Social integration report: more questions than answers

Tuesday, 10 January, 2017 - 13:01

Last week, the APPG on Social Integration led by Chukka Umunna MP, released its interim report, centred on 6 principles.  Some of the recommendations are welcome, but it left us with more questions than answers. More clarity is needed on what the recommendations would look like in practice.

Welcome news

The inquiry suggested government create a national integration strategy, which can be tailored to be responsive to local needs. This strategy should acknowledge that integration is a ‘two-way’ street – everyone is responsible for creating a cohesive society, the white majority included. This is a welcome break from the Casey Review, which faced widespread criticism for its undue focus on the South Asian and Muslim community.

Equally, the strategy should outline how antidiscrimination and equalities legislation can be used to aid integration and assess migrants’ access to employment. This is vital – our work has shown that employment opportunities and robust antidiscrimination laws are the most effective integration measures.

Show me the money

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), was given a lot of attention in the report, as an important lever to aid integration. We wholeheartedly support increased funding for ESOL classes that are flexible and can fit around unsociable working hours. However, ESOL classes faced a real terms cut by the Skills Funding Agency last year.  It seems unlikely that government would commit to funding compulsory ESOL for all new migrants via an Integration Impact Fund.

Similarly, it may not be viable for local authorities to have a duty to promote integration and draw up local integration plans. The repeated cuts and pressures on local authority budgets have been well documented, with many struggling to process the increase in hate crime. It is unclear how they would be able to deliver this strategy without increased funding.

Regional migration policy: a cause for concern

The proposed regionally-led migration approach is concerning. At face value it’s a good idea – giving local authorities control over migration could make them more responsive to local economic and social needs. In practice, the unintended consequences could be wide ranging. Without more detail, it leaves us with more questions than answers. Would a migrants’ visa be tied to one location only? Could they live in a neighbouring county and commute to work? Would they need permission to apply for a promotion in another part of the country? And aside from visa related bureaucracy, how would government ensure the system was not open to discriminatory abuse? The inquiry notes that areas with a low number of migrants tend to be more hostile towards migration, whilst the opposite is true of areas like London. It is likely a regional policy would encourage prejudice to triumph over logic, with immigration virtually banned in the areas that need it the most economically.

What’s missing?

Settled communities, both established ethnic minorities and the white majority, are barely mentioned in the report. Established ethnic minority communities still face significant inequalities in employment and education. It is essential that these groups are included in the proposed national integration strategy going forward. And if integration is really a two-way street, then the white majority should be given more space in the report too.  

blog, ROTA blog

Redefining Narratives on Integration

Tuesday, 3 January, 2017 - 15:02

"ROTA has for many years been concerned about how to improve the life chances of black and minority ethnic populations in the process of settlement and adaptation into British society and how that society also adapts to ensure that their presence and experience is positive and that racism and discrimination is challenged. This process is sometimes called "integration" though this term is not one that everybody is happy with as it is often confused with assimilation and is seldom seen as a two way process where the host society also needs to change and adapt to increasing diversity by challenging its own racism and xenophobia. The recent publication of the Casey Review has brought all of these concerns about integration to the forefront.

As a volunteer blogger for ROTA Hanna Stephens attended a Runnymede seminar shortly after the Casey Review was published. The seminar challenged many of the assumptions in the review. Here is Hanna's blog:"

In December Dame Louise Casey released a report entitled, “The Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration”. The report has been criticised for its focus on Muslim communities and also in the ways in which it reproduces victim-blaming narratives of integration. It suggests that the responsibility is on new communities to integrate themselves into wider society and that difference and diversity must be corrected rather than accepted. This places an unfair burden on the already marginalised to adapt to the often strange and new UK environments, all the while dealing with the racism and xenophobia that the society they are supposed to become a part of is riddled with.

The Casey Review’s report summary alone raises many red flags. For example, the report highlights the fact that self-defining Christians, although still the vast majority, have declined from 70% to 59% whilst the Muslim population has risen by 72% between 2001 and 2011 (even though it still only represents around 5% of the population).  The particular statistical focus and comparison of Christian and Muslim populations is not apolitical. There is a long history of pitting these two religions against each other, with Christians representing the virtuous self and Muslims, the devious other. Ironically at the heart of this report is a framework that reinforces division rather than seeking to overcome it. Although one can argue that statistics represent factual truths, facts do not exist in a vacuum and the way in which they are framed and delivered should be reconsidered in the context of rising Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. The use of the 72% rise statistic also works to reinforce fears that the scale and pace of migration (specifically of those identifying as Muslim) is a key cause of societal inequality.  It points fingers towards migrants instead of towards any governmental failures. This victim-blaming persists throughout the report. It implies that greater ethnic diversity naturally equates to lower societal cohesion and legitimises fears that migrants are taking resources and that they represent a barrier to economic recovery.

