Segregation is not very clever, Trevor

11th March 2005 at 00:00
Trevor Phillips owes me an apology. I am a black South African. I fled to the UK from the burning townships of the 1980s; from security police who were arresting, torturing, and murdering black people; from troops and police shooting defenceless blacks, mainly youth, many of them students.

The last push against the crime against humanity that was apartheid was led by schoolchildren, students of my generation, protesting against segregated education.

Nearly 11 years after the end of apartheid, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality proposes a segregated education system in the UK. Yet it was segregation at school that proved one of the most explosive aspects of apartheid. It utterly failed the young black men of South Africa, forcing them into lifelong near-slave conditions in the fields, factories and mines.

Had Trevor Phillips done his homework, he would not have overlooked Brown vs The Board of Education (1954), which helped to bring segregation to an end in American schools.

In this famous case, the US Supreme Court cited with approval: "Segregation of white and colored (sic) children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The... policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group.

"A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.

Segregation... has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a (racially) integrated school system."

So, there's another group to whom Phillips owes an apology: the black (and white) Americans who fought and died for equality of all races in the USA.

Not only has Phillips failed to do his history homework, he's also failed to carry out proper research.

He dashes off to a foreign country (yes, the USA is a foreign land), visits just one school there and comes haring back waving a blueprint for creating future Condoleezza Rices and Colin Powells in the UK. (Some of us black folks see "Condee 'n' Colin" types as the real educational failures among us, but that's another story.) Yet a visit to a few UK schools, and speaking to children - black and white, girls and boys- would have taught him a thing or two about the institutional racism that dogs the lives of black schoolboys and continues to demoralise, demean and deprive them after they leave. He could have learned about how the boys suffer from negative stereotypes and receive disproportionate punishments at school.

If he had done this homework, perhaps Phillips would have come up with more appropriate proposals for change in our schools, change that would benefit not just black boys, but all our children.

Because there are, actually, other kids out there who are underachieving, behaving badly and doing everything else that Phillips finds black schoolboys guilty of. Take, for example, the case a few years ago of a certain rich young white boy found drunk in Leicester Square. This happened at a time when it was parents', rather than teachers', turn to be blamed by the Government for all ills in schools. Parents were either never at home spending time with their children, or they were just loafing on benefits instead of out there working and being good role models.

This white boy had two working parents, a nanny and a bodyguard. I don't know about the nanny or the bodyguard, but no one blamed the father, who only discovered at midnight that his son was still out. Or the mother who was sunning herself overseas. Instead, the general response was summed up by one single black mother: "Boys will be boys." No call for separate education for young white boys, or depriving their fathers of access to them.

Yet had that been her son, that black mother would have been blamed for being at work and for having a child by that other stereotypical miscreant, a feckless black man, beloved scapegoat of racists. Today, her son would be adding grist to Phillips's mill.

I don't have space here to deal with all the worms tumbling from the cans the CRE chairman's proposals have opened up. But one of the things that interests black boys and girls from the apartheid era who are now running South Africa is this: how does Phillips propose to choose who will be segregated in racially mixed Britain? Verwoerdian measuring of nose, lip and curl of hair?

Shereen Pandit is a writer and lives in London

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