Twitter Wars: The Tribal Politics of Unmentionable Racial Issues


Yesterday I reviewed a Sunday Times article by the journalist Trevor Phillips (also here in the Mail but scroll past the DM political hype to get to his piece), and I praised his candour for highlighting the woeful lack of debate about some of the practical problems posed by multiculturalism. After I published my blog I issued a tweet advertising it and then had an interesting exchange with one individual that I believe illustrates the real problems presented by tribal politics in our quest for meaningful debate.

I have left out the name of my sparring partner but an examination of my twitter account will reveal his identity if you’re curious. I have also offered him a full right to reply by blog on this site if he so wishes. Here is the exchange that took place:

Me: Brave, brave Trevor Phillips tackling unmentionable issues like race. His article reviewed here…link to the ruminating sheep blog.

F: dog/whistle rubbish for the Tory Press. Sadly Trevor’s realised there is a lot of cash to be made as a right- wing black guy.

Me: What’s right or left got to do with it? We’re talking about multiculturalism and ability to debate issues free of censure.

F: claiming all Jews are rich, and all blacks are criminals, is little to do with multiculturalism.

Me: Read the article. His point was the inability to discuss the subject and the dangers therein. You’re twisting it (poorly)

F: I’ve read the article. It’s very racist.


F: We’re not allowed to say ‘most black people are criminals’ for a reason – it’s judging a human being purely on their race.

Me: He’s not saying most black people are criminals. I will blog about our exchange tomorrow and give you full right to reply.

Now there is a delicious irony to this exchange which I will come to in a moment, but before then I feel it is right to address the implication that Trevor Phillips has written a racist article. First of all, a quick read of Phillips’ bio reveals that this is a man who has consistently promoted equality, diversity and social opportunity over a long career as a broadcaster and more latterly as a public servant. Second, there is nothing within his article that I could construe as racist. The context ( and I urge you to read the whole thing) – is about the barriers to a meaningful discussion on racial and multicultural matters. The focus of F’s objections seems to be this:

“If African Caribbeans are statistically more likely to commit some kinds of crime than other people, as indeed they are — we are especially proficient at murdering other African Caribbeans, for example — it might make some sense to understand why, so we can stop it happening. Not all Jewish people are wealthy; in fact, some are extremely deprived. But if — as is true — Jewish households in Britain are on average twice as wealthy as the rest, might it not pay to work out what makes these families more likely to do well? Is there something that the rest can learn from their traditions and behaviour? We all know why these things cannot be said. The long shadow of slavery and the Holocaust rightly makes us anxious about the kind of slack thinking that led to the dehumanising of entire populations.
Yet should history prevent us from understanding the differences between us — especially if those insights might improve life for everyone?”

I just don’t see that as racist especially in the context of the main thrust of his article. He is merely stating facts and explaining why they are relevant to his thesis. Note also that Philipps is of Afro-Caribbean descent himself.

Now to the irony. In previous posts, Avoiding the Debate and Toxic policies I explained some of the factors preventing proper analytical political debate and how this was causing electoral apathy and cynicism.  Some of these factors include media hyperbole, tribal politics, political dogma and the party whip system. Importantly, it also includes certain nefarious activities like evasive politicians attempting to be all things to all people and pressure groups and organisations suppressing debate by calling into question the integrity and motives of anyone attempting to discuss certain matters.

The whole point of Trevor’s article was about the suppression of the multiculturalism debate. By accusing him of having financial motives and of making racist remarks, his detractors would seem to be using ad-hominem accusations to avoid discussing the substantive issue. This precisely and extremely elegantly proves the exact point made by Philipps in his article. Quad erat demonstrandum.

I have no idea of the motivations of ‘F’ in his twitter remarks but tribal politics and his instinctive defence of multiculturalism as a political rather than social phenomena seems to have played a major part during our exchange on twitter. That is tribal politics at work and neatly illustrates how it raises barriers to proper debate. I have offered ‘F’ the right of friendly reply with a post of his own here in the sheep shed, and I would be interested to hear his perspective. Let’s hope he will eat hay with us and ruminate in the spirit of constructive debate.


