When reading these pieces, I was struck like many of the others who have responded with some sense of perplexity. In a rather perverse invocation of the centrality of 'race', Mirza asks us not to treat the three central authors as `ignorant, naive, or unwittingly prejudiced' on the strength of their minority ethnicity. However, the pieces would not have invited such a response -- even had they been written by white people. Rather than introducing newly contentious arguments, much of what was said was familiar from long-standing debates on the quality of anti-racist practices, on the balance between universality and specificity, on the relative weight to be accorded class and race, on how to calculate the precise impact of racism at all the various points in an individual's life and cumulatively and how it differs according to background. This is not to say that versions of these debates are not worth pursuing as they are unlikely to be ever fully resolved. But in themselves the challenge to be rethinking race seemed an overstated moniker to provide them with. However, I was surprised at the way their contributions, contentious or not had been wrapped up as part of a major onslaught on 'the failings of multiculturalist policies today', as if there were some coherent logic or position or even agreement behind them. But, instead, they are the individual interpretations of particular issues or claims in their areas of expertise that trouble them.
They came from such different positions and included such different explicit or implicit targets, that they could be presented as having no unified target. They had different complaints about factors relating to the specific areas in which they worked. For Sewell, the target is 'black victimhood' that is perpetuated by school leaders. Instead he describes a special programme for black boys which he set up and which achieved positive results. Yet is not such a programme and example of a targeted initiative for a specific group that are identified as losing out, not doing so well as others? Clearly some programmes are more effective in achieving their ends than others, and I would agree with the view that school children should be 'allowed' to be inspired by anyone. But that article appeared to present an argument against group specific programmes, in this instance, more about getting them 'right'. This seemed a view that would have no currency with Dwyer, who bewails specific programmes in the arts for minority ethnic group members, and the effective 'dumbing down' of some of those programmes. She talks of black artists being asked to `demonstrate our ethnicity', in a way that would not be asked of White artists. This is a complaint of many professionals, outside the arts as well as in, however, but to attribute this to 'multicultural policies' is perhaps oversimplifying how such performances are required to be acted out again and again on a daily basis. She also highlights how opportunities matter, in fact are critical in her own fields. And this is also echoed in Sewell's account, and is a point I return to.
In providing a response therefore I pick up on only a couple of issues, ones which are most evident in the top and tail pieces by Mirza but which explicitly or implicitly feature across the set of articles. The first is the attitude to evidence, and the second is the implicitly gendered nature of the accounts.
Singh clearly supports evidence, even going so far as to carry out a systematic review of the evidence to ascertain if there is racism within mental health services. But why then use selective anecdotes about mismanagement of care to imply that it is attempts to be culturally sensitive that are the issue? And why parody the requirement to reduce disproportionate admissions? I do not think that many would deny that forcible detention is preferably avoided or averted if at all possible, as also forcible medication, which is experienced as traumatic and dehumanising (or so a client of mine told me). To achieve this requires thinking about the reasons why the disproportionate admissions occur, as I'm sure Singh knows very well.
Sewell does not like flimsy evidence. Knowing Burgess's piece, I'm not clear what is flimsy about it. It does not claim to show more than it does, but it does show, based on a comprehensive pupil data base, that there is a tendency to mark students of some ethnicities above their achievements and others below. However, he does like solid outcomes: the achievement of good grades among those whom it might be expected would not do well.
Like Singh I like evidence and like Sewell I think positive outcomes matter. But I don't think I have anything in common with the approach to evidence demonstrated by Mirza, where 'evidence' is flexible, claims can be made and not supported and there is very little recourse to accurate data on the position. Indeed in the concluding piece, evidence apparently becomes irrelevant: the truth behind anecdotes, such as claims of the banning of the St George flag, is seen as unimportant compared to the circulation of the anecdotes themselves. A dose of Stanley Fish would really not go amiss here, especially since many of her own claims also do not stand up to scrutiny.
