Jess Phillips MP has written for the Huffington Post on racism, talking about the constant ‘drip, drip, drip of otherness’ which pervades social attitudes on race. I agree with Mrs Phillips article in the round and she’s right, maleficence doesn’t rush forward as a torrent but comes little by little, drip by drip.
I haven’t been to Auschwitz myself, although I mean to at some point but I have been to other sites of past atrocity, Green Island in Taiwan, the site of a political re-education camp during the white terror and Sarajevo in Bosnia among them. The tragedy that occurred in Sarajevo over 1,425 days came about as the culmination of millions of racist and nationalist drips rushing down the hillsides in a whirlwind of murder. Her article is an important reminder that in actual fact we haven’t, as a world, moved on that much, the drips keep coming.
But it’s not enough to identify the leak, you have to take action to plug it.
The only criticism I have is that whilst she identifies the issue, there is no effort to explain what needs to be done to tackle it, worse Mrs Phillips tells us of the experience of her caseworker with a constituent whose racist attitude is met with a polite platitude:
“I will support you making your complaint against the housing officer, of course you deserve better treatment, but I would prefer if you didn’t keep saying she was bad because she was Asian.”
I’ve previously been a caseworker in Yardley and I can confirm I have been in the exact same situation, so I have all the sympathy and time in the world and I know what it’s like. A constituent walks in with a genuine complaint about a housing need asking for support but then comes out with the sort of racist or misinformed drivel which Mrs Phillips highlights in her article. It’s a tough and unforgiving job and if any advice from me is taken I hope that she recognises that and gives her staff twice the attention, care, love and support that she thinks they need.
But in the fight against the drip, drip, language and the response is important. Telling someone you would ‘prefer’ they stop being racist may be out of politeness to the constituent but it doesn’t call out the racist attitude and it does nothing to make that person confront their own view, it merely panders to it.
If someone told me that a woman’s place was in the kitchen I wouldn’t tell them I would prefer they didn’t say that, I would tell them exactly why they were wrong and why they shouldn’t say that.
Whilst I have some criticisms of Mrs Phillips I can say without contradiction that I applaud her gobbiness, her forthright attitude and outspokenness. When she ‘mispoke’ on Question Time comparing a night out on broad street to mass attacks in Cologne you didn’t find me among those criticising her, she had a valid point, she just put in a clumsy way. I would simply ask that she deploy that forthright attitude front and centre when people are being racist in her presence.
If Mrs Phillips thinks a polite platitude is a proper challenge to a racist view as she told me on twitter then my concern only grows. Public officials need to do better to confront those attitudes than that.
I imagine Amrita probably wanted to say something stronger to that constituent than telling them she would prefer it if they didn’t say the housing officer was “bad because she was Asian” My advice to Mrs Phillips would be to give her carte blanche to do so and cover when she does.
It might be a minor point in an otherwise important article, you might consider it nit-picking but it’s the drip, drip, drip that goes unchallenged which is the very problem. Racism needs to be properly confronted every time, every drip. After all if you want to stop the flood from forming you have to take action to fight the drips, not just see them and wish they didn’t fall into that swelling pool of tears.