Postnote: ‘F’ has posted his reply in comments which you can find below or by following the link here. I still feel that he is viewing the issue through a political lens which in my view is unhelpful but probably realistic in today’s climate. I would nonetheless like to thank him for his constructive contribution to the board. Perhaps others have a view?

3 thoughts on “Twitter Wars: The Tribal Politics of Unmentionable Racial Issues

  1. Thanks for your considered response. I hope mine is in the same tone.

    My first problem with the article is it’s thoroughly dishonest from the very start. It proclaims “at last, someone has said the truth about race!”

    Trevor is actually quite notorious about his inflammatory comments about race, and has been since 2004. He was criticized heavily by leaders and senior figures of all parties in the 2000s, and was widely compared to the BNP.

    The actual truth is, the sensationalist media simply feel the political climate is now toxic enough against immigrants, minorities for them to publically agree with him for the first time.

    To imply a new maverick has now appeared, telling the truth for the first time (!) is plainly dishonest. Trevor has been a darling of the EDL and BNP for 10+ years.

    Secondly, I have no faith Trevor is speaking from the heart. He had a notorious feud with Ken Livingstone and the Labour Party in 2003, after he was snubbed as the London Mayoral candidate. Soon after this, he had a complete change of heart about race, and started writing articles attacking Labour policies.

    Thirdly, a minority figure willing to write negative stories about minorities is a valuable commodity in the press. When the Mail want to write an article criticizing Muslims, they hire a Muslim. When they write an article criticizing Black people, they hire a black people. Trevor simply allows himself to be used in this way. Probably because it’s quite lucrative.

    Fourthly, Trevor is blatantly using the EDL-playbook in his articles. He uses selective and misleading information to lead readers to a certain view point and then says “don’t shoot the messenger!”

    For example, he says “most crimes against black people are committed by other black people”. This is true. What he doesn’t mention is that “most crimes against white people are committed by other white people”. And so on.

    He’s left this out to create the innuendo that not only are black people responsible for most crime against white people, but they rob “their own” as well. What despicable people. When the truth is, as I explained, that they’re largely not responsible for crime against white people at all. White people are.

    A similar trick is used with the inflammatory, and quite despicable use of the Rotherham cases, to imply it’s a Muslim issues. I agree that in areas where virtually everyone is a Muslim, that there are going to be problems with Muslim crime! But I also suspect most child abuse in Portsmouth or Cornwall is committed by white people. It’s a junk argument. Trevor knows this. But he also knows that if he implies in any way that white communities have problems with child abuse, no paper will touch the article. So he doesn’t

    Which brings me to my final point. White people are never included in his “race” debates. Is being white not a race? Aren’t their significant social problems in white communities all over the UK? It’s like white people are the template, that minorities need to somehow emulate. They’re not part of the race debate, as they’re above other races……..

    Take this for an example. Most working class white communities have problems with alcoholism and drug abuse. Which means that, statistically, a white man is much more likely to violently abuse his wife and/or children.

    Isn’t that a horrible stereotype that is actually kind of true? Do you think Trevor would ever dream of putting that in an article. Of course he wouldn’t. As no newspaper would go near it.

    Most of the countries social problems involve white people. Yet they’re not part of the race debate. Because no newspaper wants to tell white people that they have issues.

    So to conclude, Trevor has a long history of this rubbish. He was heavily criticized for it. Now it seems being a migrant, Muslim, or minority, is politically toxic enough that it’s OK for right wing newspapers to agree with him.

    This doesn’t mean Trevor is right. Or the newspaper is right. The only right place to be is on the right side of history

      • Thanks very much for your constructive response. I have added a post note below the main article with a link to your comment.

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