Clever Trevor

Once again it seems we’re all required to go through yet another phase of soul-searching and navel-gazing about matters of race, ethnicity and ‘Britishness’ for reasons which, as ever, are not entirely clear.

Trevor Phillips, as you might expect, is leading the charge as usual, arguing this time for a ‘highway code’ on race which will set out the ‘unspoken rules’ of race relations…

…he also appears to think we need this because the UK is “becoming more segregated socially, residentially and educationally”, which is an interesting comment coming from someone who a mere six months ago was arguing in favour of segregated education for young black caribbean boys as a means of improving their educational performance.

Meanwhile, over at the Independent and behind its ‘pay to read’ portfolio system, Deborah Orr is waxing lyrical on the subject of whether political correctness really has gone mad and the failings of multiculturalism – the Indy still hasn’t figured out one of main reasons why the Guardian in amongst the most linked sites on UK blogs is the simple fact that it doesn’t charge to read the stuff we’re trying to comment on.

And over at CNN, we find that the Chief Inspector of Prisons is ticked off about a prison officer wearing a St. George’s cross tie pin – bought apparently from a charity – as this is open to ‘misinterpretation’…

…as the article goes on to prove in citing comments from Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, who considers it “an insensitive reminder of the Crusades”.

Which must surely be pissing off the BNP et al as for years they’ve under the impression that ‘liberal’ sensitivities about England’s national flag were derived from the appropriation of it to their nasty little fascist cause.

Deborah Orr’s point – if you could see it – is perhaps the most interesting as she points out that, by and large, we’re actually making a reasonable success of being a multicultural society, in fact by definition that’s precisely what we are, a country in which a plethora of different cultures and ethnic groups live side by side – short of taking the BNP route of deporting non-whites [over my dead body] the multicultural nature of modern British society is a matter of simple fact – it is what it is and the way it is because that is Britain as it exists today.

Yes, she argues that the ‘doctrine’ of multiculturalism is patently failing, but then that’s because its was never really a doctrine in the first place, merely an overt expression of white, middle-class liberal angst. Only amongst the ‘bruschettarati’ and the like do people agonise over questions as to whether its now culturally acceptable to use terms like ‘coloured’ again; those of us who live in ethnically-mixed communities just get on with our lives without giving such matters a second though; our neighbours may be black, asian, muslim, sikh or however ever they choose to style themselves on those rare occasions there is a need to even think in terms of race or ethnicity. The rest of the time they’re just ‘the guy who lives next door’ or ‘Mr and Mrs _______” – just people we know and see around us, a familiar part of our social landscape.

What purpose, in reality, will Trevor Phillips’ ‘Highway Code’ actually serve? It may spark an interesting debate along the way I suppose but is it really going provide solutions to questions like ‘is it ok to say coloured?’, and if it is then who even asks those kind of questions anyway… and does anyone really give a shit what the answer is?

The simple fact of the matter is that no one I know ever refers to themselves in that manner not because they necessarily think that ‘coloured’ has unacceptable connotations but simply because that’s just not the way they speak anyway.

Just what are we actually going to learn from the futile exercise of drawing up a ‘highway code of race relations’ other than that it going to cost money and save a few bureaucrats from having to go out and get a real job? Do we really need the Commission for Racial Equality to tell us that ‘nigger’ is not ok, but ‘niggah!’ is fine as long as you’re under 25 and own a fucking Snoop Dogg CD.

Not to put to fine a point on it, this is complete and utter bollocks which serves no practical purpose other than to justify the existance – and public funding – of people who should really be finding far more important and valuable things to do with their time [and our money].

The only message that needs promoting when it comes to ‘race’ is that there is only one race – the human race – and we’re all in this together whether we like or not, so it really is in all our interest to try and get along. Matters of culture and cultural identity are a wholly different and more complex matter but the general principle I take through life is still no more than to give people a bit of basic respect and allow them to get on with their lives as they see fit so long as they observe the law of the land and don’t harm anyone else. It works for me, so why not others.

The vast majority of people in this country simply aren’t a problem. Irrespective of whether or not they adhere to a set of government sanctioned, politically correct ideals, if people get on with their lives without causing harm to others or impinging on people’s basic rights and freedoms then what does it matter whether they use terms like ‘coloured’ or not – its still only a small minority of idiots out there who actually cause problems because, unlike the rest of us, they find it impossible to co-exist with people they perceive as being ‘different’ from themselves.

