Race review chief slams 'misrepresentation' of his comments on slavery

Race review chief slams ‘vile misrepresentation’ of his comments on slavery and insists his report will be ‘looked back positively on’

  • The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was slammed as ‘culturally deaf’
  • The authors were accused of putting a ‘positive spin’ on slavery in the report
  • Chairman Tony Sewell hit back at suggestions he had spoken of the ‘glorification’
  • Yesterday he quoted Bob Marley’s & the Wailers’ Redemption Song to make point

The chairman of a race review slammed the ‘vile misrepresentation’ of his comments on slavery by quoting a song by Bob Marley and the Wailers. 

The Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was published a month ago amid claims it was ‘culturally deaf’ as it concluded there was little evidence of institutional racism in Britain.

The authors were accused of trying to put a ‘positive spin on slavery’ after they called on schools to use history lessons to ‘tell the multiple, nuanced stories of the contributions made by different groups that have made this country the one it is today’.

Dr Tony Sewell slammed suggestions he had spoken of the ‘glorification of slavery’, adding it was a statement on how African people retained their humanity 

In his foreword, chair Tony Sewell said there was a new story to be told about the ‘slave period’ and about how ‘culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodelled African/Britain’.

Yesterday at a Policy Exchange think tank event in front of 700 attendees, Dr Sewell hit back at comments suggesting he had spoken of the ‘glorification of slavery’.

The Times reported him saying: ‘We wanted to not only speak of the inhumanity of slavery but how African people managed to retain their humanity and resist slavery.’

After quoting Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, he added ‘He’s talking here about slavery, those pirates robbing him, how African slaves retained the powerhouse of their imagination . . . That was the thing that the slavers couldn’t take away from us.

‘We had our imagination and this led to resistance and it’s led to us retaining our African culture right inside that horror of slavery.’

He added he is feeling much better about the report’s reception because ‘people are bothering to read it, and once they read it, they get it’.

He added: ‘There’s been some misconception around the notion that all of our board members are not fiercely anti-racist.

‘We believe racism exists. It exists in institutions, it exists in structures, it exists across the piste, and we have found that in the report.

Dr Sewell quoted Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Redemption Song at the think tank gathering

‘And I would really kind of urge people to revise their perceptions of what they’ve seen of this, and I do welcome the fact that now we’re getting more and more support for this.

‘And I think that you’ll find the Sewell report in years to come will be something that people will really look back positively on.’

Dr Sewell also encouraged the public to look carefully at the 24 recommendations in the report, commissioned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, which he said are ‘very, very progressive’.

He said members of the commission were ‘very open’ when considering the evidence, and what they saw was ‘something that was more complex than simply landing everything on racism’.

He continued: ‘However, and I’ll say this again, the lived experiences of people… the idea that we would deny that or we would avoid that is ridiculous.

‘That is a reality and people live that every day and the report, if people bothered to read it, acknowledges that.’

How did Bob Marley’s and The Wailers’ The Redemption Song go? 

Old pirates, yes, they rob I

Sold I to the merchant ships

Minutes after they took I

From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong

By the hand of the Almighty

We forward in this generation


Won’t you help to sing

These songs of freedom?

‘Cause all I ever have

Redemption songs

Redemption songs

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery

None but ourselves can free our minds

Have no fear for atomic energy

‘Cause none of them can stop the time

How long shall they kill our prophets

While we stand aside and look? Ooh

Some say it’s just a part of it

We’ve got to fullfil the book

Won’t you help to sing

These songs of freedom?

‘Cause all I ever have

Redemption songs

Redemption songs

Redemption songs

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery

None but ourselves


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