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Phillips got it wrong on Obama

DIVIDE: Trevor Phillips was critical of ex-president Barack Obama’s policies

TREVOR PHILLIPS was one of the first black men I remember seeing on British television who was articulate, and presented himself and the London Programme very well. I am sure he was revered within the black community, especially since seeing such positive images and aspirational black people on TV was extremely rare.

His two subsequent roles, which were Head of the Commission for Racial Equality and Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission should have equipped him with the knowledge and experience not only to be able to recognise fairness and equality, but to be able to fathom that America has had issues around race and class for many years – and therefore this could not now be the fault of the former and very evenhanded president, Barack Obama. Writing for the Sunday Times recently, Trevor Phillips concluded his article with the line:

“To be black in America right now is to be very angry. And very, very afraid.”

Anyone would have thought that the commentary that preceded this conclusion would have been supportive, at least, of the continued struggle of black Americans, who still to this day need to march through streets for justice and equality, reminiscent of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Phillips’ initial paragraphs appear complimentary of Obama, stating that the first black family ever to hold residence in the White House had changed the way in which the world regarded black families. Hooray, I hear you chant – this sounds uplifting, without being confrontational or combative.


SHINE: former US president Barack Obama

However, alarmingly, Phillips was soon to change the tone in his writing, immediately going on to say that Obama was the reason why America is divided.

He cited the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it is fondly known, as one of the reasons, and possibly the catalyst that saw Hillary Clinton fail in the presidential election. Let’s stop for a second. Obama fought to implement legislation of various descriptions past the iron wall of Congress, the House and many others who wanted poor people (who couldn’t even afford to see a doctor for any ailment) to drop dead in the street, or suffer silently somewhere in a corner until they disappeared altogether.

Many will remember the challenges Obama faced from the protectionism of the Republicans, who appeared not to like anything or any word that came from his mouth – the man who achieved the most polled votes for any president in the history of American politics, almost being completely shut down for being too popular.

Phillips does comment on the continued dire situation for many black Americans – for example, their position on the social and economic ladder, their scarcity in executive management positions in the fortune 500 companies, movements such as Black Lives Matter and #OscarsSo White, victimisation and being killed by the police.


SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: In this case, the two men did not see eye-to-eye from across the Atlantic

Many felt that Obama would have had a bias towards black issues but he tried his hardest not to be one-sided. Of course, the most powerful man on Earth could not be seen to be biased – the world was watching Obama.

Phillips then decided to turn the screw on the Obama tenure, commenting on the fact that white resentment was festering beneath the surface – they were losing jobs, there were fewer opportunities for whites due to increased diversity and minorities were taking up most of the blue collar jobs. He mentioned that the Ku Klux Klan is on the rise and this new nationalist/supremacist view is being increasingly adopted because the US population is growing so much that by 2060, those of Hispanic origin will represent 27 per cent and those of Asian origin 14 per cent.

But is Obama really to blame for the so-called divisions between the working classes of different races? Is it correct to lay the blame solely at his feet?

I suppose this depends on who is judging and what barometer is being used. Can anyone say that any of Obama’s predecessors achieved more in terms of race and equality? That’s up for debate.

In recent years, witnessing Trevor Phillips go about his business, I am no longer sure what his message is, or for whom he speaks. The fence that he has been sitting on for some time appears now to be a wall that he has built, and he looks to be on a side opposite of the very people that used to see him as a champion for equality. So maybe, Mr Phillips, it is time to step away and let us listen to some new voices of hope.

Peter Todd is a London based business consultant.

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