STRUGGLE: Trevor Phillips was neutered in the fight for racial equality by the powers that be
SOMEONE IS going to have to pay for Brexit, that much is clear. And it’s looking increasingly like it is WE who will have to pay the price for the abrupt and somewhat unexpected British auf wiedersehen to Europe. Yes, WE who were naive enough to think that if it all goes tits up after the referendum at least we’ll all be going down the Swannee together.
No racial discrimination. No colour bar. No blacks, no Irish, no dogs. Just all of us together in one multi-cultural Titanic, all singing “nearer my God to thee” as we prepare to get wet. Now, that’s a fairy tale. It doesn’t work like that in reality. We don’t all live in a yellow submarine. And unfortunately for black folks, when we pay our taxes we expect to get a portion of it back through social and cultural services to make our neighbourhoods a little less intolerable to live in. We rely on government bodies to portion our taxes back to us so that we can build community groups and theatre groups and the like to uplift our communities who could do with a break.
Well, look out all of you who depend on funding one way or another. You may as well say dem days are over. Or as good as.
It’s written in the stars. Or, more tangibly, in the future of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which as I understand it is about to bite the dust as the funding for it (and perhaps even the need for it) comes to an end post-Brexit.
That’s right. Whilst the government is scratching around trying to find cash to sweeten the post-Brexit economic British playing field for companies who are thinking of relocating to more conducive climes such as France, Spain or Estonia (!) there just isn’t the money to go round to prop up an organisation that only seems to be there in the first place to tick the boxes of European justice.
Now that we don’t have to pay lip service to the EU we may as well say stuff all that and save our hard-earned £350 million and use it to fund the NHS – I know, I know, I’m having a laugh, but that was what won the Brexit vote wasn’t it, not racism...? [I know, I know, I’m having another laugh].
So equalities and human rights are going to pay the price for Brexit. So why should WE be worried? Well, gather round boys and girls, and let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, racism was so bad in Britain that the 1976 Race Relations Act (remember those disappearing Acts, children?) established a ‘commission’ for racial equality.
The CRE, as it was known, was not perfect, but it was in no small part significant in addressing racial discrimination wherever it raised its ugly head in schools, the workplace, on council estates and on the streets.
Many of us (myself included) regarded it as a ‘campaign for racial equality’, but Parliament put it under manners and took away its gnashers and insisted that, initially, it should be head- ed by white folks to ensure that it didn’t use the race card where white folk wouldn’t like it up ‘em.
Nevertheless, the CRE felt like a ‘fe we ting’, even though it wasn’t a ‘fe we ting’. It felt like a refuge for every black man and woman in the country who had endured racial discrimination and we all believed it would be there forever because we knew that racial discrimination would be here forever.
Well, racial discrimination is still here, and it looks like it will be here forever and a day. But the CRE is no more. It bit the dust. Lord Herman Ouseley was the last great leader of the organisation and Trevor Phillips was the leader that was chosen to turn it into a dodo. Ignominiously.
Nine years ago it was replaced by something called the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). You see, the government in its infinite wisdom deemed that there was no need for a specific commission for race relations, but that the struggle for race equality could be dumped into a gumbo with physical and men- tal disabilities and sexual orientation and something called ‘yoo-man rights’.
Of course we knew it wouldn’t work. Go back in the pages of The Voice and you’ll see how we challenged the notion that racism was no different from sexism, misogyny or homophobia when the CRE was being replaced by the EHRC back in 2007. I myself wrote several pieces on it.
It’s obvious to anyone who has experienced racism, that it is a particular sickness and has to be tackled as such. The idea that it could be addressed by anything other than a dedicated commission was devised to kill the militancy in the race equality struggle. Our legitimate fight for racial equality was neutered by the powers that be and, with due respect, Trevor Phillips fell right into that trap.
So he was neutered. One moment he was arguably the most powerful black man in Britain (as head of the CRE, as a mentee of Peter Mandelsohn, as a former NUS president and power- broker in broadcasting) and now he’s not.
You see, WE don’t really matter when the government has a more pressing agenda. And when it comes to cutting government spending, we don’t matter at all. Not even as part of a catch-all equalities and human rights job lot.
If the EHRC does bite the dust as is expected post-Brexit, you could well ask: ‘What about race equality’?
You hum it, son, I’ll play it.