Trevor Phillips and the ideological battle over racism

An anti-racist demo
Pic: Anindya Bhattacharyya

Anindya Bhattacharyya discusses anti-racist responses to Trevor Phillips.

“Trevor Phillips needs to shut up right about now,” read the Facebook update of a friend of mine on Thursday night. The former head of the Commission for Racial Equality was presenting a heavily trailed programme on Channel 4 that purported to state certain “truths” about race that, alas, “we won’t say”.

Of course the “truths” in question turned out to come straight from the Bumper Book of Ethnic Stereotypes: Romanian pickpockets in central London, Indian women with a flair for chemistry and so on.

The rhetorical pose was equally familiar – the courageous rebel bravely confronting taboos. We hear this sort of thing every day from UKIP supporters and the Daily Mail: “I suppose we’re not allowed to say that these days…”, “This might not be ‘politically correct’ but…”

What, then, do we make of Phillips’s “facts”? The columnist Joseph Harker has written an excellent response to Phillips in the Guardian pointing out that facts are never interpreted in a vacuum, and that how we react to them is conditioned by the racist assumptions of the society we live in. He writes:

If the only time Romanians are spoken of is when they pick pockets, or when they’re seen as unwanted migrants, then the public will end up with a totally skewed view of them. We’ll learn nothing about their history or why they came to Britain, or even get a decent idea of what they do here.

When we hear about white criminality, such as football hooliganism, lager louts or paedophile rings, we already have enough other information about white people to be able to contextualise this, so we don’t leap to conclusions, and we don’t have high-level discussions about a “crisis within whiteness”. But in the absence of counterbalancing stories, it’s all too easy to begin to build stereotypes about minority communities.

Another good response came from black activist Adam Elliott-Cooper writing in The Voice. He highlighted another kind of context that was missing – or rather erased – from this litany of facts.

Phillips, he wrote, “appears uninterested in the history and power that lies behind racism”, preferring an approach that “seems both wilfully and blissfully unaware of the histories of black political struggle, black critical thought and contemporary economic analysis”.

Elliott-Cooper also pointed to the wider political implication behind Phillips’s intervention:

White middle class dominance is the norm, never an issue to be questioned or contested, particularly by New Labour’s former equalities tsar. It makes far more sense for working class pupils of various ethnic groups, achieving at relatively similar rates, to squabble among themselves for scarce resources, rather than identify where, as in many other spheres of life, the real disproportionate power and privilege lie.

This highlights another context that we need to place Phillips’s remarks in: an ideological one, the battle over how we talk and what we say about racism. A broadly anti-racist and multicultural cultural settlement has been dominant in British society since the 1980s, won by a previous generation of struggle. It is this settlement that first New Labour and now the hard right are trying to undo.

Phillips has form here. In 2005 he ominously declared that Britain was “sleepwalking into segregation”, painting a picture of a multicultural society irredeemably split into warring ethnic enclaves. Again he cited various “facts” to back up his case — ones which were promptly refuted by the statisticians who studied these matters.

So why has he popped up to bang the same drum ten years on? The reason is that the battle between racists and anti-racists has flared up again, with an impending general election, UKIP pushing a vicious anti-immigrant agenda, and renewed baiting of Muslims in the form of the government’s latest Counter Terrorism and Security Act.

It’s no wonder the hard right cheered Phillips on: he was batting for their side, and positioning himself in an election campaign that will almost certainly be marked by a race to the bottom as both Tories and the right of the Labour Party pander to and chase after UKIP voters.

But the crucial point to remember is that this battle is far from lost. Today sees the #M21 demonstration in central London against racism and the far right. It comes as the backlash against UKIP gathers pace – some 44% of voters now think UKIP is a racist party, a significant rise on just a couple of months ago.

This has come through campaigning and protest by anti-racists who are fed up with the dominance of racist narratives peddled by mainstream politicians and commentators. Big broad demonstrations like today’s are more than mere spectacles – they give people the confidence to argue the anti-racist case in their workplaces and communities, and they can arm people with arguments against the likes of Nigel Farage.

But the more militant and younger protests like last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations outside the US embassy and the Westfield shopping centre play a crucial role too. They catapult anti-racist arguments into the mainstream media that would otherwise rarely get a hearing. They point out the systematic nature of racism – one that encompasses the police, education, housing, and a host of other institutions. And most of all, they serve notice on the racist right that they won’t get away with their agenda without one hell of a fight.


