I don't read The Voice newspaper (the leading black newspaper in the UK) much; I probably should. The other week, I was in a nearby cornershop for some emergency household supplies and paying by the till, I saw The Voice and without further thought, added it to my shopping basket.
The main reason I bought the paper was the fact that it had on the cover the face of Trevor Phillips (a face I don't ever like seeing) with the bold headline EQUAL WRONGS. The Voice hit the perfect note for me, in its unequivocal damning of the decision by Tony Blair's government to appoint Phillips, a former broadcaster who has had an astronomical rise under the Labour Party's rule, for reasons that should give right thinking people of black and other ethnic minority groups serious pause. In my view, Trevor Phillips was never that great a broadcaster anyway. He was, apart from Trevor McDonald, one of the few black presenting faces on British Television in the late 80s and early 90s. There not being many to choose from, Trevor Phillips, in my view, was a natural choice whenever programmes about the black community were to be presented. It did not mean that he was the best person. I never saw anything to make me think he was a Bernie Grant or Darcus Howe who, love them or hate them, had/have clear convictions, especially on the issue of race in Britain.
I don't know what led anyone to think Trevor Phillips was any kind of flag bearer for the black community. But Tony Blair came into power and Phillips was transformed into just what, in my view, he was not. After the resignation of the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the charismatic Gurbux Singh, Trevor Phillips was the shock replacement, in January 2003, of this important organisation, which was supposed to be the watchdog of the rights of ethnic minorities in Britain - in employment and other areas where equality under the law is essential.
What happened under Phillips, was a watering down of the effect of the CRE. Worse, Phillips began to mouth off ideas that would not have been out of place coming from right wing groups. According to Trevor Phillips, the fact that 'this county' lost Shakespeare is a tragic thing. Who told him that Shakespeare's 'world heritage' status in literature represents a loss to Britain? In what way is the bard lost? It is one of the milder declarations of this man, whose idea of 'Britishness' requires that people completely blend in, indistinguishable by their cultural backgrounds, forget their attachments to wherever they come from. He in/famously attacked Multiculturalism, saying it had no place in today's British society. London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, gave a furious dressing down to Phillips over his anti-multiculturalism views; when the white Livingstone is the one having to defend multiculturalism, against the poison of the black Phillip, one gets to thinking. I see Ken Livingstone on the London Underground (the Jubilee Line) regularly. I've never seen Trevor Phillips and don't wish to. I know which of these two men I'd rather drink tea with.
When Benjamin Zephaniah threw the Queen's conferment of an OBE back, saying: "Stick it, Mrs. Queen," he wrote about his reasons for rejecting the 'honour' in the Evening Standard. Trevor Phillips rushed a piece into the same paper days later, to attack Zephaniah's stance. I shook my head.
And now, Blair's government has had the bright idea of replacing the CRE with the new 'Commission for Equalities and Human Rights' - more power but completely compromised effectiveness in fighting for minority groups in Britain. And guess who is the leader? Trevor Phillips. All the stakeholders, including London Mayor Livingstone, Black & Ethnic Minority grougps, Liberty groups, Gay groups - are seriously concerned.
"It's a terrible decision," - says the National Assembly Against Racism. "It's absolutely disgraceful," says the Mayor. You can say that again, Mr. Livingstone.
And to the powers that be, an appointment that heralds a huge setback for non-white peoples in Britain cannot be a racist decision since the person being used - is a black man. Use the Brother to keep the brothers and sisters down. The old trick is as effective as ever.
- I enjoyed reading my edition of The Voice, including (see the pic) an article informing us that a 'Nigerian makes history' playing a Shakespearean king on the British stage. The article, written by Uchenna Izundu (herself of Nigerian extraction) celebrates David Oyelowo's part as Henry VI onstage with the Royal Shakespeare Company. What I don't understand is, why The Voice is only just waking up to the 'historical' relevance now. David Oyelowo (who recently appeared on the TV show, Shoot The Messenger which led to much public comment on black-on-black racism in the UK; I missed the programme, which may not be a bad thing) 'made' the 'history' at least 2 or 3 years ago as the first 'black actor' (no mention of 'Nigerian', at the time; in fact The Voice is the first to identify him as such, that I'm aware) to play Henry. He is merely reprising his role in the new production. Something awfully belated about The Voice's proclamation concerning Oyelowo, therefore.