Trevor Phillips Exaggerating Racism Yet Again
David Green, 29 October 2004
In The Times today Trevor Phillips contends that ethnic groups still suffer from racial discrimination and that we need ‘more vigorous enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws’. The evidence he gives is selective and takes the form of examples of disproportionate representation of ethnic groups in various walks of life: 22% of white British children live with one parent compared with 55% of African-Caribbean children; or ethnic minorities are eight times less likely to ‘visit the countryside’.
If there is a single belief underlying a free society it is the moral quality of all individuals. The founders of liberty drew their inspiration from our Christian heritage. All were equal in the sight of God and, if all were to come face to face with their maker at the end of their lives, they must be allowed to take personal responsibility for choosing truth from error and right from wrong. The underlying idea is that we should judge people according to the things they can do something about. We can’t help where we are born, or whether we are black or white, male or female. But we can control what kind of people we become. Consequently, all the great defenders of liberty believed that we should all be equal before the law.
Yet, what we now have is laws under which some people are more equal than others. A crime with a racial motive is now more serious than one without, and the force of law will be used against employers who fail to meet racial quotas (woops, forgot to call them ‘targets’) which can only be met by giving additional weight to race at the expense of personal qualities or fitness for the job. In a world dictated by Trevor Phillips, an employer who treated candidates as moral equals and ignored ascribed characteristics like race, would be at fault.
Recent guidelines from the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), chaired by Trevor Phillips, reveal the dangers. The guidelines require employers to discriminate in favour of non-whites, so that their workforce reflects the ethnic make-up of the wider society. If ethnic minorities make up 8% of the population, then every workplace must be 8% non-white.
The CRE defends the new guidelines by insisting that racism still exists and claims that the under-representation of non-whites in particular workplaces proves its point. But the underlying assumption that the disproportionate representation of ethnic groups in an occupation must be the result of discrimination is profoundly misguided. Discrimination is a possible cause, but there are many other more likely explanations. Among the most obvious is that people in ethnic groups might prefer other jobs. People of Indian origin, for instance, are heavily over-represented in the NHS. They can’t simultaneously be doctors and police officers or business executives.
No less important, the low average age of non-white groups means that a higher proportion are too young to go to work. About 30% of non-whites in the last census were under 16, compared with only 19% of whites. Moreover, a higher proportion of non-whites are newcomers to this country, unfamiliar with its culture and language. They are at a disadvantage because command of English and knowledge of a different way of life can only come with time. In 2001, 54% of people of Indian and Bangladeshi origin, about 45% of Pakistanis, and 42% of ‘Black Caribbeans’ were not born in the UK. Attitudes to family and work also affect recruitment to workplaces. About 74% of white British women, and 72% of Black Caribbean women are ‘economically active’. But only 28% of Pakistani women are in the work force. When asked the reason for not working, 75% of Bangladeshi women and 65% of Pakistani women said it was to look after their family or home. Among white British women, only 46% gave that reason.
These factors, not to mention personal choice, make it inevitable that people from ethnic minorities will be under-represented in any workplace. To alter our law to allow racial discrimination in reverse, when racial prejudice is not the problem in the first place, would be a betrayal of our liberal heritage.
The proposed guidelines follow the earlier imposition of racial targets in the public sector, but when the Government set race targets as proof of its hostility to racism it gave no sustained attention to the dangers, despite American experience of racial preferences which have led many American blacks to be among the strongest critics. For many African Americans, preferential treatment, whether in the form of quotas or guidelines, has come to be seen as a kind of humiliation, implying that ethnic groups can’t make it on their own merits.
Moreover, racists assume that race is the most important characteristic of an individual. But a moment’s reflection reveals that it is not, probably not even for Trevor Phillips. We all have several identities, such as race, nationality, father, mother, son, daughter, friend, good or bad writer, good or indifferent footballer, loyal friend, hard worker, decent neighbour, brave, funny, honest or dishonest. Which one is the real us at any one time? For most people, their race (in practice their skin colour) is a trivial part of their self conception. It only seems important because it has been politicised and now it is advantageous to give prominence to one’s race because it can be used to gain valued positions, such as university places or a well-paid job. We already have racial quotas in the public sector, which means that civil servants, police and firemen are being appointed because of their race, not according to their personal qualities.
The CRE chooses to assume that all unexplained statistical disparities are caused by discrimination, contrary to evidence easily seen by glancing at figures published on the Internet by the Office for National Statistics. The CRE is not only encouraging reverse discrimination to compensate for existing prejudice; it is creating discrimination where none exists. The chief beneficiaries of Trevor Phillips’ demands will be lawyers, bent on multiplying grievances in the hope of creaming off their share of the compensation claims.