Trevor Phillips’ film on racism may be among the most important documentaries of the decade
Things We Won’t Say about Race That Are True
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As anyone who heard him on Today the other morning will know, Trevor Phillips can be a windbag. Yet give the former producer of LWT’s The London Programme a documentary and the windbag produces an unstoppable head of steam. Things We Won’t Say about Race That Are True may be among the most important documentaries of the decade, and although Channel 4 likes to shock, you could sense even its nervousness from accompanying press notes warning that the film was “strongly opinionated and authored” (it was authored all right: it was co-made by the production company Phillips founded and his wife was its executive producer).
At its unbleeding heart lay the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s conversion after 7/7 from liberal multiculturalist to a man fearful of Britain’s racial ghettoes. For the film he visited Leicester, Britain’s first “majority minority” city, and watched the buses take whites home in one direction and their Asian co-workers in another. One of Phillips’s captions read: “LEFT TO THEMSELVES PEOPLE PREFER SEGREGATION”.
Now it is not obvious to me why extremist youths should be allowed to prevent communities forming where they will. The point, however, was that Phillips was at last prepared to acknowledge an uncomfortable fact that has endured even as racial prejudice has declined. For 90 minutes other truths continued to be spelt out in capitals: Jews are rich and powerful; different groups commit different crimes; white and poor is the new black; there is no prejudice in numbers.
Yes, facts should, self-obviously, never be suppressed but fear of articulating thoughts that might be heard as racist can have terrible consequences. The death of the eight-year-old Ivorian Victoria Climbié was one, the grooming of schoolgirls by Asian gangs another: the greatest reporter on this paper, Andrew Norfolk, spoke of how when he started reporting the scandal, he was, at the age of 45, called a racist for the first time in his life.
It is a pity the programme has generated headlines mostly for what Nigel Farage told Phillips. It is not hard to get Farage to say things even he probably does not mean. But Farage is a consequence of the central mistake that Phillips most bravely owned up to. The race relations consensus was that if people were prevented from expressing racist ideas they would stop thinking of them. They didn’t.