Trevor Phillips is saying something obvious and sensible. Groupings of people will have a propensity for certain activities. This really should not be surprising or objectionable in the slightest.
For example, I as a white male – both cis and het for the Lord’s Sake – have a propensity to crushing those of duskier hues beneath the weight of my societal privilege. No one at all, at least no one from the trendier ends of the intellectual spectrum, is going to argue with that idea.
We might also make this less jocular and point out that groups will indeed tend towards certain activities. This is what membership of a group means after all. Membership, say, of the Islamic faith means you’re highly likely to wash your hands more often than those outside the medical profession who do not share that profession of faith. Membership of a criminal gang does indeed imply that you’re more likely to indulge in criminal activities than the general population.
Clearly, this does depend upon what we say about which group. To insist that those of West African descent are more likely to suffer from sickle cell anaemia is just a truth. To say that they can run faster is an untrue stereotype- the truth is that those who can run very fast, as shown by recent 100m finals, tend to have West African genetic backgrounds, not the same statement at all.
We can also see a blur between socioeconomics and genetic endowment. America at one time had a surge of Jewish sportsmen, not something we’d associate the grouping with today. But which we do today associate with whatever is the up and coming ethnicity of the last wave of immigration into the country – sport being a way up and out as it has been for generation upon generation.
Trevor Phillips is thus saying something obviously true in a general manner, whether it’s true in detail depends upon what, exactly, it is being said:
The involvement of Trevor Phillips’ consultancy in the inquiry into Covid-19’s impact on ethnic minorities has run into fresh controversy after it emerged its software has been used to identify whether different ethnic groups “specialise” in particular types of crime.
Well, yes, shared ethnicity produces – at times – the bond which allows trust within a gang. And it’s hardly something the newspapers don’t say too – like Albanians and pimps in Soho these days. We might also look to history, Capone and Bugsy, Italian and Jewish gangs, and wasn’t there a bunch of Micks making up the trio? Ah, sorry, Joe Kennedy did it all with paper, not guns.
To go on to say that being a member of one of the ethnicities predisposes you to a life of crime would not be true. To argue that a would be criminal will pick up the opportunities of his immediate surrounding environment would be true and the extent to which that surrounding is ethnically defined will determine the link between effnic and type of crime.
This is not allowed to be said according to some people:
Dal Babu, who was one of the UK’s most senior Asian officers when he retired as chief superintendent for Harrow in north-west London in 2013, said: “They suggest that different cultures foster differences in behaviour and so different communities act differently. This is almost a textbook definition of stereotyping – inferring a particular behaviour from the ethnicity of an individual without knowing anything about that individual other than their ethnicity.
Well, yeah, but the great truth of the social sciences – there’s an underlying truth to all stereotypes. Jews as traders and bankers for example. In a society where a Jew could not hold land, could not join a guild, then trading it going to be about the only option available. Where a Christian could not lend at interest…..
But the real point being made is this:
A spokesperson for the Institute of Race Relations thinktank said Origins was “built and marketed to police forces and others with a specific purpose in mind”.
The spokesperson added: “In turn, these data-driven identification technologies and databases can replicate racialised stereotypes and reinforce institutionalised prejudices.
“We believe that the appointment of Phillips sends all the wrong signals, precisely because of the way he has interpreted ethnic data in the past, to suggest that ‘aspects of minority disadvantage may be self-inflicted’. To put it simply, he appears reluctant to trace, as most researchers do, the basis of racial inequality in societal, structural issues in favour of interpretations that focus on a cultural deficit within the groups that are ‘failing’.”
We wish to insist that all problems in society stem from the racism of the capitalist plutocrats. Anyone who sez different is to be anathematised. Even though, as with Phillips here, there’s a certain amount of truth to what is being said and what we’d really like to know is how much?