  1. Utter nonsense! Multiculturalism didn’t create Enoch Powell, the NF, the BNP and UKIP. Nor did it launch wars in he Middle East that led to ISIS. Multiculturalism didn’t create a sick and racist political atmosphere where the established parties vie to out do each other over attacking migrant workers. Multiculturalism didn’t cause the economic crash and austerity that has thrown millions of workers, some of whom are UKIP voters, on the scrap heap. Blaming multiculturalism is just self serving lies used to justify reactionary attacks on those fighting austerity and UKIP. You are the one feeding workers lies and then sneering at them when they call you on it. What shameful behaviour!

  2. “Racism emanates out of the social relations of capitalism” …huh? You make it sound like racism is intrinsic to capitalism and that this is something fixed for all time. Surely its purveyors are indifferent to who the system exploits?
    On the issue of ‘defending multiculturalism’ Kenan Malik gets it right.
    This (in today’s Observer):
    “Most politicians today defend multiculturalism, and sneer at UKIP policies, while assiduously fostering fears about immigration and adopting populist anti-immigration policies. What we actually need to do is the opposite. We need to defend diversity and immigration while challenging multicultural policies.”

  3. The central problem in the struggle against racism is not intersectionality theory. Racism emanates out of the social relations of capitalism and is legitimised by the capitalist state. You confuse symptoms for causes in much the same way as UKIP does. Which is why your conclusions play right into their hands. The only possibility of ending racism is to get rid of the system that breeds it and we do this by fighting for and defending reforms in the here an now while at the same time organising to overthrow capitalism. What we don’t do is try to legitimise unsubstantiated ideological attacks on those reforms which is the basis of your argument.

    I don’t agree with intersectionality theory but to blame it for racism or a low level of struggle is opportunistic and reactionary. We support feminists and those who believe in intersectionality in the same way socialists supported black nationalist movements such as the Black Panthers during the 60’s/70’s. This involves having a critical debate with those groups, not blaming them for the oppression they are struggling against which is what you argue.

    In practice the LM Group demonstrates a vested interest in furthering the technological determinism and neoliberal policies of the establishment so it comes as no surprise that you would take the line that you do. If this involves attacking anti-racist struggles that might get in the way of the commodicfication of education then so be it. In the conclusion of your article about Trevor Phillips you state that we must, “restore trust in schools to deal with problems as and when they arise (and with an operating principle of ‘first, do no harm’)”, which in the context of increasing commodification of education is a strategy that will open the way for the reactionary agenda of neoliberalism. You are wasting your time if you think that anyone on the left, much less in RS21, will support this. UKIP, on the other hand, will welcome you with open arms.

  4. You’ve misunderstood me Ray. The odious caricature of the white (imagined as racist/proto-racist) working class is precisely the prejudice betrayed by those who worry about “dog whistles” and, given this prejudice is ubiquitous, it breeds understandable resentment and movement toward Ukip. Time to call it a day Ray. To end (because there are no other rs21 readers commenting here ….or anywhere it seems) one last comment…

    Have I misunderstood what Michael meant? Ok, so maybe when he said ‘interculturalsm’ he meant, err, ‘multiculturalism’!!! and maybe when he said ‘celebrate all the ways we mix’ he meant, um, ‘celebrate all the ways we remain divided’ by, let’s see ….by the wonderful ways that policy (forced into being by heroic struggles) encourages a fabulously empowering Identity Politics around which we can (god only knows how) unite and fight (oh yeah, it’s called ‘intersectionalism’). Here’s an example of where that takes us (and a cautionary tale too as we watch the author here begin his attempt to escape the quicksand and find his way back):

  5. How can you possibly know what Michael meant? On the one hand you claim that the “chavvy” working class are flocking to UKIP while on the other hand you claim racism is a rarity. It’s pretty obvious that you’re not involved in grass roots anti-racism otherwise you’d know about the threat that the EDL have posed in the recent past and could still pose in the future. Your concern for white working class people is touching but following the same political line as a bunch of millionaires in UKIP is not going to help them one bit. We need unity and that can only come through fighting racism, not denying it and turning workers against each other. Running academies is more LM’s style so I’m sure the establishment can rest easy.

