• Carol Young

Taking Stock: Race Equality in Scotland

Taking Stock: Race Equality in Scotland is a timely new contribution to the conversation on race equality in Scotland from the UK race equality think tank, Runnymede.

Edited by some of Scotland's foremost academic writers on race and racism, the publication features contributions from across academia, the third sector and the political world.

CRER's Carol Young contributed a chapter titled Scottish Public Sector Equality Duties: Making Good Practice Count. It outlines challenges in achieving genuine change in the lives of minority ethnic people through public policy, and the pitfalls of supposedly 'good practice' approaches.

At the report's online launch on Wednesday 15th July, Carol presented on the public sector policy environment and culture underlying these challenges:

"Hi everyone, thanks very much to Nasar and Smina for the invitation to take part today and the chance to tell you all a bit about the background to my chapter of Taking Stock.

My chapter’s called Scottish Public Sector Equality Duties: Making Good Practice Count. It’s a cautionary tale about what happens when bad practice in planning, implementation and evaluation collide to absolutely ruin promising work on race equality. I’m going to expand a bit today and talk more about the culture and environment within the public sector that underlies this.

The Public Sector Equality Duties are possibly the best lever for change on race equality in public sector organisations, so a lot of CRER’s work is about monitoring how they’re being implemented by public bodies and using the results of that to try to influence practice in the public sector. I’m not going to go into detail today about the duties themselves, or the research we’ve done on their effectiveness, but if you’re interested, the specific research that’s the backdrop to my article is referenced in Taking Stock, so you can check it out.

I genuinely believe the public sector equality duties have the potential to be transformative. But our research shows really clearly that if they’re going to live up to that, the public sector has a lot of work to do, especially in terms of honest, open reflection on how much impact their approach to meeting the duties actually has. In my experience, most organisations have not been willing, so far, to do this.

Where we’re standing today, though, feels like it could be a different environment. The pressure brought by Black Lives Matter is tangible. George Floyd’s death may be seen as the catalyst but for whatever reason, suddenly, we’ve had a groundswell against racism and racial inequality the likes of which we’ve never seen.

It was only a few months ago that I, along with nearly 90 other activists and academics, signed an open letter, expressing our concern about the silencing of Black voices and the creeping influence of damaging, colour-blind approaches in the Scottish policy context. Academic colleagues who signed the letter were attacked and accused of segregationism by their own peers for daring to make this well-evidenced observation. These people are still out there, and I doubt they've changed their minds, so we shouldn't fool ourselves that everyone will be on board now.

Nevertheless, how far we’ve come in such a short time, to hear institutions now openly saying that Black Lives Matter.

It took public pressure to do that, because the expertise brought by organisations and academics who’ve been making these points for years is simply not valued enough, and that’s part of a pattern of institutional racism. So the question is, how many organisations are going to be prepared to do the hard work now, and how many will only get as far as supportive words?

This is a real opportunity for those organisations willing to rise to the challenge and make the sort of changes I’m outlining in Taking Stock.

Coming back to the research we’ve done on the Public Sector Equality Duties, the headline finding from that was that there was virtually no robust evidence of positive change in the lives of people with protected characteristics at the end of that four year cycle. But why? There are commitments and actions and workstreams a plenty in these reports. Why hasn’t it worked, even when it looked like good practice? What sort of changes would make sure supposed good practice actually counts for something?

Between the article in Taking Stock and our original research, there are a ton of lessons to be learned about the importance of good planning, effective implementation and robust evaluation. But these are procedural things. What’s harder to crack is organisational cultures, and whether these understand and prioritise race equality.

We have to be honest here. Public sector bodies are used to performance measurement, KPIs and targets. Local authorities have Statutory Performance indicators, Universities need to report progress on their Outcome Agreements and so on. If they’re not getting the basic reporting requirements of the equality duties right, there’s a reason for that. And by that, I don't mean that the officers responsible for writing the reports are to blame.

In race equality terms, I mean that the organisation as a whole is maintaining and replicating the structures of institutional racism by choosing not to prioritise the rights and wellbeing of minority ethnic people.