One of the cornerstones of the argument appears to be that diversity in outcomes is a reason to forget about racism. Firstly, racism is apparently conceived of as monolithic operating on all minority groups and all members of those groups in the same way, and if it doesn't then it isn't racism. Secondly, because some people from some groups are doing well, that is taken to imply that there is not an issue of ethnic minority disadvantage to face. Well that is also simply not the case. Poverty rates for both adults and children are higher across all minority groups than for the population as a whole. Even among Indians and Chinese where (men's) earnings are higher than average, and educational achievement is, as noted, substantial, poverty rates are greater. So even if some are doing well, there are plenty not doing so well. And those who are more vulnerable economically are also more vulnerable to the impacts of racism.
There is substantial inequality within groups as there is between them. That inequality may mean that there are some from any group who feel they have little in common with less well off members of the group just as is the case for the White majority --- but it does not make that disadvantage any less real. The UK is a hugely economically unequal society; and there is no reason why those who are well off should feel any connection to the experience of those who are badly off just because they tick the same box on the Census ethnic group question. But it is somewhat invidious to deny that there are those who are badly off. When we see that over half of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children are growing up in poverty and over a third of Black African children, to suggest that race disadvantage has had its day seems a little premature. Of course the factors that lead to these frankly shocking outcomes are multiple and complex. But the evidence clearly shows that they cannot simply be explained away by recourse to class disadvantage or 'cultural preferences'. They certainly provide no room to be complacent on the assumption that everything is simply getting better. And if everything was attributable to class background then we should be even more worried for it would imply the long-term repetition of such inequalities across the generations, especially given that not just poverty but persistent poverty is much greater for Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African families.
Moreover, just as relatively good earnings on average for some groups do not necessarily translate into low poverty rates, qualifications are only partly equalising. There is plenty of evidence that once you take qualifications into account Indians face a penalty in pay rather than an advantage. Upward mobility has been achieved quite extensively, but you still have to be better to stay the same. Moreover, for Pakistanis growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, qualifications did not bring the social mobility they did for others. Mirza's statement that `class and socio-economic background are more important' for a whole range of outcomes is simply wrong. My research shows that for social mobility class background matters for some groups but not for others. For some groups opportunities to capitalise on the class advantage that still remains so important in Britain are not available. It is not possible for some groups to be equally unequal as the society as a whole. And, as other authors have pointed out, the fact that some groups do well in school regardless of socioeconomic status, also puts paid to the suggestion that socio-economic background is the only or most important factor associated with success or its absence. This is, of course, particularly true in the case of girls. Yet girls scarcely get a look in in these pages, even though the different outcomes between girls and boys, men and women are also worthy of note in a discussion that puts so much emphasis on diversity. Girls from all groups except Roma/Gypsy children do better in school than boys of the same group. This is now so well recognised that it ceases to invite comment, though it only relatively recently became true for Bangladeshi girls. However, not all girls are doing as well as each other or even as some boys in terms of school qualifications.
Sewell, in his concern with Black boys parodied the quiet Black girls at the front of the class who were well-behaved but fundamentally untalented (or perhaps just 'girly'): their mask was 'grotesque'. Such representations of quiet but unimaginative girls is a trope that is familiar to sociologists of education (and to a lot of women trying to achieve academically). But Black Caribbean girls, however, are achieving relatively low levels of qualifications, particularly if you use other girls as the comparator, rather than Black boys or poor white boys. This simultaneously highlights the gendered nature of qualifications but also that ethnicity is associated with differential outcomes, and as I mentioned, I think that outcomes matter. If racism is irrelevant do these girls also suffer from the 'victimhood' that is typified as a specifically male response to schooling? Mirza's framing discussion is implicitly and explicitly about men, consolidating the longstanding, if much critiqued, tendency of discussions of 'race' to be about men and gender to be about white women. Yet minority group women are more likely to be poor than other women and than men of the same ethnic group, they are more likely to be unemployed than majority group women (and this is for all groups), and minority group women face particular difficulties getting adequate returns to higher qualifications. How would the 'debate' look if we had them in mind?
Lucinda Platt is Reader at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex