I recently wrote a piece for the online magazine Unherd that challenged some of the claims made by the BLM movement and its supporters on the condition of black Britain. An anonymous man aggressively challenged some of my facts and arguments (actually quite a small proportion of the total) concluding that the underlying analysis was therefore discredited. A friend of his, the lawyer Jessica Simor QC, then tweeted his challenge saying my piece did not withstand his scrutiny.
Below I respond to his critique. He does find a few small mistakes in the piece. But as I will show his attack is unreasonable and disproportionate and a good example of how BLM and many of the arguments that swirl around it have made it harder to have reasonable discussions about race. I have tried to contact the man and sent Jessica Simor my email asking her to pass it on to him, but I have had no response from him. Below I describe each of his challenges and respond. I would welcome his response to my defence.
“When thinking about Black Lives Matter, consider “facts as well as feelings”, says David Goodhart on Unherd.com. He does so in what seems to be a reasoned and balanced way; acknowledging that issues exist whilst arguing that things are really not so bad as activists say, that BLM is actually making matters worse.
Except his ‘facts’ are not just flawed, they’re unsupported by the very documents and links he cites.
It is seductive and reassuring to see an article like this studded with underlying hyperlinks. Mostly we don’t have time to click on them; we just assume the assertions being made are supported by the ‘evidence’ being linked.
But as Goodhart made a headline of the importance of facts vs feelings, I decided to check each of his links. What I discovered was that he was serving up distortions and lies about the data he references.
Goodhart begins with:
“The UK doesn’t yet have a US-style black middle class, but we are getting there. More than 35% of British-Caribbean men are now in the top two social classes (out of seven) up from just 11% in the 1990s, British-African men lag behind at 28%. On average poverty is higher and accumulated wealth a lot lower for black people, but pay is now only a bit below average.”
For his statement “More than 35% of British-Caribbean men are now in the top two social classes (out of seven)” he links to UK dataset survey index page rather than any actual data. If you can access the data (not easy) you’ll see nothing to suggest any such categorisation. Nor, when you google UK Data set and UK government data and social classes, will you find reference to ‘seven’ social classes. You do find the idea of seven social classes put forward in a 2015 BBC survey: but what is noticeable when you read the full paper: ) is that there is no categorisation by ethnicity.”
My Response: The link works perfectly well. In order to access the data all you need to do is register for an account with the UK Data Service. The link is generated from an online data analysis portal. Data are taken from the Quarterly Labour Force Survey conducted in 2020.
There is a small error in my piece on social class categorisations. It is not, as my critic points out, a 7 class categorisation system but an 8 class one, which makes the fact that more than 35 per cent of Black Caribbean men are in the top two categories even better news. The class schema I am using is the NS-SEC one. It is in fact a 7 class occupation system but also includes an unemployed/inactive category that makes it an 8 class schema overall. I did not use the Mike Savage Great British Class Survey. The data for black Caribbean men are presented in the graph below.
Figure 1. NS-SEC social class for black Caribbean men 2020, Labour Force Survey (per cent)
As seen, 10 per cent are in higher managerial and professional jobs while 25.7 per cent are in lower managerial and professional jobs. That is 35.7 per cent. The claim of “More than 35% of British-Caribbean men are now in the top two social classes…” is accurate.
“Goodhart’s audacious ‘in plain sight’ distortions go on. Take the figure he uses in comparison to the 35% – the “11% in the 1990s’. He links to a paper written by Yaojun Li in 2010 which only categorises five ‘classes’ (salariat, intermediate, working class, unemployed and inactive) not seven. So Goodhart is not comparing like for like… at all.
The Li paper is downloadable from here:
My Response: On the contrary, the NS-SEC class schema IS convertible into the class schema used by Li and Heath. The salariat is composed of NS-SEC classes 1 and 2. As seen in the table below, comparison is possible.
Table 1. Comparing like with like – operationalisations of class
“Looking at it, you won’t find Goodhart’s 11% in the 90s’. Because the data is divided not by decades but into the periods of 1972-80, 1981-96, 97-05.
What the data does show is interesting. In 1972-80, 21% of white British men were the salariat class, 51% in intermediate and 16.8% in the working class. For Black Caribbean men it was 7.6%/49.3%/29.2%. By 97- 05 it was 31%/35%/11.6% for white men and 20%/33%/12% for Black Caribbean men.