Let’s be clear. Creating an appearance of compliance with equality law but putting no effort into addressing the specific racial inequalities within your organisation is institutionally racist.

Swerving the hard tasks by focussing on celebrating diversity and ‘building capacity’ (in communities which already have plenty) is institutionally racist.

Downplaying evidence of racial inequalities within your organisation because you’d rather allow those to continue - with all of their human impact - than have your organisation be seen as weak on race equality, is institutionally racist.

This is no exaggeration, and there are examples throughout my piece in Taking Stock and the wider research to illustrate how Black and minority ethnic people are consistently being failed in this way, despite the public sector equality duties.

I’ll briefly cover one of these examples. There isn’t an education authority in the land that doesn’t theoretically know the importance of addressing racism in the school environment. If we look at racist bullying, there’s a revised system for recording this on a voluntary basis which is relatively new, so perhaps data collection is getting better. However, the last time I researched this four or five years ago, 25 out of 32 Local Authorities were able to help me out with data. Even those that didn’t hold the data must hear from teachers, from parents, and (if they’re doing their jobs properly) should certainly be hearing from pupils on this.

One of the things organisations have to do under the Public Sector Equality Duties is to set equality outcomes, which broadly speaking are designed to tackle specific inequalities for people with protected characteristics. Racism in schools is an obvious candidate for Education Authorities to include in this, surely. But for the 2013-2017 equality outcomes cycle, I could only find seven examples of an equality outcome addressing prejudice-based bullying, out of 32 Education Authorities. None of them managed to demonstrate measurable progress.

I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said here, but racist bullying has a different set of implications than other types of bullying. It’s an attack on a young person’s family, community and culture and it tells them that, for some of their peers at least, this fundamental thing about themselves that they cannot change marks them out as a target for abuse.

Despite this, most approaches to anti-bullying in schools are still colour blind. I’ve lost track of the number of times a parent has asked me how they can challenge a school’s insistence that blatant acts of racism are not racist.

This needs to change, urgently, because that’s teaching young people that you will not be believed if you complain about racism, and that if you choose to behave in a racist way, you won’t face any consequences.

This refusal to see racism isn’t just a problem in education, and this is the most important change that we need to see – organisations and the people in them need to educate themselves about what racial inequality and racism really are, and how they interact.

The freedom to choose whether or not an organisation becomes competent in matters of race equality exists because these are white led institutions. When you think about Scotland’s public sector as a whole, that’s the manifestation of white privilege on an industrial scale.

The essential truth is that in most cases, things that look like good practice on race equality are mostly procedural and focus on creating outputs rather than outcomes. You can write the most brilliant set of equality outcomes, and still fail to achieve a single thing if you’re not prepared to do the work. There are very obvious ways to change that, but the willingness and commitment to learning needs to be there.

I wound up my article in Taking Stock by saying that what’s needed to make good practice count are practical and accessible approaches which build understanding of race equality and what this means for organisations. I said that thankfully, the investment required to achieve this is not necessarily more funding or resources. It’s an investment in changing the culture within organisations, becoming more reflective, transparent and open about the need to tackle institutional racism.

Now, in the wake of Black Lives Matter, there has never been a stronger push to make this happen. But it won’t, unless the pressure stays up and is directed at the right people.

Next April, most public sector bodies have to publish a new set of Equality Outcomes alongside the mainstreaming report and other reporting duties (I haven’t talked about mainstreaming today, but it’s also a vital part of what’s needed to create change).

Across all of the equality duties, if organisations are serious about equality for Black and minority ethnic people, they need to take account of the learning that’s out there on how their work can create meaningful change in people’s lives.

So my appeal to participants, if you work in the public sector and especially if equality isn’t technically ‘your job’, I’m appealing to you to start that conversation now - ask the hard questions, ask your organisation to live up to its responsibilities and to demonstrate in real terms that it believes Black Lives Matter."

Taking Stock: Race Equality in Scotland can be downloaded from the Runnymede website.

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