Britain's equality chief: Obama will only prolong America's racial divide

Trevor Phillips, Britain's most influential black figure, has warned that the election of Barack Obama as US president would prolong rather than end America's racial divide.

The chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission accused Mr Obama of "ruthless cynicism" and said he would not be "the harbinger of a post-racial America" if he becomes the country's first black president.

Mr Phillips' surprise attack on the favourite to win the Democratic Party nomination comes in an article for Prospect magazine published today. Mr Phillips dismissed attempts by the Obama camp to hail their man as a "new JFK", predicting he could emulate the "charm, skill and ruthless cynicism" of Bill Clinton.

Mr Phillips believed there were two types of influential black figures in America, both of whom keep race at the heart of US life -- "challengers", whose ambitions are limited to winning piecemeal concessions for blacks, and "bargainers", who do not make an issue of "white racism" if whites do not play the race card against them. He described Mr Obama as a "natural bargainer".

"In truth, Obama may be helping to postpone the arrival of a post-racial America and I think he knows it," Mr Phillips wrote. "If he wins, the cynicism may be worth it to him and his party. In the end he is a politician and a very good one: his job is to win elections." He backed the argument of Shelby Steele, who said in his biography of Mr Obama: "If he fulfils the hopes of whites, he must disappoint blacks – and vice versa."

Mr Phillips said he would be surprised if Mr Obama saw off Hillary Clinton to win the Democrats' nomination, as many commentators expect as she struggles to stay in the race. He conceded that it might happen.

The broadcaster and former Labour politician wrote: "For the black underclass and beyond, Obama may be the latest messiah, but there is anecdotal evidence that, where blacks have prospered to the extent that they are grimly competing for jobs and property with whites, they don't buy 'Obamania'. I would guess this is because the people who actually experience just how far America remains from post-racial harmony are those blacks who work with whites."

Mr Phillips said the guilt associated with slavery is an everyday reality for white America. "But if Obama can succeed, then maybe they can imagine that [Martin Luther] King's post-racial nirvana has arrived. A vote for Obama is a pain-free negation of their own racism. So long as they don't have to live next door to him; Obama has yet to win convincingly in white districts adjacent to black communities."

Explaining why there is no British "Obama figure", Mr Phillips said the number of blacks in Britain was proportionately one sixth that of America and so does not produce the same range of talents. He added that British whites do not bear the stain of slavery in the way US whites do.

Mr Phillips' scepticism about Mr Obama contrasts with the support for him voiced by David Lammy, the black Skills minister. He has described Mr Obama as "charming and intelligent but refreshingly able to laugh at himself" and compared him to presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy.

*David Cameron challenged Gordon Brown to US-style televised debates between party leaders at the next election, saying they had caught the public's imagination in the presidential race. Mr Brown was dismissive, saying America did not have a weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions.

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

To read Trevor Phillip's Prospect magazine article on Barack Obama, click here

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect