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The sadness of Andrews

A grim new book about racism fails to make its case

On page 126 of The Psychosis of Whiteness, Kehinde Andrews is explaining his theory that EU expansion took place because Polish and Romanian migrants would be “the perfect tonic to bolster the falling White population.” On page 130, Andrews claimed that “paranoia is the hallmark of the psychosis of Whiteness”. Therapist, counsel thyself.

The Psychosis of Whiteness, Kehinde Andrews, Allen Lane, £20

I should feel angry reading The Psychosis of Whiteness. It should annoy me to read a book that calls Britain “small and insignificant” and has nothing but bad things to say about white people. But the book is so pathetic that I just can’t do it. Its self-righteous bluster made me snort more than it made me scowl.

Within five seconds, for example, Andrews goes from complaining that interviewers don’t sufficiently respect him “as a professor, a supposedly esteemed expert” to calling Jeff Bezos “a mediocre White man”. Say what you like about the business practices of Amazon but building a multi-billionaire dollar company might be a more unusual achievement than earning a professorship. Within a chapter, Andrews goes from lamenting his struggles as “the only Black person in the room” to ridiculing the “anxiety” of white people “plunged into a situation where they are the only White person”.

Andrews’ thesis is that “Whiteness”, a kind of socially constructed racial consciousness, is delusional enough as to approximate mental illness. Oddly enough, Andrews is unsure whether psychosis actually “exist(s) outside the imagination of the diagnoser”. I think it does — I suspect Professor Andrews is leaping from the fact that X can be misdiagnosed to the belief that it should not be diagnosed at all — but it seems like a good suspicion to have about his own thesis.

Andrews cannot mount a systematic argument any more than I can play the violin

Andrews cannot mount a systematic argument any more than I can play the violin. British concerns about multiculturalism are scorned as nothing more than “irrational fear” but the irrationality is all but taken for granted. 7/7 is briefly mentioned, only to be dismissed as the result of “illegal wars that provoked a tiny minority over the top”, but there is no mention of various other terrorist atrocities, of Rotherham and other organised rape gangs, of the protests against The Satanic Verses or the driving of the Batley schoolteacher into hiding, or, well, of anything else that might show that his opponents are not drooling idiots.

Colourful errors mean the book is rarely dull. “IQ tests simply measure how well you can navigate the educational priorities of Western countries,” Andrews writes. Stuart Ritchie’s Intelligence: All That Matters is a long-form response to misconceptions like this, but I think I can refute it in two words: Chinese mathematicians. Cruelty is sometimes mixed in with the sloppiness. “It’s no coincidence that all three leaders [Johnson, Trump and Bolsonaro] caught coronavirus,” Andrews sneers, “They are also all White, male and utterly incompetent.” Getting COVID made someone incompetent? Intriguing. 

I doubt he actually believes that. It’s just his scattergun style. “Jewish people are a good example of a group that can switch in and out of Whiteness,” he asserts, “Defined as less than human by the Nazis who exterminated six million Jews, they are the settler colonialists-in-chief of Israel.” I’ll let someone else take issue with “settler colonialists-in-chief” — Andrews has an unfortunate affection for these jarring compound words, elsewhere calling Tony Sewell an “institutional-racism-denier” — but reflect on the morbid comedy of a book about anti-racism deploying the term “they” with such expansive breadth.

Every problem in the world, it seems, is the fault of white people. Black South Africans disliking other Africans? The psychosis of whiteness. How? Who knows! I’m not sure if Professor Andrews has commented on Pakistan expelling hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees but I suspect I know who he thinks inspired them. Reading this kind of book, it feels as if it is being implied that the non-European world was an ocean of harmony until — blam — white people ruined everything.

It isn’t only white people who get grief from Andrews, though. People from ethnic minority backgrounds who disagree with him come in for horrendous stick. The likes of Tony Sewell and Priti Patel, he writes, just “dance to the government tune”. Black conservatives are “house negroes” engaging in the act of “cooning”. To be fair, it is not entirely false that right-wing platforms can instrumentalise ethnic and sexual minority commentators. But the left can instrumentalise anti-Zionist Jews and that does not mean there are no sincere and intelligent anti-Zionist Jews. (You have to wonder if a book calling them “Uncle Davids” would get published.)

Andrews can’t back up his trash talk with substance

Andrews can’t back up his trash talk with substance. He declares that racism and xenophobia are among “the most quintessentially British values” but his evidence includes the claim that while British schools devote immense time and resources to “black history” it is not the right kind of “black history”. Struggling to evade the fact that Britain welcomes hundreds of thousands of non-EU migrants a year, offers many of them prime real estate on the cheap and has a PM, a home secretary and a mayor of London from ethnic minority backgrounds, Andrews can only complain that his son’s presentation on Malcolm X didn’t win a school contest. 

The one thing I’ll give Andrews credit for is honesty. You won’t find him dressing up his opinions to make them more palatable. Sometimes, it leads him to make valid, unfashionable arguments, like when he criticises the fetishisation of violence in some rap music. Sometimes, it just means that he gets straight to the point. “You will never hear me describe myself as British,” Andrews writes, “I am Black and in Britain and my commitment to this nation will never go further than that.” Fine. Fair enough. But that should perhaps be borne in mind when he talks about what British people should do. He’s proud to advertise his lack of attachments to them after all.  

Again, the overall effect is rather sad. Professor Andrews is under no illusions about the hardships faced by black communities around the world, from murders in London to poverty in Africa. But all he can do is rail against white people. The psychosis of Whiteness? More like the sadness of Andrews.

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