How can we expect community cohesion when these narratives continuously define Muslims as “Other”? Later in the report the rise of racist violence and harassment is noted but this is not given the prominence it deserves. At the root of this violence is fear of the “Other”, something that this report leaves unaddressed and even fuels. When individuals move into new or strange environments a necessary first step may be to find a community they feel comfortable and safe in. If they can’t speak English, finding a community that speaks their language is also crucial to the practicalities of settling in successfully. This should not be taken as a sign that they don’t want to integrate, rather that they may not know how and given the rise in hate crimes following Brexit they may even feel unsafe in doing so.

It is therefore important that new ways of thinking about integration must emerge, making the Runnymede Conference on “Redefining Integration” particularly timely. What is needed  is a concept of integration that is inclusive of ethnic diversity and that places responsibility both on existing communities and newcomers to adapt to living with one another  The conference began with Laurence Lessard-Phillips from the Institute of Research into Superdiversity discussing the importance of understanding integration as a multi-dimensional concept. Instead of ethnic diversity being taken as a cause of disintegration, her framework identified neighbourhood diversity as one marker of integration. She also discussed how integration and exclusion were not so binary; for example, one could be spatially integrated in terms of living in a diverse neighbourhood yet be culturally and politically excluded due to language barriers and unemployment. Therefore solutions must be holistic and involve a diversity of approaches.

Silvia Galandini spoke on the importance of redefining integration as a two-way process, where newcomers make changes to adapt to their local environments whilst settled communities respect the different cultures, ways of life and perspectives that these newcomers bring. Under this definition, extremism, whether amongst newcomers or existing communities, cannot be tolerated. Mainstream media narratives often focus on the statements and actions of a small subsector of Islamic extremists.  However, what‘s largely missing are the barriers that racism and Islamophobia present towards working towards an integrated society. Overcoming this is no easy task. This was highlighted by Adam Elliot Cooper in an example he gave about the use of separate categories to label crimes committed by people of colour. He discussed how the use of “gang related” crimes for black men and “terrorist” for Muslim people shows how we constantly construct racialised individuals in separate categories. This highlights the insidious nature of racism and how the ways we think must be addressed to accommodate the inclusion of racialised people. Silvia also identified the need to address issues in different spatial scales. As issues that different communities may face are context-specific, it is important that they are addressed at the local level. However, structural barriers such as participation in the labour and housing market and education are barriers to integration that require a national focus. We therefore need a more concerted effort to unpick and challenge these narratives to change minds at the local community level as well as the national governmental level.

How does this materialise in practice? A recent Guardian article highlighted some case studies involving schools welcoming refugee and asylum seeking children that seem to fit the conference’s redefinition of integration. Spires Academy in Oxford assesses children on arrival to understand the support they need and places them on a six week programme of English language classes. The school also pairs newcomers with sixth form students who spend time with them at lunchtime and help them with their homework and English. Staff at The College of North West London receive training into issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers and the school has built partnerships with charities for mental health support for refugee and asylum seeker children. Both examples show a multi-dimensional approach to integration, whereby factors such as language, education, community belonging, cultural awareness and wellbeing support are considered. They also highlight the two-way process of integration, whereby newcomers must adapt to new school environments by learning English and attending classes as part of the national curriculum, but also how existing teachers and students must be aware of their needs. However, these case studies also highlight how strategies of meaningful integration tend to be led by local leaders with non-governmental support and how support from the government remains limited. 

Sustainably redefining integration involves reframing the narratives and attitudes that inform integration policies. We must move away from the toxic presupposition that immigrants are dangerous and are the cause of the decrease in social service provision as this type of thinking itself presents a barrier to integration. We also must challenge racial prejudices that make even those racialised minorities who are born and raised in Britain feel like outsiders. It is only then that marginalised people and communities will get the support needed, both at local and national level, to feel “integrated” into society. 