So this could be seen as a movement of BC men into the salariat from the intermediate class. But look at the picture for working class men. In 72-80, 14% combined total of BC men were economically inactive or unemployed. A figure that had risen to 34% in 97-05. More than double. So whatever social mobility gains had been made in one direction had been more than offset by an alarming drop in the other.”
My Response: Below is the table from Li and Heath’s paper. The claim of “up from just 11% in the 1990s” is, strictly speaking, not accurate. It would be accurate to say that between 1981 and 1996, the share of black Caribbean men in the salariat was 11.3 per cent. I don’t think this casts any serious doubt on my main point that the number of black Caribbean men in the salariat has increased a lot in recent years.
The increase in the share of economically inactive/unemployed black Caribbean men 1997-2005 is dismaying but does not in any way challenge the point I was making about the growth in the salariat. My piece was seeking to provide a more accurate balance of the positives and negatives at a time, in the first couple of weeks of Black Lives Matter protests, when only one side of the story was being told
“Li’s conclusion in the above paper is worth reading, but more current is his analysis from 2017 in which he concludes:
“There is also evidence of racial discrimination affecting first and second generations alike. In spite of their better education, both generations of ethnic minorities failed to attain occupational positions commensurate with their human capital, which was especially noteworthy in the case of the second generation who are educated in Britain.
Further analysis shows that this disadvantage was acute for men in both black groups, the second generation in particular.
Ethnic minorities have thus experienced marked barriers to achievement. While the barriers for the first generation may be partly accounted for by personal factors such as lack of language skills, structural reasons would be a better explanation for what affects the second generation.”
The data shows that challenges are actually amplified for second generation black men – the opposite of Goodhart’s argument. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the idea that it is all getting better.”
My Response: It is possible to believe, as I do, that there is racial disadvantage/discrimination AND that things are getting better. Li is a serious scholar. His essay is on the highly complex subject of social mobility. He points to the fact that many ethnic minority Brits failed to attain positions commensurate with their human capital. He is NOT denying that there has been significant upward mobility and higher earnings for minorities in recent decades, especially for British Chinese and Indians but also for black groups, he is saying it should have been even better.
“Let’s move on – to perhaps the most misleading claim Goodhart makes in his article:
“On average poverty is higher and accumulated wealth a lot lower for black people, but pay is now only a bit below average.”
So whilst he acknowledges the unarguable about poverty and wealth, he counterweights it by some positive news about pay and links to this Government research.
If you bother to look at the research itself though, you will discover that it demonstrates the exact opposite. In 2013 average pay for ‘white British’ was £10.60. By 2018 it was £11.90. There has been a steady year on year rise. Back in 2013 average pay for black Britons was £10.27 – just 33p less than the white British population. It then dipped to £9.91 in 2015. By 2018 it was up to £10.80. But that is £1.10 behind white Britons. Clearly, the pay gap has got worse – not better – both in proportional as well as real terms. What does Goodhart mean by “only a bit below average”?
Yes, the situation is different for other ethnic minorities. Yes, ethnic Indians earn more than whites on average in 2018, as they did in 2013. But Pakistani and Bangladeshi earnings are worse, and worse even than Black Britons.
So in Goodhart’s evidence, he distorts and even lies about the facts in order to support a rosy picture of an emerging black middle class.”
My Response: This is just a semantic dispute as to whether 91 per cent relative to 100 per cent is fairly described as “only a bit below average”. It is true that black average pay was closer to white average pay in 2013 but the numbers have moved around for other groups too.
Table 3. Hourly average pay as a percentage of white British hourly average pay
“His next paragraph: “Black children now slightly outperform whites in the Government’s Progress 8 school measures. Young black people are more likely to go to university than whites, 41% to 31%, albeit only 9% go to elite Russell Group universities compared to 12% of whites. Black people are well represented at the top in sport, music, the arts, and the public sector, while under-represented in business and academia.”
If anything, the fact that black children ‘outperform’ white children in education – but not once they are in the workplace – is a telling illustration of the problem.
Let’s examine the facts Goodhart is so keen for us to consider. First of all, the figures are all higher education. Figures not just for universities, as he states; a subtle distortion that creates an impression of educational attainment not reflected in reality.
