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"Is it offensive to black up or not, particularly if you are impersonating a black person?"

Screen shot 2009-12-19 at 08.19.48 This was one of a stream of questions asked of Trevor Phillips by Tory MP Philip Davies.

Mr Davies, a backbencher who is often critical of the Tory leadership, has sent 19 letters since April 2008 to Mr Phillips, Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Guardian reports some of Mr Davies' questions and the Commission's answers.

Q. "Is it offensive to black up or not, particularly if you are impersonating a black person?"

A. "There are many writings produced by scholars about blacking up, arguing that minstrel shows lampoon black people in derogatory ways, and many people clearly find blacking up to portray minstrels or black people offensive."

Q. Whether the Metropolitan Black Police Association breaches discrimination law by restricting its membership to black people. He compared this to the BNP's whites-only policy, which the far-right party has now agreed to change.

A.  "The BNP only permits white people to become members of the party and … this is unlawful under the Race Relations Act 1976 … The Metropolitan Black Police Association … is not a political party and therefore is not directly comparable with the BNP. We are, however, interested in any organisation which appears to act in breach of the equality enactments and thank you for drawing this matter to our attention."

Q. Whether it was lawful for an advert for a job working with victims of domestic violence to specify that applicants had to be female and/or black or ethnic minority.

A. "It is not clear that this advertisement is unlawful because there appears to be a reasonable argument that the requirement to be female and/or from the BME [black and minority ethnic] community was a genuine occupational requirement for the roles in question."

Mr Davis defended his letter-writing as a campaign against political correctness:

"Anybody who follows my career in parliament knows I'm concerned with the issue of political correctness. I'm merely pursuing a subject I raise more regularly than anyone else in parliament. It's one of my bugbears. Lots of people are castigated for being racist when that's not their intention."

He told The Guardian that he believed in equality but opposed "positive discrimination". "That builds up a resentment that doesn't exist before."

Tim Montgomerie


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