blog, ROTA blog

Researchers reveal that diversity is good for your health

Monday, 5 December, 2016 - 14:05

It has become a commonplace idea that the more ethnic diversity there is in a society the more conflict and ill-feeling there is. Difference and diversity are seen as negative and dangerous rather than as positive and engaging. Actually this assumption is highly questionable, but of course the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express expend thousands of column inches a day to try to reinforce this assumption. Along with politicians they have ensured that the dominant prejudice of the age is the fear of the “Other”. This prejudice can then be used to swing votes and win referendums. It is one thing to promote racism, xenophobia, prejudice and cynicism as these newspapers do everyday. It is quite another (and a far more dangerous) thing to do to then justify this prejudice as being natural and inevitable - part of “commonsense”

Ironically this is what a number of liberal social scientists have sought to do in the last thirty years. The social scientist Robert Putnam’s views on this have literally become the predominant way of thinking in current sociology and politics. His views on social capital and social cohesion are now accepted almost without question and are now part of the” furniture”. They have become the dominant “paradigm” in social “science”. In fact his views, and much of the social science that has followed from them, is both highly ideological and highly questionable. Professor Paul Collier in his recent book Exodus is just the latest “scientist” to presume that increasing degrees of diversity must automatically threaten “mutual regard” between different ethnic groups. Recent research shows that Putnam’s paradigm (that more diversity in a given society automatically results in less trust and solidarity) is highly dubious and dangerous ideological nonsense. Putnam’s theories start from the notion that ordinary people “confronted by” different ethnic groups (the “Other”) automatically display fear and unease and then in Putnam’s words “hunker down”. Actually Putnam’s argument for this position is quite poor - unsurprisingly as he hardly even attempts to produce any evidence for it. He simply starts by taking it as a given fact without analysing whether it is actually the case.

Recent research in a variety of areas, (but particularly around “contact” theory in social psychology) leads to the opposite conclusion. Miles Hewstone shows that contact with different ethnic groups tends to increase rather than decrease levels of trust. Even more strongly than that, he shows that even without individual positive personal contact with members of other ethnic groups, if you live in an area where others in your ethnic group report positive contacts then this will affect your levels of trust positively. In 2013 some social scientists at the University of Manchester launched a report showing that Britain’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods have higher levels of social cohesion and greater levels of tolerance of each other’s differences. This chimes with what we know, which is that it is areas where black and ethnic minority people have not yet settled, rather than those where they already live, that experience higher levels of fear and intolerance. The report found that ethnic minority people are less likely to report racial discrimination in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods compared to less diverse ones. The research shows that rather than diversity, it is localities with high levels of deprivation which are associated with poor physical and mental health, low social cohesion and increased race discrimination. They assert that race discrimination then leads to poorer mental health, high blood pressure, increased smoking, and lower self-esteem. Ethnic diversity is beneficial, because it is associated with less racism and discrimination, more social cohesion, and stronger social support networks. Professor James Nazroo who directed the research , said: “Our research .... is all about setting the record straight on those diverse neighbourhoods which are so widely stigmatised. So often we read in our newspapers and hear from our politicians that immigration and ethnic diversity adversely affect a neighbourhood. But careful research shows this to be wrong. In fact, the level of deprivation, not diversity, is the key factor that determines these quality of life factors for people in neighbourhoods. So our research demonstrates the disadvantages of living in deprived areas, but the positives of living in ethnically diverse areas.” A recent research study in Germany confirms this. The study shows that the German states with the highest percentages of non-Germans also exhibit the greatest levels of social cohesion. "Apparently many Germans still perceive immigration as a threat," says the report’s author. "We should view diversity as an opportunity instead." Dr Laia Becares from the University of Manchester said: “Increased diversity is beneficial for all ethnic groups so we say the policy agenda should develop strategies for inclusiveness rather than marginalising minority identities, religions and cultures.”

Of course it is no surprise that the Daily Mail, the Express and the Sun want us to identify the diversity of an area as the problem rather than its level of deprivation. They have a political and ideological interest in getting us to confuse the cause with the effect and to blame the victim, the outsider, the “other” rather than the system that perpetuates such inequality and deprivation. Politicians ought to know better, and when they start blaming the victims rather than identifying the real causes – structural inequality and racism – we have every right to treat them with the contempt that they deserve.


Mad World

Wednesday, 23 November, 2016 - 11:47

Guest blog by Hanna Stephens, ROTA Volunteer

A quick Google search defines mental illness broadly as, ‘a condition which causes serious disorder in a person’s behaviour or thinking.’ When we live in a context where a “serious disorder” is often attached to acting and speaking out about racism rather than being racist, we must be critical about our own understandings of mental health and how they have been constructed by those with power.