Let’s put that to one side. It’s true more ethnic minorities go to higher education than whites but to me, this reflects aspiration, effort and potential – the determination of young black people to progress. It’s what happens next, in the workplace, that is instructive – because it is the gap between aspiration and realisation that is a big part of the issue.
Goodhart’s next sentence about black people excelling in music and sport is a classic example of a patronising attitude that confronts black people. The attitude that says – ‘oh but they are good at sport (which is itself a very fraught area as to why) and pop music and stuff like that’ – all the stuff that you don’t need a degree for… because you don’t need to be smart to rap or run. But the 41% who go into higher education want IS fair access to the areas Goodhart acknowledges there is underrepresentation – including business and academia.
Looking at the actual Government dataset he cites for the Russell group comparison, what do we find? Firstly, the data does not have a general BAME category – it subdivided by ethnicity (eg Pakistani, Chinese, Black Caribbean, Black African etc) so I have no idea where Goodhart gets the catch-all “young black people” from…
If you look carefully at the ‘additional and underlying data’ spreadsheet: you’ll see that for state funded mainstream schools and colleges, 12% of white leavers went to Russell Group universities and 16% to top third universities. The percentages for Black Caribbean is 6% to Russell Group and 10% for top third. 12% to 6% is a much larger gap than the 12% to 9% Goodhart claims. It’s a subtle masking of the true facts.”
My Response: Yes, of course, improved educational performance represents aspiration and ambition, where do I imply otherwise? And, yes, I myself draw attention to the frustrated ambition of young black students (although this also afflicts many white students) as precisely one of the legitimate concerns about selection and promotion that need to be addressed. But black children on average have only very recently been outperforming white children on average at school so it is too early to tell whether that will translate into them outperforming them at work too. The university/higher education distinction is not a ‘subtle distortion’ I used ‘university’ as a journalistic short hand.
Looking at actual figures for ‘going to university’, supplied by Crawford and Greaves (2015), 37.4 per cent of black Caribbean pupils who sat their GCSEs in 2008 went to university, as did 56.6 per cent of black African pupils. This compares to 32.6 per cent of white British pupils. Note that for black Caribbean pupils in the lowest socio-economic quintile, the share going to university is almost exactly the same as the share of white British in the middle socio-economic quintile.
It is true that just 6 per cent of young black Caribbeans go to Russell Group universities, compared to 12 per cent for young whites, but for (the larger) black African group it is 10 per cent and the combined black figure is 9 per cent as I state. Why select only the Caribbean number? And I did not say black people are just doing well in sport and music, which they are, but sport, music, the arts and the public sector. And I point to two areas where they should be doing better, business and academia, where biases may be holding them back.
“So, all of Goodhart’s so called facts empower him to conclude in his next paragraph “So far, so relatively good.” No Mr Goodhart. It is not. Not even relatively.
Almost every other subsequent ‘fact’ in his article seems to be mendacious or distorted – or simply not there.
Goodhart talks about an apparent decline in racial prejudice. Look at the paper he links to: Yes, there has been a small decline in people who say they are prejudiced since 1983 , but as the paper concludes:
“This year, 26% of respondents described themselves as ‘very’ or ‘a little’ racially prejudiced. So for nearly 35 years, while the percentage of the population describing themselves as racially prejudiced has varied, it remains the case that it has never fallen below 25%, and we are still not seeing a clear liberalising trend.”
In relation to 1% he mentions – he directs us to a paper HE wrote for the right wing think tank Policy Exchange that argues the media coverage of the Natcen data was too negative: . So he is recycling his previous argument that, at least, it is only 1% of the country who are self-declared racists… It’s a classic piece of political prestidigitation.”
My Response: There is a vast amount more survey evidence on the decline of prejudice in general, and against black people in particular, that I could have cited. Few serious analysts doubt this, though it is sometimes claimed that people are merely giving socially desirable responses and prejudice is now just more subtle. Well one very practical piece of evidence of why such pessimism may not be warranted is the fact that the black/white mixed race category is the fastest growing ethnic minority in the UK. And what is wrong with citing your own previous findings, especially when I am just reporting a widely known fact?
“Goodhart writes how, yes, 12% of the prison population are black but 20% of robberies are by black people. Is he implying that perhaps more black men should be in prison and we should be grateful the number is so low? Even then, why are 20% of robbery convictions as such? How much of it is to do with the recognised institutional racism in the police force, how much is to do with the socio-economic factors underlying crime that should be addressed?”
