A sense of belonging: Scene outside Brixton Town Hall, mid 1980s
Features

Why I’m no longer talking to black people about race

The race debate has been taken over by grifters with a vested interest in a booming equalities industry

This article is taken from the November issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.


Despite the slogan on the child-like cardboard placards held above the heads of Black Lives Matter protesters, the silence of us lower-case whites is not violence. For a while it was something considered as objectionable as racism — indifference.

We neither canonised nor fetishised black men and women as our experience of them was too diverse to classify them as a placid victim or an exotic rara avis. They were ultimately as dull and workaday as the rest of us, harbouring similar hopes and grudges. That’s how it is when you move from society’s margins to the mainstream. (This is the price of equality, at least the equality — it’s an amorphous creature — Britain was trudging towards before identity politics became the pub bore that emptied the bar.)

The upside is you’re not solely knife-wielding, drug-dealing absent fathers (the classical view of the far right); the downside: you’re not simply the carnival-loving soul man in fear of the policeman’s knee and the neighbour’s noose (the current view of the left).

Children in a playground, Fulham, London, 1973

The black people I’m not talking to about race are not those from the past, those I’ve liked or loved, laughed, cried and climaxed with, or those I’ve yet to meet that share a similar outlook on evidential prejudice in whatever race, faith or shape it comes.

I’m talking about the profiteering race-baiters, charlatans and grifters controlling the narrative; the beneficiaries of the billion-pound equalities industry that, paradoxically, swelled as racism in society diminished. Remits therefore widened; goalposts shifted. This monolith needs the “racism” it seeks to destroy in order to survive. Without it, it’s nothing, and careers would suffer dramatically if this near-mythical beast were finally slain.

More than a century ago Booker T. Washington exposed a similar sharp practice. “There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public,” he wrote. “Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.” But fair play to them, theirs was not a world of anti-discrimination laws, hate-crime legislation, quota systems enabled to produce an equality of outcome in which minority status increasingly trumps merit. “When people get used to preferential treatment,” says Dr Thomas Sowell, “equal treatment seems like discrimination.”

This industry is a lucrative career move for countless whites as well. It makes many a verbose academic believe they have a book in them, and bestows on those defined by pedigree, status, class, for whom minorities are a relatively recent find — a novelty even — an objective to educate the rest of us. That is, those of us for whom this is an old and familiar topic. We covered this decades ago, because of where we lived; because of who we lived among; because we had to.

A cleft between Labour and its traditional backers emerged that would widen into the unhappy marriage that persists today

We were not our parents. Our lives were less insular; our opportunities greater. We had Pakistani mates and black partners. Our mothers married local men, expecting to remain in their working-class neighbourhood all their lives just as their parents had. Why were they prejudiced? Why would they not be? If someone from the north was alien, why would a tribe of foreigners with brown skins descending on nearby Brixton be anything less than a threat?

The arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948, en route from Australia to England via Jamaica, has taken on a fabled status that overlooks the fact that it was neither welcomed by the authorities, nor expected by the Labour government. “These people have British passports and they must be allowed to land,” colonial secretary Arthur Creech Jones said, adding by way of a chaser, “There’s nothing to worry about because they won’t last one winter in England.”

Twenty years later the Labour government passed legislation to restrict immigration to pacify white working-class voters, and anti-discrimination laws to placate the recent arrivals who would strengthen its electoral support in the future. A cleft between the party and its traditional backers emerged that would widen into the unhappy marriage that persists today: two sides sticking together because they need each other, while holding each other in contempt.

The reaction to the 1968 Race Relations Act was swift, as has been documented ad nauseam throughout the decades. The National Front had formed. London dockers marched in support of Enoch Powell who, by making a seditious speech to highlight immigration levels and the likely impact on poor communities, made it impossible to have future discussion on the topic in more measured terms.

All but one of the black contingent were united in a loathing of white people and the country of their birth

The act addressed discrimination in housing and employment. By 1976, when riots at the Notting Hill carnival made headlines, the board established to implement these laws had become a commission and its brief extended. By the punk summer of the following year, in the wake of clashes at a National Front march in Lewisham, anti-racism became the cause du jour of white middle-class activists on marches organised by Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. These were peopled by a rising generation of sociology students as well as graduates from the class of ’68 — the agitprop page from a listings mag made flesh.