In 1851, American physician Samuel Cartwright diagnosed black slaves who attempted to flee captivity with a mental illness he termed drapetomania. He argued in Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race that if white slave masters didn’t reinforce their position of power over black slaves but start to treat them humanely, the slaves would develop drapetomania. The prescribed solution for drapetomania was punishment through whipping and even the cutting off of big toes, “until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy.”

In the same article, Cartwright also diagnosed black people with dysaesthetsia aethiopica; a mental illness that explained the, “cause of laziness among slaves”. He believed that all slaves were afflicted with this but that it was also, “much more prevalent among free negroes living in clusters by themselves”. He proposed that this would be fixed by having, “white people direct and take care of them” and through whipping and hard labour. Cartwright’s article was reprinted in the South but largely mocked in the Northern United States and since debunked as pseudoscience.

In more recent history, Jonathan Metzl’s book The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease examined the ways in which, during the 1960s, the Ionia State psychiatric hospital in Michigan began to diagnose African Americans with schizophrenia because of their civil rights ideas. 

In both cases we see the diagnosis of mental illness of what are completely understandable and legitimate responses to racism, the first to slavery and the second to a denial of civil rights. This is extremely harmful for the following reasons. It masks what are politically charged situations by presenting them as medical and scientific ones, in this way portraying racist ideas as “objective truth” as a way to justify the silencing of dissent. As well as this, by depicting the victims of racism as mentally ill and therefore not in “the right state of mind”, responsibility shifts from white slave owners or deniers of black civil rights onto the victims themselves. Finally, the idea that speaking out about racism is often labelled “oversensitive” or a product of mental illness is a toxic narrative that can be internalised by people of colour, working to make them feel like their emotions and demands are illegitimate.

These tactics are still very much in operation today. One example is the constant backlash from posting experiences tied to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability on social media platforms. Comments often take the form of telling the authors that they are whiny, over thinking things, too angry etc. This is known as tone policing and ties to mental health as it categorises those who speak out as people with “issues” or irrational thought processes as a way to silence them.

Issues with mental health are so often reduced to genetic inheritance and biology when in reality societal factors are just as important. The diagnosis of mental illness is political in the way it has been, and continues to be, used a way to prevent people from speaking or acting out against racism and other forms of marginalisation. 


The Importance of an Intersectional Approach in Social Research

Tuesday, 15 November, 2016 - 15:37

Guest blog by Hanna Stephens, ROTA Volunteer

“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde

In researching BAMER issues in the UK, it is important not to homogenise racial struggle and instead understand the diversity of identities that are present in different racial groups. For this, it is important that we view things from an intersectional perspective.

Intersectionality arose from black feminist scholarship, the term coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 but conceptually existing much earlier (see for example Sojourner Truth’s 1851 essay Ain’t I a Woman?). It rose as a critique of second wave feminism’s concept of “universal sisterhood” which in reality centred on white, middle-class women, failing to address issues of racism and classism. It argues that individuals can hold multiple oppressions which intersect to produce varied experiences of discrimination. Professor Crenshaw uses the metaphor of a basementfull of people to explain this:

'Imagine a basement which contains all people who are disadvantaged on the basis of race, sex, class, sexual preference, age and/or physical ability. These people are stacked—feet standing on shoulders—with those on the bottom being disadvantaged by the full array of factors, up to the very top, where the heads of those disadvantaged by a singular factor brush up against the ceiling. Their ceiling is actually the floor above which only those who are not disadvantaged in any way reside. Those above the ceiling admit from the basement only those who can say that "but for" the ceiling, they too would be in the upper room. A hatch is developed through which those placed immediately below can crawl. Yet this hatch is generally available only to those who—due to the singularity of their burden and their otherwise privileged position relative to those below—are in the position to crawl through. Those who are multiply-burdened are generally left below unless they can somehow pull themselves into the groups that are permitted to squeeze through the hatch.'

To sustainably place race on the agenda in the UK, we must look at how race intersects with other identity markers to produce the issues we hope to tackle. For example, the discrimination of black women in the workplace for looking “unprofessional” with natural hair is a result of the policing of a woman’s appearance layered with the equation of professionalism with whiteness. The disproportionately high numbers of black men stopped by the police is not simply an issue of anti-blackness but of the perception of black masculinity as dangerous. With regards to sexuality, the heteronormativity in many BAMER communities, often imposed through colonialism, causes sexual orientation to be a barrier to cultural belonging for LGBT+ ethnic minorities. In terms of BAMER wellbeing, we must be aware of how mental health and disability may compound the negative effects of racial harassment or compromise the ability to report it.

