to the Black Lives Matter protests. The much-delayed Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities acknowledges continued overt racism in the UK – but pushes back against the existence of structural and institutional discrimination. 

Three main takeaways ahead of the full release later this morning:

  • Education. Students from ethnic minorities do as well or better than their white peers at school, with the exception of Black Caribbean pupils. (Critics have queried whether exclusion rates, racist incidents within schools and attainment gaps in higher education have been taken into account in the full report.)  
  • Acronyms are out. The commission recommends that BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) should no longer be used because it is of “limited value” and blurs the distinctions between the experiences of different groups. 
  • Tougher penalties on tech. Social media companies take a lot of the heat for failing to tackle racism online – expect a crackdown on tech firms if they don’t improve. 

So far, it’s much along the lines of what was expected. Two of the key names involved – Munira Mirza and Tony Sewell – have publicly doubted the effects or existence of institutional racism, and campaigners and experts have long-expressed their skepticism about the value of the report. Halima Begum, chief executive of the race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust, has described it as “a whitewash.”

It’s worth setting the findings against the context of its predecessors. In 2020 alone an independent review into the Windrush scandal found the Home Office to be institutionally “ignorant and thoughtless” on matters of race, and reviews by Public Health England and Baroness Doreen Lawrence cited evidence of structural inequalities related to Covid outcomes. 

So what does this new audit bring to the table? It certainly provides new material for a government keenly engaged in a culture war about “wokeness”. It’s worth keeping an eye out for how the more detailed recommendations due to be released later today deal with policing and the criminal justice system – areas that are known to have racial inequalities baked in. 

But, based on what we already have, it looks a lot like it will turn out to have been a week of the British state excusing its own failings. Yesterday, a report into the aggressive policing of a vigil for Sarah Everard, a woman killed in south London earlier this month, defended the conduct of the officers – without satisfactorily explaining why they suddenly became aggressive, and why they moved from gently asking people to disperse to heavy-handed force. 

Denying problems won’t make them any less severe – just harder to tackle. 


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Hong Kong patriots
China has halved the proportion of directly elected representatives in Hong Kong’s legislature. Beijing’s long-held aim is to ensure that only “patriotic” candidates make it into the special administrative region’s legislature, which already has limited powers. Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, described the change as a different way of doing democracy. The city state’s appeal was its judicial independence, common law, and openness to business. It is now a battleground for those values.


New things technology, science, engineering

Amazon disunion
As Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama voted on forming a union, fake accounts claiming to be Amazon workers appeared on Twitter, praising their working conditions. Many of the tweets were anti-union. “What bothers me most about unions is there’s no ability to opt out of dues,” one fake account tweeted. “Amazon takes great care of me.” Twitter has suspended some of the accounts and Amazon confirmed that at least one account is fake. The company may not get the benefit of the doubt from a lot of people about who is behind these accounts: Amazon has previously used “ambassadors” – employees paid by the firm to promote and defend it – with similar Twitter handles before. Its official Twitter accounts have, meanwhile, become more vocal in attacking reports of poor working conditions at its warehouses. “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?” its official news account tweeted, referring to one notorious allegation about how its workers are pushed so hard that some cannot find time for the most essential of breaks. “If that were true, nobody would work for us.”


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Spring tide
It was the ebb and flow of the moon that, at last, freed one of the world’s largest container ships from the Suez Canal. A tide that swelled to its highest level in months (thanks to the full moon) loosened the Ever Given, which was simultaneously pulled by two high-powered tugboats. The ground had been prepared over the week by other tugboats, including the Egyptian Mashhour, which shifted 30,000 cubic metres of sand. Here’s its crew chanting “Mashhour is number one” in celebration.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

AstraZeneca vaccine
Less than two weeks after the EU’s drug regulator said AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine doesn’t increase blood clots, several German regions suspended the vaccine’s use after reviewing data showing increased blood clots in people under 60 who took the shots. The country’s independent vaccine expert panel recommended restricting the vaccine’s use to people over 60. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has held a crisis meeting with state governors and the company says it’s ready to work with them over their concerns. The news is yet another blow to AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is an important part of Europe’s immunisation campaign and the cornerstone of the initiative to vaccinate poorer countries – but has been plagued by bad press and disinformation.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Great divergence
The global economy’s recovery from the pandemic could “pose major challenges, especially to middle-income countries”, the head of the International Monetary Fund warns. As advanced markets recover, money will be drawn away from emerging markets. The pressure on them is heightened because many rely on hard-hit sectors like tourism. This divergence is, Kristalina Georgieva said, the main challenge for the global economy and for international organisations like hers. “What we do now will shape the post-crisis world,” she added. “So we must do the right thing.” Her plan is that efforts should be made to give resources to low and middle-income countries.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Claudia Williams
@claudiabromley

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

Photographs Getty Images, Suez Canal Authority/PA

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