Sunday, 22 March 2015

Trevor Phillips is to Race Relations What Margaret Thatcher Was to Feminism

A saboteur. This statement was true when I said it 6 years ago and Phillips’ party political broadcast on behalf of UKIP last week, proves it’s still true today.

The Channel 4 documentary, Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True, had more holes than my grandmothers hair net. For those of us who spent our time cleaning up after the mess Phillips made as head of the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC), this mocumentary was no surprise.

Phillips never understood what racism meant or the manifold, sinister ways in which it manifests itself. Having spent a number of years working with the police service, implementing recommendations from the Macpherson report (which examined the Mets mishandling of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence) I got a call from a senior met officer who was distraught. He had just come from a board meeting where he said Trevor Phillips announced it was time to forget about institutional racism because it made white officers feel alienated.

Rather than explain what institutional racism means, i.e. it’s not about individual officers being “racist” but about policies (such as stop & search targeted at young black men) and a predominately white leadership, that produces unconscious outcomes, such as alienating and criminalising black and minority ethnic people, he threw the (black) baby out with the bath water. Even now, the Met cannot retain their black recruits amid constant reports of race discrimination and harassment.

Then there was the "sleepwalking into segregation" chestnut, for which Phillips was later forced to apologise, having misrepresented research to support his case. Having advocated integration and warned against creating neighbourhood "ghettos", Phillips later did a bizarre U-turn suggesting black and white boys should be segregated at school.

A few years ago I challenged Trevor Phillips on his suggestion that the solution to black boys' educational underperformance was to segregate them. Speaking at a Confederation of British Industry conference, I pointed out that there were some barriers to achievement beyond the individual's control and that those barriers had a disproportionately negative impact on black boys. For example, black pupils are more vulnerable to negative stereotypes by teachers, resulting in their being three times more likely to be excluded than their white peers.

Even though experts constantly urge political leaders to address the "festering abscess" of institutional racism, Phillips belligerently ignores their recommendations.

Although at a loss for words on the podium, Mr Phillips sought me out afterwards. Towering over my slight, 5ft 3in frame, Phillips, a big man, jabbed his finger and insisted "someone like you" (I’m white) had no right to question "someone like me" (he’s black) on the subject of race. In the same way that being a woman does not automatically predispose one to feminism, being black alone does not qualify someone to be an authority on race.

Despite having no apparent experience, interest or aptitude in campaigning for human rights, Phillips was appointed by New Labour to lead the EHRC. In my opinion, he did more to sabotage race equality than Jeremy Clarkson. It was out with multiculturalism and in with "Britishness", as defined by the willingness to "honour Dickens and Shakespeare". Post 7/7 he singled out Muslim men and told them how to integrate. His comments came at a time of heightened Islamophobia.

In the past decade the gap between rich and poor (black & white) has widened and inequality has soared. To make people of all communities feel included and part of British society, they need to have a representative voice at the highest levels. It's this lack of a legitimate voice and the power to influence that leaves communities, including impoverished white people, feeling disaffected and misunderstood. But Phillips still doesn't seem to have grasped that.

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