  6. But do you agree with Michael Rosen, Ray?

    (Btw I have never said that ‘racism no longer exists’. It is nonetheless the case that “racism” has become the lazy default explanation for a great deal of adversity which is in fact explained by, for example, class. Compared to the dark days of the early 80s, today, examples from everyday life of racist violence, tensions between ethnic groups, acts of direct racist discrimination are conspicuous and shocking precisely because of their rarity. And of course, there is no ‘anti-racist conspiracy to end free speech’ but rather a widespread prejudice which regards the public (and especially the white, ‘chavvy’ working class) as the dumb, bigoted mass for whom official anti-racist regulation is the medicine. Ironically the more this prejudice rolls out the more people head for the political anti-matter of UKIP which has become a cipher for growing resentment over this prejudice. But we won’t ever agree on this Ray. I appreciate that you wish to highlight what you believe are my tactics but while some rs21 readers may indeed scurry off to find out if ‘the LM group’ are linked to the CIA who flew the planes into the twin towers or wherever this pursuit takes them, there will some who are interested in the question I ask… you agree with Michael Rosen Ray?)

  7. I’m stating that your attack on multiculturalism is based on the false premises that racism no longer exists. Your article reviewing Trevor Phillips on Spiked! cherry picks information to justify that erroneous claim. Rather than accept the overwhelming evidence that racism not only still exist but is growing in the form of attacks on Muslims, the rise of UKIP and the increasingly racist rhetoric towards migrants your article cites the very few people who do agree with you as evidence of an anti-racist conspiracy to end free speech.

    This method of cherry picking information to fit a particular viewpoint is the hallmark of the LM Group and its right-wing agenda is common knowledge among activists so you can consider my posts a way of highlighting that agenda and alerting anyone unfamiliar with those tactics.

  8. Fair enough Ray, ‘ad hominem’ is not quite the right description for your insistence that I’m engaged in a “ploy”, “concern trolling”, linked to some shadowy organisation with malign intent etc. Nonetheless, these references have acted as a deflection from addressing my question. But I accept that you address it in your own way. I am familiar with your position – on how, in 21C Britain, “dominant racist ideology” continues its time honoured role of discriminating on the basis of racial categories. Against this backdrop your understanding of “multiculturalism” (as policy) is to view it as a set of hard-won reforms. Instead of seeing these policies as the ruling class switching from one form of ‘race relations’ managerialism to a new, more workable form (one that seeks moral legitimacy through its roll out of official anti-racism and so on), you view these policies as a precious gain achieved through struggle. You add the caveat that while these reforms are hard won gains they don’t go nearly far enough and can be regarded as the state paying lip service.

    I don’t agree with any of that Ray. And you will never agree with my arguments because even the most reasonable of criticism is, in your view, a political act because it plays into the hands of “those who want to perpetuate oppression”. I doubt if it is either of our intention to pour thousands of words onto this thread substantiating our differing positions which is why I persist in pointing to just one question.

    So I’ll put it another way. Do you agree with Michael Rosen, Ray, when he says that (and I paraphrase) defending the value of Britain’s ethnic and religious diversity is vital and a good thing but any robust defence of this definition of ‘multiculturalism’ needs to go further than that? Do you not agree that defending a racialised ‘patchwork’ of identity categories needs to move to a celebration of all the ways we mix and breakdown those categories? Transcending race and promoting common bonds and universal values should be the very stuff of modern anti-racism. We should be cheering the current explosion of youthful superdiversity and the unprecedented biological and cultural mixing this entails. We should be wary of identity politics. Today its only racists and identity-obsessed anti-racists that baulk at mixing it all up – and they have one thing in common: they both seek to reinstate ‘race’, they are both trapped by their racial-thinking.

    Do you agree with Michael Rosen, Ray? Or do you feel that its wild-talk – something that undermines the heroic defence of the M-word? The contradiction bursting out from this is that multiculturalism puts people into ethnic boxes and patrols the boundaries – whereas the interculturalsm Michael proposes is a call to break out and mix. Viewing this aspiration as ‘playing into the hands of the racist right’ traps your version of anti-racist politics, Ray, inside a bunker. But maybe I’ve misunderstood you?

  9. One final point Adrian, if you do want to be taken seriously on the left then why are you associating yourself with the right wing, pro business, LM Group?

  10. I’m not a member of RS21 and I’m not engaging in “ad hominem attacks”. I’m criticising your politics which align you with UKIP. If you’re taking my disagreements personally then I suggest you refrain from aiming petty jibes at me because it makes you look like a hypocrite.

    No amount of spin about the so-called “victims” of multiculturalism which you fail to substantiate with any facts justifies your position. You claim to have a nuanced argument but your solution is to simply wish away categories of race as if they were inconvenient labels. Multiculturalism is not the cause of racism – it is a response to the dominant racist ideology that discriminates on the basis of these categories. Multiculturalism is the result of hard won reforms that the capitalist class has fought tooth and nail to reject. And their attempts to undermine these reforms continues in the shape of Cameron and UKIP. By joining in this chorus of reaction you are achieving the opposite of undermining racism.