That’s what we need to tackle and that’s where the resources need to go, not into a half-baked handbook of race relations etiquette –

“Now, remember what I told you, Jimmy. Elbows OFF the table, don’t slurp your soup and whatever you do, do not refer to our guest as a Paki”

What’s really frustrating in all this are those occasions, as with the whole tie-pin business, when this all-consuming need to be seen to be paying lipservice to liberal anxieties ends up doing more harm than good.

If anti-racist campaigners have consciously tried to tackle one specific thing in recent years its been the appropriation of the Cross of St. George by the far right in this country. Sandwell, for example, now has an official St. George’s Day celebration, supported by the local authority, a key theme of which – indeed it’s raison d’etre – has been to reclaim the flag and the day, itself, for the whole community irrespective of their ethnic or cultural background.

So much time and effort has been put into promoting this message, that the flag belongs to us all and for what? So we can be lectured about how its association with the Crusades – 6-800 years ago – offends Muslims?

Now, excuse me for a second here but, as a minor point of history, didn’t Islam actually win that particular conflict. Weren’t what was left of the Crusaders eventually turfed out of Palestine by the Ottoman Turks or is the Dome on the Rock just some sort of bizarre mirage. Is there not a sense here in were are being asked to be apologetic about a flag which symbolises the fact that, in the end, we got our asses kicked?

And doesn’t that just encapsulate the absurdity of this whole business?

  • I’m not so sure that a “highway code” is such a bad idea – depending on its contents of course. Many people really don’t know what is acceptable and what is not. Where I work some managers are scared to criticise women and black people for fear of being hauled up on a harrasment charge (this of course is a sign of the Managers’ ignorance and prejudice). If everybody knew exactly where they stood, we would all be equal.

    The george cross on a prison officer? I (as a welshman) was delighted when the rugby world cup allowed the English to reclaim their flag from the racists. However I don’t think it’s right for any officer of law and order to wear any sign of allegiance to anything. It is a possible sign of bias.

  • Dissenter

    The problem with the highway code is that it is always going to cause argument – who is to say what is acceptable or not, what can be said in different circumstances, can certain “races” take ownership of words.

    How can a pamphlet be kept up to date – new words take on different meanings. even by producing a “highway code” you are going to have an effect on what is in it.

    The vast majority of us are quite aware of what is acceptable or not (i hope) – it’s called human decency. Internal prejudices are brought about out of ignorance of what appears to be different. Knowing what should and should not be done in public will not address that problem.

    As for the St George Cross pin: now i am no nationalist (or even patriot) but i am pleased that the Union and St George flags have been reclaimed from the far right. I don’t see how wearing this pin badge is any worse than if i chose to wear a liverpool fc badge. It is an expression of my identity and my affinity to my club (or country) not a criticism of anybody elses.

  • Unity

    The vast majority of us are quite aware of what is acceptable or not (i hope) – it’s called human decency.

    Absolutely.

    One of real problems with the ‘highway code’ concept is that it will invariably end up as a document which is devoid of context, rather like the outdated notion of the ‘Queen’s English’ which spoken only by a minority of the British population.

    To take Trevor Phillips’ example of the word ‘coloured’, who knows maybe that is a term which has become more neutral in meaning for most people than it was during the 1960’s & 70’s, at the height of the Alf Garnett/Love Thy Neighbour era. Maybe it isn’t seen by most people as quite so offensive a term of expression these days.

    Except…

    What if you happen to be speaking to someone who’s family lived in South Africa during the Apartheid era, when ‘coloured’ had a very precise and political meaning – surely then its a whole different ball game and one only navigable by applying a bit of, as you say, human decency and a modicum of common sense.

    Ideas like this contribute nothing to whole race relations debate. They exist only to make a small minority amongst the guilt-ridden middle classes feel better about themselves and have little or no impact on communities where race, ethnicty and cultural identity are real issues.

    One of the better comments on this sort of thing was Lenny Henry’s retort to a proposal from either the BNP or NF a good few years back (can’t recall exactly which) that they’d offer immigrants