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Artillery Row

BLM, Trump and Hyper-masculinity

The protesters marching through Cheltenham have more in common with race goers than they’d care to imagine

Writing in the New York Times in 2017 Anna Holmes described ‘cultural appropriation’ as an expression of ignorance, “when objects, ideas, lived experiences or points of view are not so much examined as exploited and performed.”  In practice, the concept of cultural appropriation is most commonly taken-up by censorious white students, outraged by the wearing of fancy dress feathered head-dresses and grass skirts.  For the most part it is no more than self-flagellating Guardianista nonsense; condemning white British people to a narrow world of morris dancing and tins of Spam would be ridiculous and down-right cruel. But there is something that can be retrieved from the idea that the experiences and suffering of minority groups are repurposed for the entertainment of the privileged.

It is fair to ask, what are white people like those in Cheltenham protesting for?

Cheltenham, my home-town, is known more for Regency facades and drunken race-goers during Gold Cup week than it is edgy counter-culture marches, but this Monday there will be a Black Lives Matter Protest. It’s not a stretch to guess at the colour of most of those who will be there: Cheltenham is so white it can hurt your eyes as only around 5.7% of the population are Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) which is nearly a third of the national average. For full disclosure, I too am somewhere near the hue of mashed potato. During the famous race week in Cheltenham women from across the world are trafficked into brothels across the town.  Interestingly, to date there have been no protests about this, despite the fact that migrant and BAME women are over-represented when it comes to commercial sexual exploitation.

It is fair to ask, what are white people like those in Cheltenham protesting for? It seems more likely that for people who aren’t BAME, the Black Lives Matter protests are more a chance to parade their liberal credentials than a genuine desire to stop the extra-judicial murders of unarmed Black civilians by brutal police officers in the USA. Arguably, this is a form of cultural appropriation – a grotesque form of grief tourism signalling nothing but ‘virtue.’

When one looks at the footage of the looting in the USA a clear social pattern emerges, and it isn’t one of race. There is an undeniable divide along sex lines. Images of women of all races standing should-to-shoulder have given way to those of men smashing shop fronts, hurting one another and looting. The destruction of property as a way of sending a political message has a venerable history as a successful method of protest, but there is a world of difference between the carefully staged toffee hammer window-smashing of the suffragettes and the chaotic scenes coming out of today’s America.  Much of the violence and destruction at protests throughout the USA is testosterone-fuelled rage looking for a borrowed cause; a typically male reaction.

When President Donald Trump called Antifa a terrorist group he gave them too much credit, they are merely a collection of angry young men looking for a cause into which to channel their rage. Their politics is skin-deep; a virility test with the veneer of activism. Trump, his police force and Antifa are each part of the same hyper-masculine problem, locked in pointless pissing contest for supremacy and a sense of purpose.

In a video shot in New York which has now been viewed over two million times, a Black woman berates a white crowd of young male protesters who have smashed shops and started fires in her neighbourhood, accusing them of ‘profiting’ off the pain of residents. In an impassioned speech she asks them to consider what life is like for a Black woman, what life is like for those who ‘bag your groceries’ and ‘who drop off your food.’  Confronted with the reality of their actions these young white men, to be fair some of whom are trying to clean-up the mess, shuffle and look sheepish.

Those who chose to protest the killing of George Floyd by joining demonstrations outside of the USA are probably doing no harm. Nonetheless, it is fair to question their motives and to ask where is the outrage for events elsewhere in the world? Why has a murder in the USA sparked international action whereas the now routine imprisonment and torture of the Uighurs by the institutionally racist officials of the Chinese state passes without a hashtag? The Black Lives Matter movement can be seen as evidence of the cultural dominance of America; a form of imperialism spread by social media. Feeling guilty about one’s inherited characteristics does nothing to stop racism, and protesting injustices elsewhere in the world does little to effect change. Ultimately the global campaign over the death of George Floyd is not a response bourne of politics or ideology, it is no more than a human reaction of rage, insecurity and fear.

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