    We need to build anti-racist initiatives that further strengthen the rights of the oppressed and the way to do this is to build unity among all workers. That is not achieved by attacking the reforms we have already won. When black and white workers fight together against cuts in services, attacks on pay and management bureaucracy they become stronger. This growing sense of unity builds confidence in the possibility of extending equality in the workplace and in society as a whole. Pitting worker against worker by attacking multiculturalism undermines that struggle.

    Rather than actually defending the rights of BME workers the state plays lip service to this through the limited rights achieved through multicultural policies. It is not multiculturalism that cultivates division among workers but the virulent racism of organisations like UKIP. They perpetuate the well worn myth, beloved of the right, that those struggling for equal rights are oppressing others. This lie is a strategy to further divide workers. The dominant ideology of the state IS racism, not multiculturalism, so rather than defending minorities, UKIP’s strategy is to strengthen this racist agenda. Claiming that racism is no longer a problem and that we must undermine multiculturalism, as your book does, is defending the rights of those who want to perpetuate oppression and plays into the hands of the right.

  11. Ray, your approach to discussing ideas does you and rs21 a disservice. Are you seeing your role as a kind of rs21 guard-dog? Thing is, even though you’ve been really well trained by your previous owners, I’m not sure if it’s quite the right approach now (but maybe I’m wrong on that). You mistake my point about the perils of ‘you can’t say that’. It’s not about rs21 moderating what is said here (how sweet that they let ‘concern trolls’ on!), its about how your ad hominem, caricaturing tactic seeks to shut down discussion. I’m trying to suggest that defending “multiculturalism” from all criticism come what may (as too many on the liberal left do) is a problem and therefore worth debating. This is a pitfall pointed out by Michael Rosen in the past. When he appeared on this thread criticising (correctly) one or two of Trevor Phillip’s array of ‘awkward race-facts’ it seemed fair to point out that Phillips made other claims that were self-evidently true, most notably that fear of being accused of racism can have a paralysing effect. I then sought to connect this with a neighboring fear (one present across society and definitely on the left) – the fear of criticising the ideology of Multiculturalism (including the cack handed official anti-racism it gave birth to) and the divisive policies that this ideology has generated. As such, this fear renders pockets of the left with their own cherished set of ‘things that are true that we still WON’T SAY…’.

    This was reflected in Anindya’s article which tip toes around the contradictions by inferring that defence of Multiculturalism must be all encompassing. Michael Rosen is much braver. Back when thinking outside the party-line was viewed as a transgression he nevertheless argued (at MARXISM 2011) that “we should ACTUALLY be defending interculturalism”. As reported in the Weekly Worker, Michael’s argument was nuanced. The kind of assimilationist policy the elite might now wish it had opted for (instead of the ‘patchwork of ethnic separation’ it actually did opt for back in the 80s) is untenable because it is based on ‘British values’ which even the elite find it impossible to articulate. For Michael Rosen, this model is both “a con” and imbued with ruling class deceit, “none of us are bloody going to get there”. But his point is that this shouldn’t mean a blinkered and dogmatic defence of Multiculturalism’s patchwork ideal. Instead he makes a plea for open borders and open minds and celebrating all the ways we mix: “…the coming together, the merging of separate cultures”. “He gave the example of his own family”, commented the reporter, “… three generations ago, they spoke Polish and Yiddish; now [Rosen] speaks English. “How did that happen?” he asked us to consider. He might have added, ‘Where is the “multi” in that?’ Clearly the overwhelming majority in the room – including comrade [Martin] Smith, it has to be said – just did not get it. Everyone knows that we must “defend multiculturalism” and not undermine it by wild talk of separate cultures being unified and thus superseded” (Weekly Worker 06.07.11).

    It’s disappointing that Michael hasn’t come back – maybe he still will. Hopefully, at least, he doesn’t subscribe to the politics of ‘tainted by association’ (it concerned me that he would worry about taking a position just because it seems, at first glance, to line-up with the likes of Cameron). Ray has sought to warn off discussion on my specific point by resorting to the same idea – an endless dog bark of prejudice: ‘we know who you really are and what you really stand for and even if its true it lines up with…blah blah’. Ray thinks he knows what’s inside my book by cleverly decoding the sleeve blurb – but, Ray, across its 45,000 words I don’t use the term ‘political correctness’ once (not once), nor is it a broadside against ‘the left’, nor is it remotely attuned to UKIP. Rather, it is a book about the racialising politics of difference eagerly adopted by the political elite. For example, it argues that, in the struggles of the past, the victims of race discrimination demanded their right to be treated, not differently, but equally—to be accorded the same rights as every-one else. In place of the discrimination meted out by old-fashioned ruling class racism, today’s official anti-racism discriminates on the basis that you have to treat people differently to treat them equally. One chapter devotes itself to the research I carried out as a response to years of working in schools and observing the pernicious effects of official anti-racism in fostering a myth of racist kids and fostering racial and religious identity, offence-seeking and estrangement.
    The fact that some rs21 readers/contributors doubtless recognise these issues but feel afraid that discussing them may appear to ‘line-up’ with the forces of reaction suggests that rs21 has inherited a familiar (and fatal) problem, one that speaks to a profound loss of faith in ordinary people to work out good ideas from bad.

