A PROMINENT race equality leader has criticised the government’s continued denial of institutional racism, saying it has created credibility issues.
Dr Halima Begum pointed out that shortly after the government released its contentious report on race, which claimed to find no evidence of institutional racism, several national incidents contradicted this assertion.
She is stepping down as the director of Runnymede Trust, the leading race equality thinktank, after three years.
She cited examples such as the Casey review, incidents involving the black England footballers at the Euros, and other disparities experienced by people of colour in Britain that came to light.
According to Begum, every time the government denied institutional racism, real-life events demonstrated the contrary, eroding their credibility.
“I would say the more they tried to deny the existence of racism, the more they showed themselves to be not committed to race and, in fact, not committed to many people in this country, because the rest of the country could see the disparities. I think it created a bit of a credibility issue for the government and those that would deny institutional racism,” she said.
During her tenure as the head of Runnymede Trust, which began in 2020, Begum witnessed significant social and political events, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. She emphasised the responsibility of addressing the demands of young activists and the urgency to translate those demands into policy changes that could benefit future generations.
Regarding the government’s race report, which was heavily criticised for downplaying structural racism in British society, Begum mentioned that Runnymede Trust engaged fully with the commission, aiming to hold them accountable and work toward better outcomes despite concerns about some individuals’ track records on race. She revealed that there were concerns within equality groups about the process.
Begum expressed her shock at the denial of institutional racism in the UK, especially in the context of the heightened awareness brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement and the Covid-19 pandemic, which exposed the stark realities of racism.
She also shared a personal experience of racial bias when caring for her father, who was being treated for cancer.
Medical staff made assumptions and treated her differently based on her ethnicity, highlighting the pervasive nature of racism within institutions.
In response to Runnymede Trust’s criticism of the race report, several Tories called for an investigation into the organisation by the charity commission.
However, the commission later determined that the thinktank did not breach charity guidance.
Begum revealed that she received death threats during this period and described the attacks on Runnymede Trust as a damning reflection of a broken political system that hindered organisations from fulfilling their objectives to combat racism.
Despite the challenges and controversies, Begum expressed pride in the work accomplished during her time at Runnymede Trust, highlighting the organisation’s resilience and commitment to its mission.
Dr Begum’s departure from Runnymede Trust comes after her steadfast advocacy for racial equality and her efforts to address issues related to institutional racism in the UK. Her departure marks the end of a significant era for the organisation, as it continues its work to promote racial justice and equality in the country