Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of commercial law and a writer.
Wales is an attractively heterogeneous nation whose people – unlike, at times, its politicians – generally get on well. This isn’t to deny that there are incidents of racism and racial mistreatment – too many, as anyone who has been out on a Saturday night in Cardiff or Newport can confirm. But most of geographical Wales has a remarkably low proportion of ethnic minorities, and little evidence of deep-seated racial problems.
Unfortunately the devolved government under Labour First Minister, Mark Drakeford, prefers a rather more dismal point of view, at least according to a report released just before the pre-election purdah. Using the reaction to the George Floyd incident as a springboard, it unambiguously dubs Wales an institutionally racist principality in the business of oppressing ethnic minorities. Only an insistence on positive anti-racism from everybody in the public sector and beyond can tackle this. Non-racism is not enough. We are all apt to be unconsciously racist whether we know it or not. “The deleterious impacts of racism,” we are told, “have persisted because being non-racist is not an action-oriented state.”
There is a great deal more of this type of guff in the report, which runs to something like 140 pages. It is also full of predictably flatulent but ultimately vacuous prose (“identify the lived experiences of ethnic minority people in the Welsh Government and ethnic minority communities in our stakeholder groups to identify the change we need to take to become an anti-racist organisation …”). But unfortunately you can’t simply dismiss it as hot air. There are all-too-tangible proposals to racialise the way in which Wales is run.
Public sector chiefs, for example, must be set targets for ethnic minority employees, and all interview panels must include non-white representatives. Performance management is to include anti-racism zeal; micro-aggressions everywhere must be suppressed. Elected councillors will have to sign up to being anti-racist as a matter of standards; indeed, introducing racial quotas for local government elections should be seriously investigated. Medical staff and students must all have compulsory anti-racist health education. Workers in social care will be trained in the “lived experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people”, “cultural competence and reflective practice”, and intersectionality. In schools, the compulsory Curriculum for Wales will include “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic stories” and also “understanding of anti-racism, and the confidence and ability to challenge harmful norms.”
It goes on. Tourism marketing must be “anti-racist” and “truly reflect the true depth of our diverse cultural heritage, while avoiding stereotyping and cultural appropriation;” the effects of slavery and colonialism need dealing with. Museums (sorry, “cultural collections”) must promote “innovative and engaging experiences relevant and relatable to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.” Hate crime laws need extending, and “online racist hateful attitudes” countering.
It’s not hard to see what is wrong with proposals of this sort. For one thing, the report’s repeated use of words like “lived experience”, “white privilege” and “structural racism” indicates a fairly uncritical acceptance of, and intent to impose, willy-nilly on people in Wales, the American teachings of Critical Race Theory of about 20 years ago, despite these being, to say the least, controversial and certainly not reflective of mainstream thought. For another, one suspects many of the ideas emanate from the metropolitan elite in Cardiff, with its ethnic population of around 20 per cent compared with the average in most of rural Wales of between two and three per cent.
Concentration on “micro-aggressions” at work threatens to make any kind of workplace interaction a free speech minefield. The proposal to update hate crime laws is ominous, as shown by recent experience with the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021. The idea of introducing racial quotas for local government elections is frankly chilling. And this is quite apart from the sheer diversion of public money, time, and resources that could be devoted to something more worthwhile that would actually help the people of Wales.
Moreover, efforts like this to racialise Welsh public life are likely to have more subtle effects too. An uncomfortable proportion of Welsh employment comes from the public sector; and as soon as measures of this obtrusive kind becomes embedded in hiring and employment, recruiters, managers and employees will play safe. Appointees will increasingly obtain jobs on the basis, not of flair or intelligence, but of boxes ticked and perceived fairness and equality. Having been hired, moreover, they may well regard it as more important to avoid trouble than stick their neck out or say anything out of turn. Standards of service, especially to those least advantaged, will suffer.
Of course, all this may not happen. The racism report is very much a Labour project. Though the scattering of Plaid politicians left in some of the more woke urban centres might support it, few if any Conservatives will have much time for this kind of time-wasting nonsense. One also imagines that voters in the poorest left-behind areas such as Wrexham and Rhyl would regard it with blank incomprehension.
Elections to the Welsh Assembly are on Thursday. These proposals could possibly end up gathering dust for some little time.