  12. I know that the Baa Baa Black Sheep being substituted by Baa Baa Green Sheep story was a tabloid story, but reality imitates art, and when I was picking my daughter up from the Vorley Road Nursery, they were indeed singing Baa Baa Green Sheep. So tell me it didn’t happen if you like, but I saw it.

  13. “Given the gist of my first comment here on rs21 was to point up the perils of ‘you can’t say that’ approaches to discussing ideas, your comments are a case in point.”

    Who has prevented you from making unsubstantiated attacks on multiculturalism? No one has deleted your posts. You’re free to make your argument and I’m free to disagree with it. Perhaps you’re used to stage managed debates? It’s my experience that if someone disagrees with a point of view here and wants to express it then rarely is that moderated.

  14. “And the contradiction that then surfaces is that it becomes impossible to discuss, in anything more than the most abstract of terms, ‘all the ways we mix’ before that discussion collides with reality – with all the way diversity rules and identity politics mitigate against the goal of genuine anti-racism…that goal being (call me old fashioned) all the ways we TRANSCEND difference.”

    You obviously don’t take part in many left debates or read left blogs or journals otherwise you’d have feasted on the banquet of different opinions about identity and class that the left has been dining out on for years. The monolithic left bloc you invent is, once again, straight out of the UKIP handbook. Based on your unsubstantiated attacks on multiculturalism and the blurb about your book, your interpretation of transcending difference is not the unity of class in which diversity is celebrated but the reassertion of the reactionary values of people like Farage. Spin all you like but your own words condemn you.

  15. But we are discussing ideas, Adrian! They’re just not ones you agree with. Let’s summarise the blurb about your book I quoted earlier – the problem is not racism but political correctness. No one on the left argues this. The debate on the left about multiculturalism is that it doesn’t go far enough in protecting equal rights and ending oppression. But guess who does argue what you or your publisher wrote? Nigel Farage and UKIP! No amount of special pleading from you will legitimise that reactionary agenda.

  16. Thanks for your little rant Ray. Given the gist of my first comment here on rs21 was to point up the perils of ‘you can’t say that’ approaches to discussing ideas, your comments are a case in point. Assuming there are at least a few people now coming around rs21 who want the comments thread to be a place for exploring and testing ideas (rather than a place where – in this example – Grampa Ray rolls out his hazy recollections and reassuring conspiracy theories on why he still hates the rival Marxist organisations of 30 years ago….zzzzzzz), I’ll try one last time to get this on track. Unless Michael Rosen also thinks discussion should shut-down the moment someone is imagined to be tainted-by-association I’m hoping Michael will come back on the last point I raise with him.
    There seemed to be some agreement here. Alongside defending and extolling the virtues of ethnic and religious diversity (tempted to add ‘diversity of political thinking’ here too Ray you old curmudgeon!…no offence), Michael says ‘we need to go further than that’ and I elaborate on this above. If it’s the case that ‘going further than that’ must also abide by the don’t-give-an-inch approach to eschewing all and every attack on all and everything labelled as the M-word then, I would argue, you create a blind-spot in your ability to recognise let alone discuss the excesses of certain state policies (official anti-racism and diversity ‘rules’ being one tranche of this). And the contradiction that then surfaces is that it becomes impossible to discuss, in anything more than the most abstract of terms, ‘all the ways we mix’ before that discussion collides with reality – with all the way diversity rules and identity politics mitigate against the goal of genuine anti-racism…that goal being (call me old fashioned) all the ways we TRANSCEND difference.

  17. “In Britain today, it is no longer racism that sets us against each other, but the demand that we should be hyper-sensitive about each other’s differences. As we try to navigate this new landscape, the first casualty is freedom of speech.”

    Blurb from the book. Promoted by Furedi and Hume. I rest my case. As a matter of interest, do former RCP members still believe that AIDS is a gay disease and we should abolish the NHS? Let’s have a debate!