That year I enlisted on a short-lived technical course in which the white Britons in my class scarcely made single figures. The East End outpost of the college was dominated by young black men and women. While the Turkish-Cypriots, Iranians and Edgware-born Jews settled tribal scores, black boys in tweed pith-helmets and Farah slacks talked up reggae royalty (“Sir Coxsone”), and black girls tanked up on lovers’ rock blocked corridors while cooing “Caught You in A Lie”.

All but one of the black contingent were united in a loathing of white people and the country of their birth: Inglan is a bitch. One spent an age removing the “British” from an airways bag; one passed a paperback of Roots over my head declaring they’d never to speak to a white person again, before we headed to the Wimpy: another revealed he “sparked up a massive spliff” when Elvis died.

The exception was a genial, unbiased black mate who confided to me he had a secret white girlfriend. I was the one pink face at his twenty-first birthday party at the family home in Lewisham. My presence aroused a kissing of teeth akin to angry crickets singing, muttered patois, and the term “white batty boy” moaned like a scornful spiritual.

The birthday boy’s mother did what many a mother of any colour would have done in similar circumstances: she took me into the kitchen and plied me with food as her sisters manned the door. They flooded a teetotal white boy’s tea with tinned milk, and circled my ginger mane with a curiosity that would resonate with Solange Knowles Don’t Touch My Hair. I was in their debt.

The emphasis was no longer on assimilation, but on the natives accommodating the cultures of new settlers

The bigotry of those I mention above was a daily occurrence on the course, but one that paled beside the prejudice they were aware of, maybe were exposed to, in the wider society at the time. Like that of our white elders their prejudice was fuelled by developments that threatened their segregated existence. For the urban white working class the crime of the black minority in their midst was disproportionate to the numbers, particularly during the moral panic around “mugging” in the 1970s. Older women I knew ceased to visit Brixton market; London cabbies claimed it was a no-go area after dark.

If attitudes to race changed over time, legislation and marching middle-class students played a part, but not a major one. An awareness and familiarity surfaced from the consumerism that flourished during the past four decades, opening up the experience and aspirations of a younger generation, along with the potential of the black pound.

Even the most dense of cultural theorists has to acknowledge that, historically, poorer societies that are statist and austere tend to be inward-looking and tribal. “Scarcity requires us to choose,” the American economist Walter E. Williams has argued in the past. “Scarcity is the cause of discrimination.”

I’m no longer talking to black people about race. This was the stance I arrived at when surrounded by those with an abhorrence of whites and a loathing of Britain.

Then, as now, there was nothing to say when confronted with these attitudes. I understood that a sense of belonging was central to the view of young people born into a country in which they remained the alien immigrant. This changed following the riots in Brixton, St Paul’s and Toxteth and elsewhere at the beginning of the 1980s.

The environment secretary Michael Heseltine — dispatched to Liverpool as “minister for Merseyside” — declared this second generation of young blacks were British, and had a significant contribution to make to the country. (While in private, party ancients were still huffing and puffing about repatriation.) Heseltine appeared sincere: he had form on this issue, being one of the Tories that voted against Labour’s immigration bill two decades earlier, along with Ian Gilmour who later described it as a bill “to keep the blacks out”.

The battles many of us believed were almost won have been resurrected and revivified

Almost immediately the left and the burgeoning race industry moved the goalposts, shifted the remit, and flagged up multiculturalism. The emphasis was no longer on the assimilation of immigrants, but on the natives accommodating the cultures of new settlers, even if these were at odds with values that defined them. All cultures were equal, we were advised, but increasingly the one most of us identified with was subjected to scrutiny and criticism. This is the point now reached with the equality issue, as once again goalposts move and remits widen.

The legitimate cause of tackling actual discrimination moved into sketchy territory in the wake of the Macpherson report after the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Whatever grounds there were for exposing “institutional racism” within the police force, the projection of “unwitting prejudice” on our misconstrued thoughts veered close to thought crimes — a move that, at the time, reminded me of a Malcolm X line: “They put your mind right in a bag, and take it wherever they want.”

Oddly, the template for our discrimination laws and the terminology that has followed, is American — A country with a different history and relationship to race, even though its past and present racial grievances have been imported via the savagery of unsavoury elements of the Black Lives Matter movement. What began with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis crossed the pond and translated into defacing statues, burning the Union Jack, and a risible dance routine on Britain’s Got Talent that only a tokenistic show pony on its panel would regard as radical.

