Book Alert – International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges, 21.4.15

I am in the process of editing together a volume about Multiculturalism to be published by Nova, later this year. As we are nearing a general election and immigration is such a hot topic, my chapters will consider what the ideology of multiculturalism actually is and what impact it has on its political manifestations. I’ll let you know its publication date in due course! However, during my research and thinking about this from a UK perspective, I came across this documentary from Trevor Phillips (former Head of the Commission for Racial Equality, set up in 2003) called “Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True”

An obviously deliberately provocative title, yes but little did I know how absolutely floored by Trevor Phillips’ muddled thinking, I would be, as he lurched from one ill thought-out thesis to another. In the documentary, Phillips resolutely ignores the advice of his friend Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote who tells him to “be smart” when talking about race because nuance is often left out of the headlines and it is the headlines that can cause more damage than any inconvenient truth. Alas, Mr Phillips decides not to take heed of this sage advice from his friend.

In his documentary, having identified that structural racism exists and had not been eradicated by his Commission for Racial Equality, when discussing the apparent process of urban ghettoisation, he goes on to suggest that people prefer to self segregate. Echoing the strategies of how Power exerts control,  he unwittingly puts the responsibility of people who often have historically received the worst housing stock and live in areas of high unemployment due to structural factors, on to the people themselves. So for him, segregation is purely about personal choice, not about the structural lack of opportunities that are often geographically based due to chronic structural discrimination (as pointed out by Deborah Phillips [1] in her report about Bradford).

However, before even digesting the danger of this ideology, Phillips moves on to another half truth about black on black crime. Without equally acknowledging that white on white crime rates are also extremely high, he fails to question the validity of only highlighting black on black crime rates. Phillips then skips on to the seemingly ‘majority Asian’ problem of child grooming ‘gangs’ around the country. In terms of courting the views of extreme right parties, Phillips again fails to highlight the prevalence of equally harmful seemingly ‘majority White’ paedophile rings. This to me appears to be irresponsible and plays into existing media bias and makes it easier for the detractors of multiculturalism to scapegoat certain communities. At the end of the day, all child sex crimes are equally abhorrent and the law needs to be equally applied to all offenders but singling out one ethnicity (Asian) above others who do the same (White) is truly awful and counterproductive. Phillips fails to realise that feeding into the concentration on the Asian grooming cases without mentioning the other ethnic (White) problems in this  area, encourages the lumping of all Asians in to one category, somehow blaming it on their culture (and that they must do something to acknowledge then tackle it) – whilst White paedophiles who also cause horrendous harm do not receive the same treatment and “White” culture is not similarly blamed. Very much echoing Etienne Balibar’s [2] term of neo-racism where culture is used as a proxy for race (these days).

Finally, Phillips’ muddled thinking seems to perpetuate racism by not realising that cases like Victoria Climbie, whom he cites as an example of how staff who burdened by ‘political correctness’ were unable to execute their jobs properly due to extreme fear, are all about the structural racism. Phillips does not seem to recognise a structural and institutional racism that ‘others’ (exoticises and marginalises) culture with the same intention as the mentality behind the saying, “they all look the same”. Even worse, this ‘othering’ is developed to include the thoughts of “other people’s cultures permit such things because their cultures are less sophisticated than ours, so their practices are acceptable as long as they keep it amongst themselves”. Edward Said [3] called this form of ‘othering’ Orientalism and challenged this concept vociferously! You can also read more about what I have to say about neo-racism and Orientalism here. The underlying mentality behind this ‘othering’ is exactly why noone chose to intervene. If people really cared about Victoria as a human being and not as a ‘black African child’ with a different (exotic) culture (that observed exotic practices, which we dare not criticise, lest we are called racists), then they would have intervened and done their jobs. This is the inconvenient truth Phillips ought to have been highlighting, not the facile and superficial construct of the evils of ‘political correctness’.

Trevor Phillips perfectly illustrates my opinion piece What’s Hercules got to do with Social Justice? where using one of Hercules’ labours, the battle with the many-headed Lernaean Hydra, I describe the task of defeating one piece of social injustice just for another to sprout up and aggressively take its place. Here, Phillips successfully turns our national awareness and debate about racism in on itself so that it cannibalises its children via the fear of ‘political correctness’, whilst ignoring the unchallenged and unchanged structures that continue to support discrimination and oppression. With our national pre-election debates around immigration sometimes reaching a fever pitch based on fear, this is very sad, indeed.


[1] Phillips, D. (2006). Parallel lives? Challenging discourses of British Muslim self-segregation. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 24(1), 25 – 40.

[2] Balibar, E. (1991). Is there a “neo-racism”? In E. Balibar, & I. Wallerstein (Eds.), Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (pp. 17-28). New York: Verso.

[3] Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.

Related Post

Book Release – International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges, 3.1.16

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