Trevor Phillips’s documentary on ethnicity exposes the need for a more open dialogueby David Goodhart / March 20, 2015 / Leave a comment
Britain has changed: it has become more open and less prejudiced, and it is time that our conversation about race moved on too. Trevor Phillips’s Channel 4 documentary last night, Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True, gave that conversation a big shove in the right direction. It will, I hope, mark a new stage in Britain’s thinking and talking about race.
Generalising about the behaviour patterns of different ethnic groups—even when based on solid facts—is often problematic. The sensitivity arises in part from the history of racial stereotyping and derogatory generalisations about minorities that were still commonplace three decades ago.
But as Phillips said the facts themselves can never be bigoted—that young black males are more likely to commit some kinds of crime than other people, or that Jewish households in Britain are on average twice as wealthy as the rest—it is only racialised, ahistorical explanations of these patterns that can reflect bigotry.
Surely, we are now grown up enough as a society to deal in facts, to talk about race in the same way that we talk about social class. Race and ethnicity is more sensitive than class because of the recent history of racism but both are similarly big factors in shaping an individual’s worldview and life chances.
Of course, everyone is an individual; ethno-cultural background is not destiny and many people float free from their roots. But, as we are all aware, there is such a thing as society and that society is in part made up of groups.
Modern liberals are often uneasy about group allegiances: “What’s the fuss, we are all just individuals aren’t we?” But these allegiances remain strong. The idea of multiculturalism is partly premised on the importance of cultural traditions to people.
To give a simple example relating to differences in ethnic minority social mobility in Britain: people of East African Asian background invariably go to good universities and into well paid professional jobs and people of Kashmiri Pakistani background, whose families have usually been in Britain longer, are often still driving taxis or working in restaurants. This is neither a mass coincidence nor is it to do with genes or race,…