In London, black people constitute only 13 per cent of the population but almost half of murder victims and suspects are black, according to figures obtained by Sky News. In Africa, millions face starvation as the pandemic exacerbates an already grave food crisis.
In China, at the height of the pandemic, African students were barred from rental accommodation and shops, unable to buy food and forced to sleep on the streets. Many more examples of real tragedies affecting black lives could be cited. The causes are a complex interaction between multiple social, cultural, political and economic factors.
But these are not the concerns motivating Black Lives Matter. The recent demonstrations were not triggered by rising black-on-black crime, mass starvation or homelessness. Instead, it was the death of a black career criminal during the course of his arrest that prompted protesters to break the lockdown rules, vandalise historical monuments, tear down statues and attack the police during their “largely peaceful” protests.
The rhetoric surrounding the latest incarnation of the BLM movement is rooted in a narrative about police brutality that, if true, should certainly concern us all. The narrative is that it was not just another incident involving rogue policemen, but instead constitutes evidence of “systemic” or “institutional” racism. Thus the world was confidently assured by two young black women who organised the London riots that British police are more of a threat to black lives than the coronavirus.
However, the facts of police shootings in the US do not support the “institutional racism” narrative. In the UK the hapless police are more likely to ignore or take flight from protesters than they are to throttle anyone to death, black or white. And how odd to see British protesters carrying American-inspired “Don’t shoot” placards as they march towards unarmed and outnumbered police whose response, if not to scarper, is to kneel in penitence.
BLM protesters also allege rampant colonialism in British universities. They ask why the authors on their reading lists appear, as far as they can work out from the names, to be white. “Why is my curriculum white?” and “Why isn’t my professor black?” they cry. Silence, they claim, is violence, and therefore the statue of Cecil Rhodes above the gates of Oriel College, Oxford, offends them by its muteness as they saunter past it to their lecture or latte. This perception of British universities is puzzling: our universities have long been at the forefront of progressive change.
One is therefore driven to ask whether the BLM movement really is concerned about the value of black lives or the suffering of black people or whether it is, instead, a way of harnessing racial identity to achieve power and influence. The current battleground is the spoils of Britain’s nineteenth-century colonial exploits, paving the way for claims that it is time to atone for historical sins by offering more jobs, promotions, pay rises and positions of power to black people. And before long there will be increasing demands for the payment of reparations.
Some corporations seem to be getting ahead of the curve by voluntarily making huge donations to BLM. “Reparations for racial discrimination rooted in colonialism and slavery are essential to the fulfilment of human rights,” a UN human rights expert has announced, calling on states “to accept they have obligations and responsibilities to make reparations to victims and their descendants”.
BLM’s radical ideas, such as defunding the police, would only make the lives of black communities worse
For those advancing the radical BLM agenda it is easy to shut down any opponents simply by labelling them “racist”. Allegations of racism are a powerful weapon in any power struggle as the term “racist” signifies an amorphous type of immoral person who deserves to be censored.
The great titans of the inequalities industry, self-appointed community leaders and race-equality experts with generous budgets and the political firepower of BLM behind them, have a vested interest in stoking the narrative of racial oppression upon which their influence depends. Exhibiting what the American academic and author Shelby Steele depicts as “a sick hunger for racism”, they continually craft new manifestations of racism in the form of “micro-aggressions” that are said to be unconscious, subtle and disguised, too small and nuanced to be detected by the untutored eye.
If it were acknowledged that racism in the UK is in fact declining, as polls show and common experience substantiates, that would mean no more lucrative work for the inequalities industry. In his excellent book Please Stop Helping Us, Jason Riley observes that this would be a disaster for the race hustlers who peddle grievance politics — the last thing they want is for racism to be eradicated. Yet as Nelson Mandela demonstrated, peace and justice ultimately come through mutual respect, dialogue and shared solutions, not by fomenting division and rancour.
Political and economic power are often sought through joining collectives of the like-minded. Ayn Rand was right when she said: “The simplest collective to join, the easiest one to identify — particularly for people of limited intelligence — the least demanding form of ‘belonging’ and ‘togetherness’ is: race.” Regardless of whether those banding together are black or white, this primitive form of collective identity bypasses the need for individual effort or personal responsibility. It allows the adherents of racist movements to take apparent shortcuts to progress by demanding guilt offerings from those of a different race, whose own sense of collective racial identity makes them feel responsible for the part, however tenuous, that their ancestors may have played in ancient skirmishes.
The BLM movement represents racism as a collective ideology, racism as a motivation for people to join together to advance the fortunes of their own grouping at the expense of those who do not share their racial identity. It promotes division, not unity, and frustrates a common endeavour to find real solutions to the problems black people face in areas like education and health.
Moreover, the radical proposals of BLM, such as defunding the police, would only make the lives of black communities worse than they already are. More would recognise this if they troubled to familiarise themselves with BLM’s proposals. Unfortunately, people’s support for the movement seems to be in inverse proportion to their understanding of it.
Rather than endlessly immersing ourselves in the unproductive discourse of guilt and shame, all of us who live now in freedom and equality ought to emulate Michael Nazir-Ali, then Bishop of Rochester, in celebrating “the perfectly virtuous pages of history, such as Magna Carta, the campaign to abolish the slave trade and, later, slavery itself, the easing of conditions of labour for men, women and children and the introduction of universal education”. He is right to caution that “repentance for past wrongs without the celebration of what has been good has deprived people of a common vision by which to live and a strong basis for the future”.
If I as a black person mindlessly chant that “black lives matter” I imply that the colour of my skin is the single most important factor that gives value to my life, or the lives of other black people. This slogan corrupts the words of Martin Luther King Jr, by demanding that we be recognised and advanced for the colour of our skin rather than the content of our character.
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