  18. Your “website” is an advertisement for your book. About how your nemesis, “the left”, is supposedly preventing free speech. By, “the left”, you mean anyone who wants to be treated equally in society. Based on your form here, no doubt it’s full of unsubstantiated nonsense (spun in your most earnestly concerned way) that would give Rush Limbaugh a run for his money. The fact that you and your workmates find this issue hilarious says so much about your concern for the oppressed. You’re getting debate all right but it’s not the kind of TED Talk consensus that you libertarians use to manipulate the audience. Welcome to the real world!

  19. Oh Ray, that’s hilarious! You’re such a hipster, i had to look this one up: “A concern troll is a person who participates in a debate posing as an actual or potential ally who simply has some concerns they need answered before they will ally themselves with a cause. In reality they are a critic”. Yes, Ray B, I’ m a critic!!!! deviously posing, it seems, as the troll “Adrian Hart” (website supplied) attempting – quite disgracefully – dialogue and debate on rs21! I’m not meaning to be rude to you Ray (god love your grumpiness!) because I’m in the pub with my workmates and, Ray, honestly we’re all falling around at that one! Happy to “substantiate” tho. In the morning.

  20. “However, you would surely agree Michael, that just because Cameron engages in this anti-immigrant, pro-crackdown posturing, it shouldn’t mean that all critique from the Left is called off?”

    Poor attempt at concern trolling there, Adrian. Rather than caricaturing you, I’m simply cutting through the rhetoric and pointing out the fallacy of your argument which has so far been full of unsubstantiated attacks on multiculturalism. By “multiculturalism” you mean laws and policies that enshrine equality. Your agenda becomes even clearer with your attacks on identity politics which play right into the hands of the “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” bigots. But you’re aware of that, aren’t you? If you can instil any doubt in people about the necessity for laws and policies to protect the rights of the oppressed then your work is done so from that perspective I view your libertarian politics as antithetical to the struggle against oppression.

  21. I didn’t mention Cameron, or “the nanny state”, or Baa Baa Black Sheep and I’m sorry if some at rs21 think “libertarian” is a word that should be antithetical to the Left. So look, Ray, responding to a couple of questions by suggesting they are a ploy is fine. Caricaturing the questioner in order to suggest to rs21 readers that (in so many words) ‘the enemy will take many forms, they will sometimes come baring interesting points and plausible arguments…don’t be fooled!’ is fine too, so long as it’s not an alternative to answering the questions. But thanks Michael for your cogent response. Cameron’s speech slamming ‘state multiculturalism’ was blatant posturing of course (a way to assign blame for Islamic extremism onto immigrants and immigration while rolling out notions of “muscular liberalism”). However, you would surely agree Michael, that just because Cameron engages in this anti-immigrant, pro-crackdown posturing, it shouldn’t mean that all critique from the Left is called off? We can agree, I think, that the blurred lines between the M-word as meaning ‘diversity’ and its other meaning (the state’s attempts to manage that diversity) is a problem. I take your point about ‘working overtime’ to make this distinction explicit and assume you mean that it’s too great a task? (that it’s better to simply shout down all attacks on all versions of “multiculturalism”).
    I suspect you are of two minds on this Michael. Your piece in ‘Defending Multiculturalism: a guide for the movement’, says that we need to celebrate diversity but ‘go further than that’ by celebrating ‘interculturalism’…. ‘all the ways we mix’. So why not do that then? Why not say it loud and say it clear? Let’s campaign for open borders and open minds; lets inspire people to break-out of the ethnic and religious boxes policy tries to push us into – yes, interculturalism, as you rightly say is “ultimately part of internationalism”…universalism. The public aren’t stupid, they get the distinction over the M-Word when someone bothers to make it (a worker on a radio phone-in the other day made clear his embrace of diversity but also his irritation at the endless policy handwringing ‘diversity this, diversity that…it drives you mad’. He also made one very clear point: the biggest problem “is if you’re in the wrong social class”).
    You ask how much in the general run of things the state’s attempt to manage diversity has been a problem. Blimey, where to start? It’s a distinctly failed set of policies for sure. Because I’ve worked in dozens of schools over a 15 year span I’d start my description of the tyranny of government diversity policies right there (for example, the racialising effects of official ‘zero tolerance’ so-called “racist incident reporting”). We shouldn’t delude ourselves that such policies are concessions hard-won by years of noble struggle. And then I’d move on to the myriad examples from local authorities, universities, the private sector and outward into everyday life and the estrangement being wrought by identity politics.