To view any of the issues above as simply issues of race would overlook the power dynamics within racial communities themselves. In seeking to overcome race issues, we should be critically aware that some voices and narratives may be louder than others. Without an intersectional perspective, this may result in certain issues within communities being left unacknowledged and overlooked.

An intersectional perspective deepens the understanding that there is diversity and nuance in the ways in which people hold power. It encourages theoretical understandings of identity that are more complex than simple oppressor/oppressed binaries. This theoretical perspective can perhaps even be applied to racial categories themselves to understand the complexity of even having categories such as black, asian and white. Even within these groups there is diversity in the ways individuals experience privilege or oppression. Issues of colourism are such that those with darker skin are seen as more dangerous or less beautiful than those with lighter skin. Further, having mixed race parentage blurs these racial categories and being white Irish or white Gypsy Traveller is a different experience to identifying as white British. Further, there are even issues of racism between differently racialised communities.

Intersectionality therefore encourages us to look more holistically at the ways in which racism operates. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have charities or organisations specifically focused on BAMER issues, as ethnic minority marginalisation undeniably exists and requires devoted attention. However, in tackling issues of integration and respect for racial and cultural diversity without assimilation, we must also consider the diversity of abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations and economic backgrounds that intertwine with the racialised experience and present further barriers to meaningful inclusion. Without this consideration we cannot properly weed out the root causes of social and racial marginality.


Post Referendum Racism

Monday, 27 June, 2016 - 15:24

Pandora’s Box has been opened by the Brexit referendum and it is difficult to see how the evils that it has allowed to escape can be put back in the box. Already there are reports of increasing race hate crimes – many directed at Polish and other European migrants but also directed at Muslims and other migrant and minority groups.

Although many who voted for Britain to leave the European Union were not in themselves racist the campaign itself was riddled with dog whistle politics about migrants and foreigners. At times the sound of the whistle was obvious and audible (as with the disgraceful  Farage “Breaking Point” poster of a line of refugees at the Slovakian border).  Groups such as Britain First and the English Defence League are now capitalising on this climate and trying to provoke disorder, racist attacks and appeals to “send them home”.

Anti racist and anti fascist reporting sites like Hope not Hate and Tell Mama will have their work cut out in monitoring the increasing outrages that are likely over the next few weeks and months. The notion that immigrants are to blame for most of the ills that confront less well off members of society has now become the received wisdom, repeated over and over again by politicians, pundits and the press. Former Tory Party chairman Sayeeda Warsi has warned that “immigrants and their descendants (some who have been here for three, four or five generations)  are being told to leave Britain” in the wake of the “divisive and xenophobic” Brexit campaign.

In the midst of this dangerous atmosphere the government is now set to enact dangerous legislation under the Immigration Act. This legislation will compound the process of demonization of all migrants as well as wider minority ethnic communities. The Immigration Act will force landlords and other public officials to profile service users so as to identify those who do not have the correct paper work and permissions to work, rent, drive and receive other services . The Government is also set to try to do away with the European Convention on Human Rights which is one of the few protections against the worst excesses of  such racism and discrimination.

Against this dark climate we must all work together to rebuild trust and defend our different communities. We must ally together against the Immigration Act giving free rein to landlords and many public servants to profile and single out minority ethnic people in ways that we thought had disappeared since the 1960s. We must defend the European Convention on Human Rights and continue to challenge all the areas where there discrimination and racism continue to scar our country  – whether this is in employment and education, stop and search,  the penal and policing systems and other areas of gross inequality.

Even more important than the EU is the question about  what sort of country Britain wants to be, and that question will continue long after the referendum.  Do we want to continue to be a positive, tolerant society capable of challenging inequality and discrimination and addressing our differences in a civil manner? Or are we going to respond by retreating even further into our enclaves and spitting hostility at each other across the growing divide? The great US Black thinker WEB Du Bois said that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” Whether  we can learn to live together better and address racism and inequality effectively will be the problem of the twenty-first century. And we have not got off to a good start.


Spreading Confusion, Potentially Inciting Hatred - Trevor Phillips’ Route to ‘Active Integration’

Tuesday, 7 June, 2016 - 15:31
Guest Blog by Professor Gus John
Anyone reading the recent ‘Civitas’ publicationRace and Faith: The Deafening Silence byTrevor Phillips with commentaries from David Goodhart and Jon Gower Davies, who knew nothing about Phillips could be forgiven for assuming that he was a protégé of or speech writer for Donald Trump, or at least a spokesman for UKIP. His credentials as given in the profile of authors are indeed impressive: writer and television producer, chair of Green Park Diversity Analytics, deputy chair of the board of the National Equality Standard, founding chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, president of the John Lewis Partnership Council, the chair of the Workers’ Educational Association, a Fellow of the Migration Policy Institute (Washington DC) and of Imperial College London, co-author (with Mike Phillips) of Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multiracial Britain.

