Or perhaps it’s being in the public sphere that makes people stupid?
The selection of Trevor Phillips to investigate why Covid-19 is killing more Black, Asian and minority ethnic people has sparked a row after leading Muslims criticised his appointment as “insensitive”.
Phillips, the former chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, was asked by Public Health England to provide expert support to an inquiry into why increasing numbers of victims of the coronavirus pandemic are from BAME backgrounds.
Early evidence shows that black people are dying from the virus at almost twice the rate of their proportion of the population, according to analysis of NHS England data for the first 12,600 deaths from the virus in English hospitals. While black people account for 3.4% of the population, they make up 6.4% of the deaths so far.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the umbrella group for leading mosques and other Islamic institutions, said the review into the deaths was urgently needed but have objected to Phillips’s appointment.
They say it is inappropriate that a man recently suspended from the Labour party over allegations of Islamophobia, and who has a history of making controversial remarks about Muslims, should form part of the team leading the inquiry.
Actually, Trevor Phillips is exactly the person, the one single person, you would like to have on such an inquiry. As he wrote last week in The Times:
But our headline finding is that, on a per capita basis, coronavirus has struck London boroughs such as Brent, Southwark, Lambeth and Harrow far harder than it should have done; broadly speaking, the higher the proportion of non-whites in an area, the higher the rate of infection.
The pattern isn’t easy to explain. Assumptions about racial biology are unlikely to hold good across a range of non-white groups who are in most ways more unlike each other than they are different from whites. As for poverty, the list of the seventeen most afflicted local authorities includes low-income Brent, but also features multi-ethnic Wandsworth, where median weekly earnings, at £720, are 50 per cent above the national average. And of the virus hotspots, only two appear in the list of England’s ten most overcrowded boroughs. The most significant hotspots outside the capital, Liverpool and Sheffield, are 35th and 107th respectively out of 126 boroughs in order of population density.
So what might explain these data? First, age. Britain’s non-whites are, in general, younger than average. In the multigenerational households common in some minority communities young people, more likely to have had the virus without symptoms, might unknowingly have infected older relatives. Second, many minorities work in high exposure occupations — retail, public transport and the health service. And most intriguingly, might some minority communities have complied more readily with government guidance than others?
One puzzling finding in our report concerns not who is being infected, but is who is not. Were poverty the key determinant, we would expect the virus to be running rampant among Britain’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim communities. Yet they are conspicuous by their absence in the list of hotspots — no Blackburn or Bradford, no Rotherham, Rochdale or Luton. The London borough of Tower Hamlets is more than a third Muslim — the highest density of any in England — and is sandwiched between two Covid-19 hotspots, Newham and Southwark, both home to substantial non-Muslim minority communities. Yet Tower Hamlets lies in the bottom third of the capital’s infection list: 22nd out of the 32 boroughs.
Maybe there is a revelation to be had here; if one key to stopping transmission of the virus is hand washing, might a faith community many of whose members ritually wash before five-times-a-day prayers have something to teach the rest of us? And does an ethnic group where almost 40 per cent are economically inactive — and therefore not regularly using public transport, for example — merely underline the protective value of social isolation? Many believe that only faith will deliver us from this particular evilbut even they must know that only science will tell us how.
That is, he’s someone who is already actively investigating the matter, finding out useful and important things as he does so. Therefore, obviously, he must not be allowed to do so, eh?
So, why the nix on his use by the race baiters? Because his answer isn’t institutional racism nor the intersectionality of oppression. Therefore his findings cannot be used to insist upon more money being directed to race baiters.
Politics is simples when you get down to it.