  22. re the non-existent banning of ‘Baa baa black sheep story ‘…pops up in the tabloids…’ as you say….Yes and, believe it or not, John Humphrys quoted it as if it were fact, just a few mornings ago.

  23. “The thing is: elsewhere in the film, Phillips observes something we all observe – namely, that the fear of being accused of racism can have a paralysing effect.”

    The libertarian ploy works like this: start off defending grass roots struggle and then question whether some reactionary statement has a point. From there proceed to attack the left. Adrian’s argument is a libertarian attack on the “nanny state”. He fails to distinguish between democratic struggles to extend equality and state sanctioned repression. So when the hypocrite Cameron complains about ‘state’ multiculturalism what he’s really calling for is more state repression of equal rights. Adrian’s empty rhetoric about the curtailment of free speech by the left (supposedly aided by the state) is a slightly more sophisticated version of the invented story about ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ being banned by the left that pops up in the tabloids every now and then.

  24. Let’s say your right about this, Adrian, re the wrongness of what Cameron called ‘state multiculturalism’ and see where it takes us. First, it takes us into agreeing with Cameron! So is there a left version of what Cameron is saying? Well, the first problem with that is that though Cameron’s speech was clearly talking about ‘state’ multiculturalism, newspaper and TV journalists quoted and commented on it as plain ‘multiculturalism’. Whether that was Cameron (and Conservative Party Central Office)’s intention is not clear. So if we were to criticise ‘state multiculturalism’ we would have to work overtime to distinguish it from an attack on what we might otherwise call ‘diversity’ and the like.

    Secondly, is the question of actually just how much of a problem ‘state multiculturalism’ is. I remember the old ‘Race Today ‘ collective of Eric Huntley, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Darcus Howe, Faroukh Dhondy et al delivering many diatribes against the self-appointed race leaders. Fine at the time. They felt that such leaders were just time-serving people trying to keep a lid on resistance to racism. I wonder if that critique still applies? Or, has the situation moved on since then, where the ‘race’ jobs are much fewer, (cuts etc)? And, anyway, exactly how much of a ‘problem’ is it? Yes, there might be the odd quango or community leader around that is playing a reactionary role but in the general run of things how much is this a problem?

    I have the gut feeling – not much. I also think that even if Cameron wasn’t cunningly and deliberately trying to get headlines that left off the ‘state’ description of ‘multiculturalism’ it did flag up the old white canard that ‘we’ aren’t at home in ‘our own country’ that ‘they’ are getting together in little huddles planning all sorts of dodgy stuff…and finally that ‘integration’ is the ‘real’ objective as if ‘integration’ was a neutral move from being ‘outside’ towards something that is ‘core’ and necessary i.e. ‘British values’. And that’s what Gove and Cameron have run with: ‘British values’ .

    Irony of ironies: the Tories more than anyone else has done have cemented one form of separateness which is extremely powerful – free schools and academies which can create their own ‘ethos’ – which more often than not means a religious/ethnic clustering for children in education. What’s more such schools get direct subsidy from government…er ‘state multiculturalism’ then! Bit of a contradiction there, Cameron and Gove, mm?

  25. In the C4 film’s opening salvo of ‘race facts’, Trevor Phillips descends into his own version of racial-thinking. Ever the autocrat, you get the feeling Trevor wants to manage race-relations from the top-floor and sitting behind a giant computer crunching away at race-data. It should be obvious, even to him, that BME groups are themselves as divided by issues of age, gender, geography…and, not least, CLASS. Phillips is far from alone in making that error. Given that the BME population is disproportionately working class and poor, class is the factor most glaringly absent from a lot of discussion.

    The thing is: elsewhere in the film, Phillips observes something we all observe – namely, that the fear of being accused of racism can have a paralysing effect. The fear is palpably real, causing people to steer clear of sensitivity-minefields and not risk becoming the target of this kind of anti-racism (and even left activists have become its targets – as in the case of the UNISON 4). Irrespective of the malign forces some think Phillips may be pandering to, is this an issue the Left should file away under ‘things We won’t say about race that are true’?

