Our response to the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities

1 Apr 2021

As a company that seeks to enrich and embody the spirit of a multicultural Britain, we were disappointed to see the report published yesterday by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

Whilst the report acknowledges that the UK is not yet a post-racial society it concludes that systemic or institutional racism does not exist: “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.”. This flies in the face of the lived experience of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, including the people and communities served by Phoenix Dance Theatre.

Phoenix was founded by three black men in the 1980’s who decided to form a company that built on the extraordinary dance education they had received at school, something that was very much not the norm for a state school serving a community such as theirs. Access and education have therefore always been at the heart of what we do because we want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to develop their talent and thrive in the sector no matter their background or ability. As a result of this work, we know first-hand that systemic barriers are still very much alive and kicking.

The Chair of the Commission, Tony Sewell, has called for an examination of “the extent individuals and their communities could help themselves through their own agency”. To suggest that the responsibility for overcoming the discrimination faced by ethnic minorities lies with the individuals facing that discrimination is incredibly damaging, and we stand alongside those campaigners and organisations who have condemned the findings of this report.

The Runnymede Trust has put out a statement which passionately articulates many of the inherent flaws of the report. They powerfully conclude their statement by saying: “Frankly, by denying the evidence of institutional racism and tinkering with issues like unconscious bias training and the use of the term ‘BAME’, the Government have insulted not only every ethnic minority in this country – the very people who continue to experience racism on a daily basis – but also the vast majority of the UK population that recognise racism is a problem and expect their government to contribute to eradicating it. All on Derek Chauvin’s trial day, no less.”

You can read their report and watch a rapidly convened panel discussion held last night here –  https://www.runnymedetrust.org/sewell.

We are committed to working with partners across the sector and beyond to tackle these barriers, to continuing to examine issues of diversity and equality in our work (as with Windrush: Movement of the People, the first contemporary dance work to explore the narrative of the arrival of SS Empire Windrush that brought the first Caribbean migrants to the UK) and to challenging ourselves internally via our Racial Inequality Subgroup.

We recognise that progress has been made in certain areas and are passionate about playing our part in enriching a multicultural Britain. But, as a company, we believe that to deny the inherent barriers in our society built on centuries of racial prejudice is to undermine any effort to create a fair and equal society.