While black is allocated its upper case B and white is denied it by the New Yorker and the New York Times, the dictionary definition of racism has shifted from that of personal prejudice to a systemic discrimination operated under an oppressive white supremacy. This, as we’re acclimatising to hate crime legislation in which evidence is irrelevant, and guilt is reliant on the perception of the alleged victim — or bystander — rather than the motivation of the accused.

Now we’re informed that us whites that have had black partners and spouses can be racist, despite the longevity of the relationships. Racism is in our DNA, it goes to the core of who we are as lower-case white people, it seems.

The battles many of us believed were almost won have been resurrected, revivified, along with stock phrases from the past. The systemic racism motif riffs on the spiel of the Black Panthers. The Angela Davis line that it’s not enough to be non-racist, “we must be anti-racist”, is wheeled out by TV pundits bumping up their blackness by jumping on the bus.

This old trope was given a new twist in a tweet by American writer Ibram X. Kendi, author of this year’s How To Be An Antiracist: “We should eliminate the term ‘not racist’ from the human vocabulary. We are either being racist or antiracist. Is that clear for you? There’s no such thing as ‘not racist’. ”

Clearly the problem is no longer mere racism but whiteness. White privilege and white supremacy are as innate as our bigotry. Those pushing this argument have a friend in Louis Farrakhan in his belief that whites are potential human beings yet to evolve. It’s whiteness that’s being eradicated here, not white people. (Therefore nothing to worry the white nationalists perpetuating the “Great Replacement” theory popularised by the French writer Renaud Camus, at least for the moment.)

Many are not prepared to take the knee, raise the fist or “re-educate” themselves

White lives matter after all, they are needed to be the fall guy, the patsy, the useful idiots on Black Lives Matter protests. Judging by recent events, the role is that of a Honky Uncle Tom with the cakewalking and eye-rolling of the minstrel replaced by taking the knee, raising the fist and self-flagellating for the massa. Our biddable Archbishop of Canterbury has said: “I pray that those of us who are white Christians repent of our own prejudices and do the urgent work of becoming better allies to our brothers and sisters of colour.”

Look at the pedigree of similar types enlightening the pale-faced proles on their “unconscious” racism. The feminist Megan Markle, whose global fame came by marrying a prince, is cast by the sycophants that support her as Rosa Parks when to many of us she’s barely Rachel Dolezal.

As for Prince Harry himself, his anachronistic royal white privilege renders worthless any opinion he struggles to articulate on this or any subject. On Windrush Day his father, the man who would be king, addressed his future subjects on race, being an expert on the topic having once danced with a Three Degree.

It was illuminating witnessing how many celebrities quickly complied with the re-education theme along with the Black Lives Matter narrative, under the false hope that the flames will not reach their postcodes during the fire next time. They’re reminiscent of the socialite Tom Wolfe ridiculed half a century ago in Radical Chic when she declared: “The sophistication of the baby blacks made me rethink my attitudes.”

So, I’m no longer talking to black people about race — and who cares?

I’m an uppity lower-case white man with four Twitter followers and six decades on the clock, but I’m not alone. The backlash over the BBC Proms farce and the complaints against Britain’s Got Talent suggest there’s resistance to the mob mentality. There appears to be a boycott bubbling in response to anything on page, stage or screen that hammers home the “diversity” agenda.

Many are not prepared to take the knee, raise the fist or “re-educate” themselves, and if they recoil from charges of “racism” it’s not from fear but boredom. (Perhaps it’s time to bury a word that’s lost its value, and find one more fitted to an ever-diminishing issue. Prejudice still has potency and is yet to be redefined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.) They are a diverse lot, including uppity whites, blacks embarrassed by what is being done in their name, and Asians accused of “brown silence” in a recent CNN article. And finally, those aware the “Jewish privilege” hashtag frequently treading water on Twitter might surface and trend anytime.

Will the majority continue to keep its counsel? As W.E.B. Du Bois once wrote: “We have no right to sit silently by while the inevitable seeds are sown for a harvest of disaster to our children, black and white.” If the acolytes of Antifa, Black Lives Matter et al, along with their apologists, continue to promote lies, falsehoods and double standards while edging society towards greater chaos they might be met by their equivalent — which is doubtless what they’re pushing for.

But what if that opposition responds in kind, and also attracts those willing to meekly comply and collaborate? It would be great copy for the media, it would be a godsend for the left, as here will be a riotous mob they can demonise without restraint, cowardice or censorship: big, bad, bloated lower-caste whitey. But it will be bad news for the rest of us, whatever our race, particularly if these two tribes take each other out with the blade, the bullet or the bomb. In short, by any means necessary.

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