Things we won’t say about race

Until yesterday I had never heard of Trevor Phillips. He is a former chairman of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which means he was in charge of enforcing British anti-discrimination laws in the Blair years. The documentary below is one of the more interesting I’ve seen, not least because of Phillips’ introspection.

Almost his concluding sentences: “Preventing anyone from saying what’s on their minds won’t ever remove it from their hearts. People need to feel free to say what they want to without fear of being accused of racism or bigotry. It means that we’re all going to have to become more ready to offend each other.”

About David Walker

David Walker runs editorial consultancy Shorewalker DMS (, editing and advising business and government on reports and other editorial content. Newsletter: . Among other roles, David has edited the award-winning Acuity and INTHEBLACK magazines, been chief operating officer of online publisher WorkDay Media, held senior policy and communications roles at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia and the Business Council of Australia and run the website for online finance start-up eChoice. He is a former economics writer for The Age and News Ltd. He has qualifications in law and corporate finance.
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derrida derider
derrida derider
6 years ago

Preventing anyone from saying what’s on their minds won’t ever remove it from their hearts

Well of course not, but it can prevent it being implanted in other peoples’ hearts.

I think we should have a consequentialist view of freedom of speech – we allow it not because it is some natural right but because it allows ideas to develop and propagate. And so where those ideas are demonstrably harmful, we should limit it.

Hurt feelings are simply beside the point – just as no-one has a natural right to free speech, so no-one has a natural right not to be offended. We should ban hate speech to the extent we believe it threatens social peace or democracy (which it certainly can), not because someone is offended.

Lorenzo from Oz
6 years ago

What demonstratable harm? The evidence suggests the suppression of speech and the fear of being seen as racist has very direct and nasty consequences.

There is no definition of ‘hate speech’ which is not going to be a biased ideological weapon.

6 years ago

I’ve only watched the first 5 or so minutes of this, but it’s late (or rather early in the morning). So just an initial comment before I watch the rest.
What’s missing so far is any historical context for why there are differences between religious, ethnic or national groups (are the Irish really a separate race?) Take the Jews. Yes, they have a higher average income/worth and there are a lot of billionaires. But Jews historically in European were banned from many professions, and were pushed into areas considered socially inferior, such as tax and rent collecting and moneylending (occupations forbidden to Christians). So, ironically, Christians are responsible for the development of Jewish financial skills!
A further factor, for Britain, is that wealthy European Jews were the ones most able to escape European persecution and bring their financial skills to Britain, enriching themselves, but also contributing to the development of Britain as a world empire builder and financial centre. It’s unlikely this would have happened if Jews in Europe over the last 1000 years had been permitted only to be shepherds or rubbish collectors. Irony again, Britain benefited from anti-Semitism / racism in Europe.
In Australia we have a situation similar to the latter process, with immigration of rich, skilled and urban Chinese rather than poor rural workers, with similar benefits to the economy.

Lorenzo from Oz
6 years ago
Reply to  Helen

Don’t see why Trevor Phillips would disagree and not really what the documentary is about.