Have you noticed something? Hardly anyone mentions racism anymore
when describing or analysing problems faced by black and Asian
9/11, the war in Iraq, now the attack on London, the national
conversation now is focused on Muslims, on questions of identity,
patriotism, terrorism, asylum seekers, and anxieties about what
this nation is to do about “them”, those swarthy folk of barbaric
beliefs and duplicitous ways.
Why, even the Commission for Racial Equality is content to let
racism slide away from its central focus. And yet, I would contend
that racism has got manifestly worse, more in-your-face and
acceptable again in British society.
We have also seen a dispiriting fragmentation within and between
black and Asian groups who once were able to unite against
injustices and support each other. Disenchantment with politics and
foreign policies in particular has led to an increase of generic
hatred of the West and of white people and cultures of violence.
These developments threaten our complex, multifarious, rich mix of
a society. Look around the cities and see what we have made
together and why the Olympics are coming to us. So much is at
stake; the forces of bigotry need to be beaten back.
So when Trevor Phillips, a smooth operator and enviable
communicator and a black man who intimately knows the reality of
discrimination, decides to make a significant speech full of
foreboding one would expect some strong condemnation of these
growing racist practices and some show of strength and belief in
He didn’t do that. Instead, he notified the nation we were becoming
as segregated as New Orleans and that the disintegration was well
under way (a warning which will provide succour to bigots who
already want to believe this is the case). There was much careless
talk in this speech – which grabbed the headlines – little pride
and hope, alarmist sentiments and not enough on worsening racism.
It matters hugely what Phillips says; white folk listen to him as
to no other. We are not the US and never will be because we have no
history of legal segregation and nor are there any areas in Britain
that are fortresses held by black or Asian groups and no-go areas
for others. But there are in Northern Ireland and Glasgow where
white Christian tribes hate each other. But that never worries
leaders as much as it should.
Two respected academics have responded to Phillips’ statements with
corrective facts. Oxford professor Ceri Peach says: “There is not a
single ward in Britain where the population is 100 per cent ethnic
minority population. Tracts of up to 90 per cent are common in the
US.” He adds that between 1991 and 2001 studies reveal a decrease
in levels of partial segregation in all areas.
There are enclaves that have serious problems and little social
mobility. They are poor neighbourhoods with bad schools and social
disorder. They include black, Asian and white Britons. It is
extremely unhelpful to ignore these disenfranchised whites and
concentrate on “ethnic minorities”. Inequality between the haves
and have nots has increased under New Labour. Phillips, a loyalist
Blairite, does not point this out. Social workers and others are
today working in an angrier environment and there is a new national
mood which wants to reclaim Britain for whites.
Some practitioners will share such attitudes. Others will feel
paralysed if they start to believe that certain areas are ghettos
where they will be greeted with hostility. A number may also feel
resentful that leaders concentrate on race and religion instead of
poverty which is colour blind.
In order to work effectively and positively these feelings need to
be addressed. Unfortunately the high-octane intervention by Trevor
Phillips will have helped to cause greater anxiety and aggravation
which is exactly what we don’t need.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a writer and broadcaster
“Social workers are today working in an angrier
environment and there is a new national mood which wants to reclaim
Britain for whites”