Anita Rani (centre) at the 'Strictly Come Dancing' live tour in Birmingham (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Not everything is racist

Anita Rani’s accusations only stack up when you realise she’s got a book out

Following the police homicide of George Floyd in the US state of Minnesota, the UK witnessed nationwide Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. While the emergence of BLM has been supported and promoted in various spheres of life — politics, academia, business, media, and entertainment to name a few — its impact on British race relations has been called into question. Indeed, a November 2020 Opinium poll found that 55 per cent of the British public — including a plurality of ethnic-minority Britons — believe that BLM has increased racial tensions. This is a disastrous outcome from a social-cohesion perspective — and clearly demonstrates that the BLM movement is far from being a unifying “anti-racist” force in British democratic society.

The aggressive re-racialisation of British community relations has been orchestrated by Britain’s grievance-industrial complex — a social infrastructure which seeks to attract attention and generate income through the peddling of fundamentally warped interpretations of British society and its institutions. As well as trying its utmost to keep the “disparities = discrimination” paradigm alive — a simplistic framework which overlooks a myriad of socio-cultural factors which influentially feed into socio-economic outcomes for different ethnic and racial groups. In my view, what has also grown in recent times is the tendency to blame negative life outcomes on one’s racial identity and ethnic heritage — unsubstantiated claims which are ultimately driven by emotions and hunches based on “lived experience”.

The latest high-profile example of this is the Countryfile and Woman’s Hour presenter Anita Rani. In a Radio Times interview, Rani suggested that she was eliminated from the 2015 Strictly Come Dancing semi-final because of her skin colour. Losing a dance-off to newscaster and presenter Katie Derham, Rani said that she still wondered whether she would have made the final if she didn’t have a “brown face”. The television presenter, who was born to Punjabi parents and raised in the West Yorkshire city of Bradford, addresses the issue of race in her memoir The Right Sort of Girl. In her book, the Yorkshirewoman writes of often wondering whether her Asian heritage has affected her career: “You would too, if every time someone looked at you, the first thing they thought was, ‘They’re Asian.’”

A number of non-white Britons have previously won the competition, and Rani was not the leading scorer for a single week

There are perfectly legitimate concerns to be raised over the degree of fairness in the UK labour market. A wealth of CV studies has shown that traditional “English-sounding names” tend to fare better in recruitment processes than more “culturally-distant names’ — controlling for qualifications, skills, and work experience. This includes a recent study by experts at the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, Oxford, which found that Black Brits and British South Asians continued to face “shocking” employment discrimination. While there is much work to be done in terms of creating a more meritocratic jobs market in the UK, Rani’s specific claim in respect of Strictly Come Dancing suffers from a “credibility deficit” for a number of reasons. It is worth noting that a number of non-white Britons have won the competition — former England test cricketer Mark Ramprakash (Series 4), entertainer and television personality Alesha Dixon (Series 5), now-retired British artistic gymnast Louis Smith MBE (Series 10), and media presenter and musical theatre actor Ore Oduba (Series 14). On top of that, Black South African professional dancer Oti Mabuse has won the last two series. Nigerian-origin Oduba’s victory was in the series immediately after the one Rani participated in — with both series having the same four judges (Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood, and Darcey Bussell). Focusing on Rani’s personal performances in Series 13, it is worth noting that she was not the leading scorer for a single week. Having the joint worst score in Week 10 and finishing comfortably bottom for the judge’s scores in Week 11, it is safe to say that Rani’s run-up to her semi-final elimination was far-from-stellar. In the semi-final, she danced the salsa in the dance-off (which previously scored 32 out of 40) and Derham danced the waltz (which previously scored 31 out of 40).

Of course, these facts are admittedly an inconvenience for Rani — because it is always easier to externalise blame as opposed to taking responsibility and coming to terms with the reality that perhaps one was not quite good enough to reach a particular goal. But the cynic in me suspects that Rani is opportunistically using the “hot rod” of racial-grievance politics to generate publicity in the hope of boosting book sales for The Right Sort of Girl. Only Rani truly knows the motivations behind it all. But there is no denying that in the current social climate in modern-day Britain, grievance narratives and the politics of victimhood is not simply a matter of moral grandstanding — but also provides a road to greater financial rewards. This is the grievance-industrial complex — and there is a growing band of television personalities and celebrity entertainers who are integrating themselves into this moralising and profiteering superstructure. 

Britain remains one of the most successful post-WWII examples of a multi-racial democracy in the world

Being a British Muslim academic of Bangladeshi and Indian origin, there is no doubt in my mind that equality of opportunity can be strengthened in modern-day Britain. There is some way to go in terms of achieving a merit-based allocation of rewards and opportunities. But this does not take away from the fact that Britain remains one of the most successful post-WWII examples of a multi-racial democracy in the world. We should build on these successes to create an even fairer society — by building broad-based coalitions under an inclusive anti-racist agenda. 

What Britain does not need is divisive grievance-mongers and opportunistic celebrities simplistically presenting personal disappointments through the prism of racial identity — especially when the evidence is far from convincing. Racism remains a force in Britain which needs to be tackled — but all too often it is treated as a catch-all explanation for a range of performance-related outcomes. In order to foster a more socially-cohesive country rooted in the equality of opportunity, questionable claims such as Rani’s over her Strictly Come Dancing experience must continue to be scrutinised with vigour — especially when they touch on sensitive matters of race.

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