Without those credentials, however, especially his association with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and before that with the Commission for Racial Equality, it is doubtful to say the least that Phillips would have been regarded, especially by the British media, as having the authority to say and write the dangerous guff that he does.  But, those credentials place upon him a far greater responsibility to be accurate, intelligent and not indulge in febrile diatribes against Muslims and against multiculturalism.

The title of his essay is Race and Faith: the Deafening Silence, but he displays a lamentably poor understanding of race in Britain historically, of the interface between British society and its migrants from former British colonies whose ethnicity is not white British since the Second World War, of migration and settlement of populations, of the impact of British colonialism on ‘Faith’ and the practice of religion in post-war Britain, and especially of Islam generally and in Britain and Europe specifically.

I have lived in Britain since 1964, having come here as a student of theology and a trainee Roman Catholic priest.  I studied comparative religion and I know a great deal about Christianity, race and religious Christian fundamentalism, especially among Roman Catholics.  I was active in the Ecumenical movement that sought to tackle such fundamentalism and acknowledge that Jesus the Christ was laughing out loudly at the stupidity and arrogance of those who sought to imprison Mother, Father, Spirit God within their own man-made structures and belief systems.

So, although Phillips purports to address the intersection of Faith and Race, his exclusive focus is on Muslims.  He says nothing, for example, about racism in the structures and practices of established Christian churches that is arguably more sophisticated and benign today but that led in previous decades to the establishment and exponential growth of Black-led churches whose members were once Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, etc.  He says nothing about the fact that in many urban areas, the membership of those established churches, including Seventh Day Adventists is 100% African, even though the resident minister is invariably white.

As Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and later the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Phillips had overall charge of the work of both those watchdog bodies in Northern Ireland.  One would therefore expect him to have some knowledge of the complexity of the relationship between religious fundamentalism and extremism in that context and about the fact that to see ‘The Troubles’, 100 years after 1916, simply as a function of religious beliefs would be to misunderstand that history totally. Phillips has to explain, therefore, why in examining the issue of race and religion/belief in today’s Britain, he argues as though Muslims are the only faith group in Britain whose ethnicity places them in potential conflict with what he calls ‘our fundamental values’, values which presumably Muslims as an undifferentiated group, united in a common belief system, massed together and segregated by choice do not share.

Phillips begins his essay thus:
Britain is not a racist nation. But it is a society with a deep sensitivity to the dangers posed by ethnic and cultural difference. So touchy have we British become that we even find speaking of these topics difficult.

As in his diatribe against multiculturalism, Phillips argues as though white Britain is and always has been mono-ethnic and mono-cultural, with a homogeneity characterised by consensual values and ambitions that are contested and put under strain only by ‘ethnocultural groups who do not share their outlook..’.  

Extraordinarily, Phillips claims that the liberal establishment avoids

‘confronting an inconvenient truth: that some minority groups hold very different values and ambitions than those commonly held amongst the dominant majority; that those values and ambitions are even further away from liberal ideals than the average; and that because they are sincerely held by those groups, they aren’t going to change any time soon…
Increasingly, the world-views of very different social identity groupings are colliding. Incompatible attitudes to sex, religion, belief and the rule of law are producing frictions for which the tried and trusted social lubricants seem just too thin’. 

Consequently, he argues, those ethnocultural groups are incapable of integrating in ‘a country used to stability and gradual change’ but where ‘the frictions being generated by our increasing diversity threaten our historic tranquillity’.  He had no need to have read, for example, E P Thompson’s ‘The Making of the English Working Class’ to know that Britain was multicultural long before post-1945 migration from the former colonies, or that ‘the dominant majority’ was always differentiated and diverse and never held ‘common values and ambitions’.  Phillips argues as though class has never been a dominant structural factor shaping social and economic relations in the society and as such the source of major conflict between social groupings who share whiteness and Britishness in common.

He attributes the ‘deafening silence’ to the reaction to Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, while himself parodying Powell:

We maintain a polite silence masked by noisily debated public fictions such as ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘community cohesion’. Rome may not yet be in flames, but I think I can smell the smouldering whilst we hum to the music of liberal self-delusion….

