As a black man and former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, you might think I would be surprised to face a charge of racism — but I was not
The day I was accused of being racist, I knew political correctness had gone mad, writes TREVOR PHILLIPS
A few weeks ago, I observed that Barack Obama’s iconic status as the first African-American U.S. President should not obscure his mixed political record.
For that, I was accused by one Radio 4 commentator of peddling a ‘racist narrative’.
As a black man and former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, you might think I would be surprised to face a charge of racism — but I was not.
For at a time when this country is crying out for frank discussion on issues such as race and sexuality, debate is being closed down because those who find offence in every-thing cry ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’.
The result — as I argue tonight in a TV programme — is that our political and cultural elite seem unable to speak plainly about things that concern many citizens.
While our rulers seem to have all the time in the world to debate who should use which lavatory (in deference to the transgender lobby), they dismiss anxieties about overcrowded schools or doctors’ surgeries as merely a bigoted dislike of migrants.
How has this come about?
Forty years ago, ‘identity’ politics was about trying to end discrimination. It led to revolutionary legislation on gender, disability and race.
But recently the recognition of diversity has grown into a cancerous cultural tyranny that blocks open debate.
In higher education, it has spread like wildfire.
Efforts to keep real racists off university platforms have been perverted so bans are imposed on, for example, speakers with unfashionable views on transsexuals.
Harmless academics are falling prey, too. Sensible people are appalled at the way Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt was hounded out of his post at University College London for a weak joke about women crying in laboratories.
Hardly a day goes by on campuses without a demand for a statue to be removed or for ‘safe spaces’ where sensitive students can be sheltered from robust views in a cultural debate or sexual violence in a classic literary text.
But how is a young person to understand how precious are the freedoms we enjoy today without learning what the world was like before them?
Should I not tell my children about the agony and struggle for liberation of their own ancestors, who were once slaves on sugar plantations?
Unfortunately, this thin-skinned refusal to engage with the challenging realities of life is not restricted to academia.
There is no hiding place from the language police, even if you belong to a ‘vulnerable’ group.
Ten years ago, I suggested Notting Hill Carnival had become an international event and outgrown its roots in the West Indian community — hardly a deeply provocative observation.
In response, the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, opined I had become so Right-wing I really belonged in the British National Party.
Sometimes the pressures to conform are subtle and insidious but no less powerful.In 2009, several Labour MPs, including some ministers, mounted a private campaign to get Prime Minister Gordon Brown to dismiss me from the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
My principal sin, I think, had been to support the appointment of a leading black evangelical Christian.
I thought the thousands of black and Asian Christians who are reviving our churches should be represented…