My Response: The point is that a benchmark of 3 per cent for judging the extent of black disproportionality in prison is far less relevant than the share of people who are black that are convicted of crime. The 15 per cent of murder convictions attributable to black people is actually an underestimate. The actual figure for 2018 is that 21 per cent of convicted murderers were black. That seemed shockingly high so I revised it down to 19 per cent, by taking the average across the years 2009 to 2018, in order to allow for the chance that 2018 might have been a particularly atypical year. But I was concerned that claims of nearly one fifth of murders being by black people would be open to malicious political exploitation and so I fudged the figure down to “around” 15 per cent. This is the only significant ‘subtle distortion’ in my piece, and it was not, understandably, picked up by my critic.
“In the same paragraph about ‘disproportionality’ he links to a paper about ‘stop and search’ published in 2000 (so hardly current) that actually unpacks WHY Stop and search is disproportionately carried out.
In actual fact, recent government data suggests that black men are nearly ten times as likely to be stopped and searched by police compared to white people:
That is 38 black people per 1000 are stop and searched vs 4 of 1000 of whites.
Goodhart is making a false equivalency in connecting the prison population with stop and search. The central issues around stop and search that concern black activists are whether they are motivated by discrimination. Have a look at this from the EHRC:
Quote from the Executive Summary:
“Various explanations have been put forward as to why the police use stop and search powers so disproportionately against certain groups. Even taken together, however, they provide no justification for the extent and persistence of the problem. One common explanation, that black people are generally more often involved in crime is not supported by robust evidence. In any case, stops and searches should be carried out on the basis of ‘reasonable suspicion’. It is unlawful for the police to base their suspicions on generalised beliefs about particular groups.
While stop and search plays some role in preventing and detecting crime, the impact is small. It is estimated that searches only reduced the number of disruptable crimes by 0.2 per cent. Its use therefore needs to be balanced against the negative impact on community confidence in the police if these powers are used unfairly.
Strong differences between similar and/ or neighbouring police areas indicate that the way a particular police force uses its stop and search powers may be more significant than the nature of the communities it serves.
The evidence points to racial discrimination being a significant reason why black and Asian people are more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. It implies that stop and search powers are being used in a discriminatory and unlawful way.”
The report Goodhart himself cites from 2000 examines the same thing. Here is a table from it:
My Response: The EHRC (like the Runnymede Trust my critic cited over Li and social mobility earlier) is, in part, a lobbying and campaigning organisation, albeit a state-backed one, so its evidence should be treated with care. As should statements such as black people are not more involved in crime. That may be true for crime overall but it is certainly not true for the kind of crime that stop and search is there to minimise. I doubt my critic read the paper referenced since it has been taken down from the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner website where it was previously hosted, and proved something of a mission to track down a copy of. The table presented is freely available from the link provided; the full article is not.
What the study did was to count the number of people available to be stopped and searched in certain trial areas where stop and search was commonly used and use this as a benchmark for judging disproportionality, rather than the census population. On this basis, it was found that white people were over represented, Asian underrepresented, and black people sometimes overrepresented, sometimes under.
Once taking into account who was on the streets and available to be stopped and searched in the relevant areas, minority overrepresentation tended to disappear, although the authors were careful not to rule out the existence of more localised racially biased targeting of minority individuals.
The paper is from 2000. It was a very difficult study to do and cannot be easily replicated and so there are few studies of this nature. But is there any reason why what held in 2000 might no longer be true in 2020?
“Goodhart’s article is pretty pernicious because it comes across as balanced, but distorts the evidence to create a picture that allows him to round on the victims. Because the situation here in the UK is not objectively/subjectively as bad as in the US he uses this to talk of “False or exaggerated claims of victimhood”. Goodhart is building an army of straw men.
Holding up the views of controversial figures like Trevor Phillips and Munira Mirza to back him up. Goodhart goes on to say they and other black ‘elite’ – “would, I think, challenge the BLM story in three main ways. First, if you want to help disadvantaged black people focus on practical solutions to inner city problems: more investment in anti-knife crime units; more black police officers (just 1% at present); greater efforts to deal with obesity levels and chronic bad health; a national volunteering scheme for inner-city school mentors. Second, do not ignore the self-inflicted wounds of violent crime, fatherless families, anti-educational “acting white” culture. Third, reject victim culture which can discourage young blacks from aiming higher, using racism as an excuse for any setback.”