    Speaking of paralysing effects, I’m wondering if it concerns rs21 readers that, once again, the M-word is rolled out as though it means only one thing? The distinction between multiculturalism as the lived-experience of diversity (something to be embraced) versus multiculturalism as a set of state policies seeking to manage diversity (something which, because its so frequently shot through with Identity Politics, is racialising and divisive) – ends up a distinction that is obliterated. Instead the defence of all things answering to ‘multiculturalism’ becomes paramount (a case of ‘you’re either for the defence or part of the attack’). I’m reminded of the Bookmarks publication ‘Defending Multiculturalism’, in which a short essay by Michael Rosen found itself sandwiched between contributions from the likes of Ken Livingstone (In praise of multicultural London), Weyman Bennett (The struggle to build and defend our multicultural society), Martin Smith and many more. As if sensing that something about multiculturalism as a political process might deserve critical attention, Michael Rosen’s piece ‘Culture: It’s all in the mix!’ argued, “[the Left] quite rightly celebrate multi-cultural “diversity” and “minority cultures”, claiming this as a form of cultural resistance”, but adds, “we need to go further than that…”. What we should really celebrate, he says, “is how we defy atomisation, segregation and oppression through all the ways we mix”. This is great. He proposes ‘interculturalism’ and cultural mash-ups, but alongside the list of what needs overturning he might easily have added the divisive, racialising politics of difference promoted by state-multiculturalism and its little brother official anti-racism. After all, the racialising and identity-fixing of minority groups is bad isn’t it? But something doesn’t stack up here. Once resistance has been conceived in terms of a fight to prevent the host culture forcing integration or assimilation (the fight to defend multiculturalism) the progressive aspiration to defy and transcend the straightjacket of racial and religious identity through all the ways we mix finds itself poleaxed. The determination to view all attacks on all things termed ‘multiculturalism’ needs a re-think.

  26. Multiculturalism is not merely “sociological” as Heartfield claims. It’s a strategy that’s part of the struggle against racism rather than simply a part of the legitimisation of “common sense” racial categories. In practice, it has helped to undermine racism in the UK in comparison to countries like France where it has not been implemented. The problem with libertarian attacks on multiculturalism is that they equate struggles for liberation and its associated social movements with movements inspired by racist ideology. This fallacious comparison leads to libertarian complaints, promoted in the UK by the likes of, ‘Spiked’, that multiculturalism is just as undemocratic as racist demagoguery. Ironically, this argument is itself based on the “common sense” belief that individual liberty is sacrosanct and overrides social democracy which forms the basis of Farage’s and Phillip’s critique.

    The Marxist critique of multiculturalism is that it doesn’t go far enough in ending discrimination by universalising equal rights through the overthrow of the capitalist state but we also campaign to defend the rights gained through multiculturalism now. An entirely different approach to the one Heartfield supports.

  27. James: you seem to have trimmed Adam Elliott-Cooper’s quote in order to make your point. Adam says Phillips’s approach seems blissfully unaware of history, not that Phillips himself actually is unaware – ie by presenting the “truth about race” as a smorgasbord of awkward facts, Phillips erases that history of struggle. You can read Adam’s whole article here:

  28. I agree with that. It is compelling that Phillips is excoriated for his betrayal of multiculturalism. But in fact his real failing is that he persists in understanding the world through the prism of race, not of class. That is not a betrayal of the sociological approach that underlies multiculturalism, but its fulfilment.

  29. There is also a real problem with the categories that Phillips comes up with. When you think of the hoops that students and researchers have to go through in order to claim a) that this or that entity has coherence b) that it is some feature inherent/intrinsic/essential to that entity that causes a given effect – and yet Phillips can command a mass audience by trotting out a series of assertions like this. Just to spelling it out, he is actually saying that there is some factor in Indian-ness which when attached to women makes you more likely than anyone else to be a chemist. Really? What is it? Or does he just like making what are really racialist (not necessarily racist) assertions.

    We really need to spell this out. This is ‘racialism’ i.e. racialising behaviour and racialising society. This is what’s dangerous because it panders to pub talk which talks of ‘the Germans’ or ‘the Pakistanis’ as if these are valid entities and it is essential qualities of that entity which has outcomes. Let’s remember this is instead of any other descriptions of social groups in society, any other motivations and explanations. Forget exploitation, oppression, deprivation, inequality, victimisation, race-supremacism…it’s Phillips’ categories that explain all. That’s what’s dangerous. I think I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s Victorian, it’s like the French racists of the late 19th century and it’s like Rosenberg who supplied the Nazis with ‘facts’. It’s all based on the same ‘principles’.

  30. He’s aware, but he’s not above using those racist dog whistles for his own electoral advantage. it’s even more inane that you can’t see that, pal.

  31. Phillips is ‘blissfully unaware of the histories of black political struggle, black critical thought and contemporary economic analysis’? It is one thing to argue with a point of view, but to imagine that Trevor Phillips is unaware of the histories of black political struggle and critical thought is painfully stupid.


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