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Don't call us coloured, Trevor


WHY IS the c-word any less offensive than the n-word? Campaigners are furious with Trevor Phillips for turning back the clock on racism.

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips: it ain't what he does, it's the way that he does it. And that's what ruins race debates in Britain.

In a speech to a Conservative Party fringe meeting the Commission for Racial Equality chairman appeared to give the go-ahead for white Britain to use the word 'coloured.'

But in the week when a TV programme grappled with the word 'nigger' some are asking why it is any more acceptable to use the c-word than the n-word.

In a made-for-the-media speech Phillips told the Muslim Forum meeting: “Is it really offensive to call someone coloured?”

As Phillips reopened the debate about whether it is acceptable to call people 'coloured' Channel 4 screened a programme in which Ashley Walters, known as Asher D in his So Solid days, explored the n-word.

Mr Walters began by admitting he used the word as a term of kinship with other black people, but as he began to understand the word's history and the effect it still has today he changed his mind.


Race experts are furious that Phillips has courted headlines with his comment about the word 'coloured' which, like the n-word, is laden with negative connotations.

Lee Jasper
Lee Jasper: Trev's got his facts wrong.

The word is seen in some quarters as not merely a throwback to decades past, when racism was more even more explicit, but as an insulting term which divides communities.

In southern Africa the word 'coloured' is applied only to mixed-race communities who were encouraged by former white rulers to remain separate from, and feel superiority over, indigenous black people.

The apartheid regimes of South Africa and Rhodesia guaranteed 'coloureds' second place in society above the black population. Today, while the c-word is sometimes used to describe all African and African-Caribbean peoples, it is also used to specifically describe those of mixed-race.


Phillips speech will be particularly galling for those who have fought for years against words like 'half-caste' and 'coloured' to assert their identity as being Black.

Lester Holloway
Lester Holloway: don't turn back the clock.

Blink editor Lester Holloway said: “I am appalled that this word has been winched out of the ground, rotting and putrid, by Trevor Phillips.

“It has a lot of baggage. Where it is used innocently, that innocence inevitably goes hand-in-hand with a lot of ignorance.

“The word also takes us back years to an era when signs saying 'No Coloureds, No Irish, No Dogs' hung on windows. We should not allow Trevor to turn back the clock. If he likes the word 'coloured' and doesn't like the word 'multicultural' we have to wonder what's going on.”


Lee Jasper, director of equalities for London mayor Ken Livingstone, said: “Trevor Phillips has got his facts wrong. All evidence points to the fact that Britain are becoming less, not more, segregated.

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“Any chair of the Commission for Racial Equality who does not know whether councils should print documents in several languages, or holy days like Yom Kippur should be respected, or whether 'coloured' is an appropriate term, should seriously consider whether he is in the right job.”

Phillips speech also attracted reservations from the Institute of Race Relations and the Muslim Council of Britain. Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote, said: “Trevor's attempt to bring people together would ultimately have the opposite effect.”


The controversy comes two weeks after Phillips hit the headlines with a speech claiming Britain was sleepwalking towards New Orleans-style ghettos.

Civitas race report (Pdf)

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Some commentators suspect Phillips is playing to the chattering classes rather than considering the effect his words are having on Britain's black communities.

Last April Phillips said the word 'multiculturalism' was “Not helpful.” Last week the right-wing think-tank Civitas echoed those sentiments and went further, blaming multiculturalism for hampering the fight against terrorism.

Speaking to Monday's Tory fringe meeting, Phillips said: “Should councils print all their important documents in several languages to encourage participation, or is this encouraging separatism?

“What should we do about holy days which are not bank holidays? Should we put off that important meeting because it's Yom kippur, even though only one of the people attending is Jewish?

“Is it really offensive to call someone coloured? We need to find ways of reaching a national agreement on some of these issues.”

Reacting to the latest comments Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “No one disagrees with the importance of a shared society.

“But it's all too easy to bang on about shared language and rather harder to stand up for non-negotiable values such as … freedom from arbitrary arrest.”

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