For months I’ve been looking forward to the Guardian’s much-heralded report on racism in Britain, which was unveiled this week. As a nation, we suffer from our fair share of divisions, with new fault lines opening up all the time, but our record when it comes to race relations is pretty good. Surely, a newspaper that prides itself on being guided by the evidence would reflect this?
We’re often told by members of the identitarian left that Britain is more racist than most other countries, but I didn’t expect the Guardian to fall for that. When comparing different countries, one way of gauging the level of racism is to ask whether people in that country would object if a person of another race moved in next door. By that metric, Britain is one of the least racist countries in the world. Less than 5 per cent of Britons say they would object, compared with more than 50 per cent of Jordanians.
We’re also told that racism is on the rise in this country, but, again, the data doesn’t bear that out. For more than 30 years, the British Social Attitudes Survey has been asking people what their reaction would be if a close relative were to marry someone black or Asian. In 1983, when the question was first asked, more than half the respondents said they would feel at least a little discomfort. In 2013, that had declined to less than 25 per cent. It’s set to fall further, too, since young people are less likely to object to inter-ethnic marriage within their families than older people.
There are other, more objective ways of assessing how racist a country is and Britain is faring well by those metrics, too. For instance, roughly 20 per cent of people in further education are from black or minority ethnic backgrounds, which is slightly higher that the percentage of 17- to 24-year-olds who are BME (18 per cent) and considerably higher than it was 15 years ago (13 per cent). The percentage of British-born Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the higher managerial and professional class is almost exactly the same as the percentage of British-born whites and the median household income of British Indians is set to eclipse that of white Britons.
I could go on. No matter how you cut it, Britain is one of the best countries in the world to live in if you’re not white — not entirely free of racism, but less racist than nearly everywhere else. So imagine how surprised I was — shocked, I tell you — when I saw the headline on the Guardian’s report: ‘Racism in Britain: the stark truth uncovered.’ Eh?
The ‘stark truth’, it turns out, is not that Britain is racist in any straightforward sense — it plainly isn’t, as the facts makes clear. Rather, white Britons suffer from ‘unconscious bias’.
If you’re a member of the Social Justice left with a vested interest in promoting a grievance narrative about Britain’s ‘systematic racism’ this is a wonderfully convenient concept since it enables you to say that the British are just as racist as ever in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. The data from the British Social Attitudes Survey going back 35 years? Worthless, obviously, because it just measures how racist people think they are, not how racist they are in their unconscious. The international comparisons? Totally unreliable, too, because the surveyors only ask people about their professed beliefs and that tells us nothing — nothing! — about the dark recesses of their minds.
The difficulty with this sleight of hand is that it’s nigh on impossible to measure ‘unconscious bias’. A group of psychologists at Harvard came up with something called the ‘implicit association test’ 20 years ago which flashes up a quick succession of images and asks the subjects to react without giving them time to think. But this test has proved notoriously unreliable, with the same people clocking up wildly different scores each time they take it, and no correlation between how they do on the test and how discriminatory they are in real life.
The Guardian’s version of this is to ask BME people whether they perceive the behaviour of white Britons to be motivated by unconscious bias — and, not surprisingly, plenty of them do, not least because for years they’ve been bombarded by left-wing multiculturalists telling them how disgustingly racist we all are.
If you want a bit of light relief in the pre-Brexit gloom, take a look at the report. But if you want to know how racist Britain really is, stick to the data.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.