On March 19, Channel 4 broadcast a controversial documentary entitled “Things We Won't Say About Race That Are True”. It was hosted by Trevor Phillips, who spent nine years as the head of the Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. Philips is a prominent supporter of Tony Blair and is often referred as an astute self-publicist.
The documentary won him much adoration in the Daily Mail and on BBC Radio 5 Live, and can be seen as an attempt by him at remaining in the public eye.
In it, Philipps contended that Labour and New Labour reforms had failed because – instead of removing racism and discrimination from the hearts of people – it had stigmatised all white people as potential racists, made white people feel as though they could not talk about race at all, and resulted in white people suffering from a cultural relativism which gave people of color a “free pass” from accountability for crimes. Stigmatisation, unintended “thought-policing”, and preferential treatment to people of color, had eventually led to the rise of extreme right wing parties such as UKIP (the UK Independence Party), Philipps suggested.
I cannot help but be incredulous at these assertions. While I support projects which attempt to discuss race; and call upon people from all races to say what’s in their hearts – or truly on their minds – this type of analysis completely misses the years of progressively problematic positions taken by politicians – and fermented in the media – on race and immigration.
Anti-immigration sentiments have been at the forefront of the debate in previous elections; the poor (often people of color) and people on benefits, migrants and refugees have been scapegoated as burdening an already weak economy, enabling politicians to deflect attention from the true perpetrators of the crisis; their friends in the City.
Philipps’ documentary commences with him recalling his childhood in North London, where the streets were demarcated between Greeks, Cypriots, Turks, Jews, and others; and where he later faced persistent police stops while driving, having committed the “crime” of driving while being Black.
My own mind turned to stories my father has told me – of his brothers having their rib cages broken – being beaten by racist thugs as they struggled to grow up in Newham, London, and of his teacher deliberately obstructing his own entry to university.
While things have improved a lot, there is still work to be done – so I was hopeful about Philipps’ documentary.
Yet, Philipps does not spend time exploring continued discriminatory policing and policies today. Statistics convey continued disproportionate police stop and searches of Black and South Asian youths, and complete lack of accountability for deaths in police custody.
Instead, Philipps jumps to exploring other “uncomfortable facts”. Facts which show that individuals from south Asian and Somali backgrounds are involved in drug rackets in west London; or that there are some Chinese sex traffickers and Romanian pickpockets in Central London.
Philipps fails to point to the City where, not so long ago, investment risks were taken – in an environment of casino capitalism – which led to the worst financial crisis in living memory, and where “blue collar crime” and financial fraud takes place daily. He fails to point out the persistent tax avoidance and evasion which enables profit to bleed out of the UK, to the detriment of our social services.
Instead, Philipps suggests that accepted cultural relativism within public services was responsible for social service workers failing to protect an 8 year old Ivorian girl from abuse; care workers expected Black guardians to hit children in their care, he suggests.
Philipps completely fails to explain how similar failures by care workers – to protect white children in the care of white guardians – fits within this analysis.
Philipps goes on to suggest that authorities turned a blind eye to Pakistani sex abusers in Rotherham in order to avoid appearing racist. So, in this way, South Asian perpetrators of abuse were given special treatment and were beyond the reach of the law.
Yet, police forces have been found – consistently – to be letting down rape and sexual abuse victims, regardless of the race of the perpetrator.
In a landmark ruling in February 2014, the High Court of England and Wales found that the Metropolitan police were liable for failing to conduct an adequate investigation into the complaints of women who alleged rape by a serial (white) taxi driver, John Worboys. The Court found that such failures by police violated the victims’ human rights.
Philipps also conveniently omits historical child sex abuse claims involving politicians and other public figures – predominantly white – and the cover up of these abuses by the Metropolitan Police. While more than forty individuals of Pakistani descent have been sentenced for sex abuse crimes, not one individual involved in these allegations of systematised sexual abuse of children has yet been. Instead, there is an ongoing investigation into the fact that the Metropolitan Police explicitly buried evidence which implicated politicians, judges and lawyers in child sex abuse.
Scapegoating as Racism
In all cases of criminal conduct, a small minority is responsible. The actions of a minority cannot be extrapolated to entire communities. Documentaries such as Philipps’ dangerously risks painting all communities according the conduct of minorities within them.
While Philipps states that poverty, discrimination and exclusion may be possible factors which may help contextualise crime within certain communities – he quickly dismisses them as unimportant. Yet, poverty is disproportionately experienced by people of color, and particularly Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities. Youths from such backgrounds disproportionately experience unemployment.
Instead of exploring these factors – and the causes of such imbalances – Philipps goes on to undertake a number of interviews to support his hypothesis that extreme right wing parties have come to obtain greater and greater support in the UK as a result of the fact that white people feel cornered and silenced. Those from minority backgrounds are somehow “above the law” and beyond the reach of the law, whereas law abiding white people have been left behind. At the same time, all white people experience being tainted as “potential racists”. The suggestion is that there is a kind of inverse of “reverse” racism taking place.
White people are not experiencing “inverse” racism, nor are they being silenced. They feature heavily in the media, business and in the organs of representative democracy within the UK. In my experience, you can never label a white person as “racist”, or as behaving in ways that are discriminatory, without being perceived as hyper-sensitive. The pervasive mantra being: no one is racist anymore.
Racism exists, and we should talk about it. Instead, those in power, are scapegoating those experiencing poverty, immigrants and refugees as over burdening a highly indebted State. This is what is behind UKIP’s rise in power. The Conservatives did the same before they came to power in 2010. In scapegoating such communities, they must not be celebrated as having a real or open discussion about race; they are blaming certain communities for economic and social deprivation. They are fuelling racism.
The problem is not that law abiding white people are being left behind. The problem is not that Black guardians are not held accountable for child abuse, or that Pakistani men are not held to account for sex abuse. These are not the reasons behind the rise of UKIP.
UKIP are simply taking the Conservative party’s scapegoating strategy further. UKIP promotes the revocation of all (now apparently unnecessary) anti-discrimination and human rights laws, as well as leaving the EU. UKIP policies equate human rights law with supporting terrorism; they equate membership within the EU with an influx of thieving Romanians; they equate anti-discrimination laws with the idea that law abiding white people have been “left behind”.
UKIP policies suggest that no migrants should be able to use the National Health Service or publicly provided education, without paying a fee; members of UKIP have made disgusting comments about disabled people being leeches on the public purse; and openly racist comments.
UKIP sentiments are a continuation of the scapegoating exercise. At the same time as “blaming” the poor, vulnerable, refugees and migrants with the deterioration of living standards and reduction in opportunities in the UK, the Conservatives, UKIP, as well as other political parties support their friends and donors who continue to engage in tax evasion and avoidance practices which starve our social services.
Contrary to the assertions in Philipps’ documentary, UKIP has not risen to power as a result of reverse racism against white people. Racism is real and there is much that needs to be done to abolish it. UKIP’s rise in power can be attributed to a strategy that deflects attention to the true perpetrators of economic strive in the UK; the wealthy individuals and corporations who caused the crises and continue to hide their profits from the British people.