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Artillery Row

Marginalising the majority

Progressive rhetoric has a projection problem

It’s the accusatory nature of a great deal of progressive commentary that makes it so obnoxious. On the face of it, it sounds absurd to take offence at an article which maintains that Britons from ethnic minorities can feel uncomfortable in rural areas. Yet an article in The Lead with the headline “Black and brown hikers are taking back Britain’s countryside” is so fiercely combative that one can do nothing else. It stands in your face daring you to react.

First, what’s with that headline? “Taking back”? Did it belong to them? Have I missed a giant chunk of British history? Why must it be “taken” at all? Is this some sort of weird game of “capture the flag”?

One can take headlines too seriously, of course, but the article does include this striking claim:

Traditional ecological knowledge is appropriated by mainstream environmental and conservation movements. Collier says Black people are dispossessed of nature while, simultaneously, white people are taking their knowledge and refashioning it as exclusively theirs. 

No examples are presented in support of this. I’m not saying that it’s impossible that British farmers, conservationists et cetera have drawn on the wisdom of farmers and ecologists from elsewhere. I don’t know, but it seems plausible. The author presents this as if it is some kind of ubiquitous phenomenon, however, as if British people had not been developing their knowledge of their rural areas for thousands of years themselves. 

What are white Britons doing to make others feel uncomfortable in the countryside? Again, I’m sure it happens (the author cites a case in which slurs were painted onto signs in a park in Rochford). Another example is less convincing, though:

Nigerian-born Enoch Adeyemi, co-founder of Black Scottish Adventurers, recently shared his experiences of hiking with a large group of Black men, revealing they are constantly subject to spurious complaints about “littering”, condescension and demands to stop playing music. “Why should I turn off my music? Just because white Scottish people enjoy nature one way, that doesn’t mean Black people have to enjoy it exactly the same way,” he told the Daily Mail

Actually, this makes no sense. If someone wants quiet and someone else wants to play music, they can’t both have what they want. If you’re playing music, then I don’t have quiet. As music can be listened to anywhere else — or, indeed, through a novel device called headphones — I think it is extremely fair that the former should prevail. 

It’s a term that crops up later in the piece that really got my noggin joggin’. An activist demanding greater minority representation in countryside-related institutions says, “There have to be people of colour, the global majority, appointed into these positions where they can be decision makers. If they do not represent the global majority, they cannot understand and they will not act to address these barriers.”

What is this “global majority” thing? The term has been promoted as an alternative to “ethnic minority”, which is seen as marginalising people from immigrant backgrounds. Westminster Council announced last year that it would adopt “Global Majority” rather than “BAME” (black, Asian and minority ethnic). 

Yet if “ethnic minority” marginalises people who have immigrant backgrounds — arguable in itself — “global majority” ends up marginalising people who don’t. Indeed, it does it in a far more explicit manner. “Ethnic minority” is a relative term. If a white British person moves to Indonesia, he or she has joined an ethnic minority. “Global majority”, on the other hand, has been defined as referring to black, Asian and “brown” people. I suppose it’s possible that progressives would accept that in Africa, white, Asian and “brown” people represent the “global majority”, but I can’t see it happening.

I suspect the term also smuggles in the idea that British institutions should represent the world rather than Britain. Last month, a call for applications for a position at Canterbury Cathedral included this musing: 

Our worship at our main services often has diverse congregations but the clergy are still all shaped by white and western backgrounds. Ideally, this post is well suited to a person of global majority heritage who can really help us deepen our vocation as the mother church of the Anglican Communion address- ing that history and differing sets of perception with care.

The Anglican Communion is international, of course, but the Church of England is exactly that.

“Global majority” — like “People of Colour” — gestures towards a fictional unanimity. “Ethnic minorities”, for the most part, is seen in the plural sense, referencing a diverse mixture of groups (which, of course, themselves encompass diverse individuals). “Global majority” implies that there is some sort of cohesion within groups that often have little in common and, indeed, sometimes don’t get along (as in Leicester, last year, where Hindu and Muslim men bitterly feuded). It’s an ambition disguised as a description.

This term should have no place in our discourse, especially in the work of state and tax-funded institutions. Question it before it’s everywhere.

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