Political correctness towards ethnic minorities is racist, says Phillips

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The Independent Online

The head of the Commission for Racial Equality launched an attack on liberal Britain yesterday, claiming "misguided" polices on ethnic minorities were inherently racist.

The head of the Commission for Racial Equality launched an attack on liberal Britain yesterday, claiming "misguided" polices on ethnic minorities were inherently racist.

Trevor Phillips accused council leaders, health professionals, social workers and police chiefs of practising a culture of political correctness which he claimed led to the "benign neglect" of ethnic minorities.

Mr Phillips hit out at a number of targets, including Manchester City Council, which he said allowed Bangladeshi parents to take their children abroad during term time.

"The reason given is that these trips are part of their children learning about their heritage and culture," he said yesterday. "Rubbish. What better way to say to these children, 'We don't care where you are born - you are brown, you are still foreigners and we'll treat you as such?'"

He also claimed that the council was building a school in Bangladesh for its pupils.

Mr Phillips then criticised Clive Wolfendale, the Deputy Chief Constable of North Wales, for addressing a meeting of the Black Police Association (BPA) in a rap-style speech. "Presumably this was an attempt to get down with their supposed 'culture'. How wrong. How patronising," he said. Most members of the BPA were British-born, Mr Phillips said.

He also criticised social workers who failed to intervene in the case of Victoria Climbie, an eight-year-old girl from the Ivory Coast who died in 2000 after months of abuse and neglect by her great aunt and her great aunt's boyfriend. The inquiry into Victoria's death heard that social workers believed the girl's fear of her great aunt was part of her African culture, which emphasised respect for elders.

"There is no aspect of African culture that demands that we turn a blind eye to the degradation and murder of a human being," Mr Phillips said. He also used the speech to warn that HIV and Aids infection rates were soaring among African men in Britain, partly because of homophobic attitudes and ignorance among their community about safe sex. He said health professionals should not shy away from addressing the issue, despite the cultural taboos around it.

"The argument that we should be sensitive to the culture of this community only makes sense if you are ready to put the right of African men to hold their homophobic views about sexuality ahead of the right of African women to equal protection," he said.

His comments will once again ignite the debate over multiculturalism and race relations in Britain.

Earlier this month he called for the idea of a "multicultural society" to be abandoned and said ethnic minorities should strive to become more "British".

In the speech to civil servants, Mr Phillips said: "When we stress our foreignness instead of claiming our right to be British, we surrender our place in society. We all know how patronised we feel when people talk to us as though we are foreigners, even though their intent is to make us feel at home. The fact is that we are at home already."

One of Mr Phillips' accusations was immediately denied by council leaders in Manchester. Mick Waters, chief education officer at Manchester City Council, said there were no plans to build a school in Bangladesh.

He added: "We are constantly striving to increase the attendance of children at school and we are concerned that several children do miss lessons while on extended visits to a country of their family's heritage in a range of places overseas. We always want to explore ways to ensure all our children receive the education they deserve.

"We are in the earliest stage of discussions with the Department for Education and Skills about potential solutions, but this does not involve building or paying for a school in Bangladesh or elsewhere.

He added: "I can also say that any possible solution will not be at a cost to council-tax payers or the education resources of Manchester."

But Clive Morris, vice-president of the BPA, backed Mr Phillips and said that the CRE chairman was right in his criticisms of Mr Wolfendale. "I agree with Trevor Phillips," Mr Morris said.

"Despite advice from the president of the BPA and other officials for him not to carry through with his plans, he [Mr Wolfendale] went ahead and it [the speech] did cause offence to some of our members. It was wrong ... and we told him so."