Importantly, the practical solutions to the “inner city problems” he mentions are not being dismissed by activists. But let’s be clear, these must be government policy initiatives, not ones that the black community have the power to enact. So why does he say they are part of the “BLM story”? Once you move past the policy initiatives to his second and third points, you get to what he thinks are the real issues – “self-inflicted wounds” and ‘victim culture’, he’s in effect blaming not institutional or structural racism but Black Britons themselves for the barriers they face – ‘you are the main part of the problem, not us – so sort yourselves out.’
If there was ‘victim culture’ preventing young blacks from aiming higher, as he claims, how does that tally with his great news about blacks in higher education?
His article reeks of condescension. Even the fact that he ‘thinks’ Munira Mirza and Trevor Phillips would say this. Perhaps so, but perhaps he could ask them rather than assume he can speak for them?
Assertions like “and happily the black elite is now large enough to accommodate real intellectual variety.” are revealing. He’s pleased that there are a few conservative black voices. And of course, they must be both elite and intellectual… just like him. Unlike the BLM rabble marching in our streets, who are fired up by ‘feelings’ rather than argument.
Goodhart says “that stereotypes and unconscious biases do linger on” – but his use of the word ‘linger’ suggests they are just vestigial and will disappear of their own accord. The whole article is cloaked in exactly the kind of rhetorical ‘balance’ and ‘rationality’ that is used to uphold a broken status quo.
What the struggle for civil, social and human rights has shown us is that unless people are active – things don’t change. Change has happened in the past because people have agitated. Be it Suffragettes or Stonewall or Stephen Lawrence, or this moment in time after the death of George Floyd. Of course, there are excesses and distractions found in any activists’ argument. But you can’t expect inertia to be a driver for significant change, or that the problems are somehow too big to tackle on an individual basis. Addressing issues like unconscious bias and microaggressions may seem small things, but it is in these cumulative small ways, the adjustments in our day to day lives, that we can help achieve a paradigm shift. That is, if you want it.
“Everybody selects facts to suit — and make — their case” says Goodhart. In future, he should at least he try to use facts that actually do this, rather than the opposite.”
My Response: Of course, subjective experience matters and should be taken account of in building a broader picture of discrimination and unfairness. I cannot know what it feels like to black in modern Britain and I do not deny the existence of some persistent disadvantage based on race. Though it is also a far more complicated story than my critic implies and if racism is purely in the eye of the beholder then we might as well give up any attempt at rational conversation. I am merely asking that people of whatever ethnic background apply the normal standards of evidence and logic, instead of sweeping and unfalsifiable generalisations, when making their case for ‘systemic racism’ or the system being ‘broken’ or things being little better than decades ago. The fact that so much recent writing by BLM supporters does not comply with those normal standards represents a kind of soft bigotry of low expectations on the part of media organisations that are happy to let them pass without comment or challenge.
My critic says my list of practical things that would actually help blighted black lives in the inner city are not dismissed by activists, but in all the outpouring of words over recent weeks I don’t think I have heard a single activist focusing on such practical matters (and BLM is certainly not encouraging black people to join the police).
And the fact that some black people are doing well in education does not mean that other black people, of different temperament and background, are not being held back by an exaggerated sense of victimhood. The black experience in Britain is increasingly varied and divergent, one of the main points of my piece. I do not assume to speak for Munira Mirza or Trevor Phillips but I know them both and have talked often about these issues with them and do not think I am distorting their views. I do not disagree with my critic’s last point about how change sometimes needs agitation. But I fear that the distortions and special pleading and exaggerations of much BLM rhetoric will do as much harm as good. And it also makes it harder to have reasonable discussions about these important matters.
My critic is a case in point. On the basis of a few trivial inaccuracies, that do not begin to challenge my underlying thesis, my critic pours angry insults over my head: ‘liar’ ‘deceitful’ ‘subtle masking of facts’ ‘pernicious’ ‘patronising’ ‘army of straw men’ ‘condescension’. I hope in the light of my response he might reconsider, at least his unwarranted aggression.