Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Trevor Phillips on the Rhodes Statue controversy

Trevor Phillips, former head of the Equality and Human Rights commission, is often interesting, not least because he generally exhibits one of the main signs of thinking before he speaks - you usually cannot predict in advance what he is going to say.

He made much the most nuanced and intelligent response I have seen to the unacceptable comments made by Oliver Letwin and Hartley Booth (for which Letwin has rightly apologised) in the memo written in the 1980s and recently released under the 30-year rule,

"I won't join the Letwin lynch-mob. We need a more serious discussion about race."

He also wrote the following response to the current controversy about the Oxford statue of Cecil Rhodes in a letter to The Times.

"Sir

The attempt to remove the statue of RHodes from Orial College trivialises the memory of millions who suffered under colonialism, and dishonours the work of those who fought apartheid, including many British students. The "Rhodes must fall" campaign has been witless, wrongheaded and reprehensible.

Witless because it makes no demands of the university authorities which could not be met by issuing a blindfold to any student of a sensitive disposition. Wrongheaded because, despite Oxford's awareness of its lack of diversity, the leaders of this campaign have not used the battle to make a case for educational opportunities for those descended from the victims of colonialism.

Reprehensible because is supposes that if symbols are removed, evil is vanquished. Campaigners might google "Auschwitz" to see the justification for the preservation of the historical record, however grim.

Like Oriel College, many academic institutions are so fearful of being labelled racist that they sacrifice principles for fashionable approval. Even the decision to consult on the issue is a retreat from the defence of freedom of expression.

Trevor Phillips."

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