In Enoch Powell’s 1968 speech, he too summoned up echoes of Rome with his reference to Virgil’s dire premonition of the River Tiber ‘foaming with much blood’. (That speech) effectively put an end to Powell’s career as an influential leader. Everyone in British public life learnt the lesson: adopt any strategy possible to avoid saying anything about race, ethnicity (and latterly religion and belief) that is not anodyne and platitudinous. Of course, denial comes in several disguises’.

But, what is arguably Phillips’ most dangerous caricature of Muslims is his depiction of them as a collective threat to the society and its history of successfully integrating ethnocultural groups, while having no other impact on the development of Britain and its political, economic and cultural life.  Having isolated them as ‘other’ in pretty much every sense, he fails to acknowledge their role in labour struggles, in reforming trade unionism, in combating racism and halting the rise of the Far Right, in defence of communities against racist attacks and racist murders, in advancing feminism, in the struggle for quality education and against the hegemony of whiteness and eurocentrism in curriculum and pedagogy, in the advancement and decolonising of the arts in Britain, in struggling against the very forms of violent extremism to which Phillips assumes all devout Muslims subscribe.

In other words, Phillips would have us believe that the only identity Muslims in Britain have is that of irredeemable jihadists or potential jihadists who have no interest whatsoever in building a society with the hallmark of equity and justice, where every child, every woman, every young person and every elder could feel safe and valued and would not face discrimination on account of their faith, gender or ethnicity.  He shows no regard for the many Muslim teachers in mainstream schools who diligently guide students of any ethnicity to embrace the responsibility of building such a society, or for the thousands of doctors, nurses and other medical staff who discharge their commitment to save lives, relieve suffering and promote health and wellbeing.  He places Muslim youth, born and bred in Britain, outside the struggles of youth for quality education at school and university, equal employment opportunity, fair and just treatment by the police and other agencies of the state and the right to self expression in any number of media.

That, I would suggest, is the lived experience of most Muslims and how they see and have always seen themselves as an integral part of British society, a society which they help to mould and which in turn moulds them for better or for worse.

They and their parents’ and grandparents’ generation did not simply sit back waiting to be accepted or ostracised in British society.  The society found it convenient in the 1970s and 1980s to view young Asians, Muslims and otherwise, as conformist, law abiding, sharing the traditional values and customs of their elders and generally not as rebellious and badly parented as ‘those West Indians’ who were felt then to pose the greatest threat to ‘law and order’. That was until the Bradford Twelve and the growth of the Asian Youth Movement with their uncompromising rallying cry: ‘Come what may, we’re here to stay.  Here to stay and here to fight’.

In the last 50 years, Muslims in Britain, like migrants from the Caribbean and the African continent, have built their social, educational and cultural institutions, fought for racial and social justice, civil liberties and human rights, contributed immeasurably to the British economy and made Britain home to their children and their children’s children.  The future of the society belongs as much to them as to anybody else.  If Britain fails them or, like Phillips, keeps them othered and demonised, it will have a helluvah job saving the rest of itself.

Before Phillips’ indulges his spurious notion of ‘active integration’, built upon a foundation of fear and Islamophobic prejudice as it clearly is, he will do well to review his warped understanding of British society as it is now, Muslims and all, and stop imposing a false identity on the entire Muslim population on the basis of the conduct and predispositions of certain sections of it.  Against the background of decades of racist attacks and racist murders perpetrated against Muslims from the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere, as against Asians of other faiths, Phillips has a moral and a legal obligation to consider the potential impact of his outrageous demonization of Muslims upon those who see it as their civic duty to rid the society of them.  It is both naïve and irresponsible of him to suggest that because the British National Party has not sustained its electoral gains, the Far Right are a spent force in British politics and in the lived experience of ordinary people in communities up and down the country.  The relentless harassment of Asian, Roma and refugee and asylum seeking families by Britain First in South Yorkshire and by the English Defence League in various parts of England should give neither him nor anyone else the slightest cause for complacency.

Phillips argues that the ‘denial’ which in his view constitutes ‘the deafening silence’ in his words ‘comes in several guises’.  I would suggest that so too does incitement to racial and religious hatred which too often translates into hate crimes.

