As reactions to Trevor Phillips “Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True” flooded onto the internet, the message seemed clear, he’d missed the mark by miles and played into the hands of the bigots saying exactly what the far right wants to hear and giving them permission to say it. Starting with a brief glance at the Rothschilds and Jewish wealth accumulation Trevor Phillips takes a stroll through our most common stereotypes explaining to us the data that created them before inviting us not to run from them but to embrace our inner racial profiler and quit being afraid of being called racist.
Phillips has been accused of creating a “logically and morally flawed” film reflecting his own “coonery”, only telling half of a more complex story and has generally had his name dragged (further) through the mud by black commentators. Yet, watching it myself, I wasn’t filled with that same sense of anger and disgust. As disappointing as it is to see anyone on television who has an hour to talk about race relations in the UK on prime time television spend a huge chunk churning out old stereotypes without discussing any of the context behind them nor exploring how dangerous they can be and why progressive medias avoid talking about them, there was something incredibly satisfying about watching him do it.
Chimanda Adichie is always the best person to call upon whenever discussing the danger of a single story and her explanation of why stereotypes should always be considered damaging and not helpful, is flawless. Joseph Harker’s article and others that highlighted the press’ basic inability to “report nuance” did well to illustrate that Phillips’ facts may be true but so are a thousand others that he failed to mention which provide a fairer picture.
Nonetheless, I thank Trevor Phillips. This man has made spot the racist a much easier game to play, and that’s exactly what he intended to do. As the ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ brigade continue to march up and down the country with their chests puffed proud and Nigel Farage soars in popularity under the banner of the voice of the voiceless, we would we be foolish to dismiss or neglect the issue that people do not feel comfortable in expressing their opinions on race in a public space.
I’m sure I was not the only black person to roll their eyes so hard as to induce a headache at the suggestion that the victims in the fight against racism are the gagged borderline racists who have been robbed of their basic freedoms while blacks and Asians can do what they want from beating their children to death to grooming teenage girls. But the fact remains if we silence those borderline racists and refuse to talk about race and racism, we cannot know what we are fighting, and so this silence becomes dangerous as unexpressed racist thoughts fester and those harbouring them become more desperate for a platform where they will be accepted in saying them. Enter Farage and co.
Jesus himself told us we must “know thine enemy”, so as anti-racists we must be committed to knowing and understanding the racist in order to contradict the logic of his or her values. In the UK people are so reluctant to talk about race, that trying to disprove the theories you feel they may be thinking but would never say is a tricky task for anyone pushing for racial equality.
In historian David Starkey’s Newsnight interview of August 2011, he revered one of the most famously racist political speeches in history (Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood) and blamed the riots on black culture and those who have adopted the Jamaican patois that intruded the English language. He was shot down by everyone in the room for interchanging black and white with good and bad and reinforcing a divisive us and them framework while dismissing the possibility of real social economic problems being at the heart of the riot. Yet he was never called out for being a racist. His views were labelled offensive and many articles spoke of him being accused of having racist views, but there was no inquiry, no further analysis and no official action taken. David Starkey is racist. He’s so blatantly racist it floors me how this isn’t a bigger deal. This bizarre hesitation to outright refer to him as such is part of the culture Phillips is talking about in which we are so afraid to talk about race and racism, including calling people racists, that David Starkey has somehow become accepted as the BBC’s rent-a-racist.
Outside of the pockets of diversity in the UK, and even within them at times, it seems there is a definite lack of understanding of what it means to be racist and a failure to have a real and useful conversation about race (see IamOther’s Ryan Hall attempt to do so below). It’s difficult to know for sure because it’s not very well documented as non-ethnic minorities with no experience of diversity are less inclined to write or talk about race. But when I ask you “what did s/he look like” and you feel the need to precede “s/he’s black” with “I’m not being racist but…” we have a problem.
Trevor Phillips’ documentary invites the viewer to a conversation. He invites the viewer to condemn the police for not prioritising stopping crime over appearing racist as well as to shed their guilt over thinking Jews are rich. He also invites us to wonder why a British Guyanese man from London was appointed to decipher the cultural significance of sexual grooming being perpetrated predominantly British Pakistani men from Yorkshire to Derby, and to see the error of our ways for assuming drug crime in Lambeth was a black thing when actually it was the Colombians that were running it. But no one did. The Daily Mail praised his bravery, The Telegraph embraced his inconvenient truths and the Guardian appreciated his mature approach to things. Racists and racist ideas need to be lulled out into the light for us all to see, to identify and to analyse, and fear of being called racist prevents that. If a black man said it first, you’re free to follow.
Perhaps I’m giving him too much credit here but to me it seemed to me that guilt for somehow creating UKIP in his efforts to stifle racist conversation (his interpretation not mine) had led him to a new approach: say all the most inflammatory things and see who fires back with the best questions and responses. Phillips welcomes us to talk about race in Britain. Tick. He paints a two-dimensional picture. Cross. He leaves the third dimension for us fill in. Another tick. It almost seemed like the whole documentary is a test and unfortunately, those that blindly supported him failed miserably, but the point is, at least we know what we’re dealing with now.