Gus John
17 May 2016


blog, Guest Blog

Sanneh and Others – access to welfare for Zambrano carers

Tuesday, 1 December, 2015 - 12:46
Guest Blog by Dr Iyiola Solanke
If citizenship is the fundamental status for EU citizens, what is its substance for child citizens who are too young to enjoy the rights set out in Articles 21-23 TEU to work, travel, vote or petition the EP? What does the principle in EU law of ‘genuine enjoyment of the substance of citizenship’ mean if you are a child? And what are the implications for your parent or parents? These are central questions for a specific group of children now growing up across the EU – those who themselves hold EU citizenship but their parents do not. As stated in the Zambrano case,  the parents of such ‘Zambrano Minors’ derive a right of residence in the EU so that the child is not deprived of the genuine substance of Union citizenship. Although the Court of Justice has subsequently considered when this genuine enjoyment is impinged (Macarthy, Dereci, O & O) it has not made any remarks on the substance of citizenship rights for the children. It may be necessary for it to do so to prevent these children from being consigned to lives of poverty by national interpretation of its principle.
Read the full blog, posted on EUtopia law website, founded by members of Matrix Chambers‘ EU law group.
blog, Guest Blog

We Told You So!

Monday, 10 August, 2015 - 09:27

In my blog of 6th March 2014, I forecast that the Immigration Act would make private landlords into unpaid and untrained Immigration Officers. The Immigration Act would become “in effect, a charter for racial and other forms of harassment and abuse where people encounter rogue decision-makers (e.g. rogue landlords)”.

We have just been proved right with the Government’s publication of the results of their own pilot, see Guardian 7/8/15 article which showed that the use of private landlords to crackdown on “illegal immigrants” has been a complete failure. Even more serious was the finding that the scheme seems to have encouraged discrimination against non-British prospective tenants as we had anticipated.

In spite of these worrying findings the Government has already gone ahead to roll out this dangerous and vindictive scheme on a country-wide basis. This is further evidence that when it comes to immigration, sensible policy making and  a measured political approach to a complex problem goes straight out of the window. The Government would far rather be seen to be unpleasant to newly arriving migrants then make sensible policy decisions that actually work.

The readership of the Sun and Daily Mail and those people inclined towards UKIP are the real drivers of Government policy. Considerations of a humane and sensible approach to migration - let alone fair and good government policy that actually works - come a long way behind.

Being nasty to migrants may get the Government some approval from the tabloids and the bigots but there is no evidence that it deters any desperate refugees from making their terrifying journeys across the Sahara desert and then the treacherous Mediterranean Sea.




Why the Conservative plan to scrap the European Human Rights Act could be bad news for BME rights in the UK

Wednesday, 27 May, 2015 - 12:17

Guest Blog by Rob Cole, ROTA Volunteer

The Conservative plan to replace the European Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights could be disastrous for BME communities who enjoy the protection granted by European authorities against unjust deportation, discrimination and the inequalities of the British system.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission warns: “The mechanisms for enforcement of any alternative to the Human Rights Act must be accessible and effective.  Unless this is ensured, the rights set out in any new Act would be without real remedy.  This would breach a core legal principle and constitute a regressive step in the protection of fundamental rights.”

Chief Executive Mark Hammond said:“Our view is that any changes to our current human rights framework should not water down the protections contained in the Human Rights Act.  In the year we celebrate the birth of our fundamental freedoms through the Magna Carta, it would be a bitter irony to weaken them.

We are at a crossroads for human rights. One path risks undermining and diminishing our influence and status as a global leader in human rights and civil liberties. The other path will safeguard both our reputation for fairness and moral authority when confronting human rights abuses abroad.

The Commission welcomes a debate on such important issues, but would not support a reversal of the leading global role Britain has long played in protecting and promoting human rights, nor a reduction in the protections of rights that we all currently enjoy under the Human Rights Act.” [1] [2]

The Shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, told the Guardian that the Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority, would be within its rights under the Salisbury convention to throw out the measure altogether – since the Tories’ intentions were only set out vaguely in their election manifesto. If the Lords threw out the bill the government would need to use the Parliament Act, probably in 2017, to force the bill on to the statute book without Lords consent. [3]

The European Human Rights Act (EHRA) ensures 18 rights including: right to life, liberty, a fair trial, a family life, and access to the education system, protection against torture and slavery, and freedom of thought, speech and religion. [4]

Replacing the HRA with a British bill of rights could potentially impact the protection of BME communities from discrimination, challenges to freedom and justice. With the Guardian warning that budget cuts will increase the heavy-handedness of the British police, [5] as well as impacting social services and the justice system, the EHRA is essential in protecting the rights of BME communities in the face of informal discrimination and prejudice.

blog, Guest Blog


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