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Are we all racists now?


WATCHING OR LISTENING to the media these days is like being repeatedly subjected to one of those implicit bias tests HR departments force on employees to root out their supposedly unconscious prejudice. While the media frequently admonish us to “celebrate” our multicultural diversity whether we care about it or not, HR pretend they’re looking after the welfare of their company’s employees.

In both cases the intention is to remind us that we are all racists even if we like to think we aren’t (if we’re white, that is; I don’t think this applies the other way round). In both cases those subjecting us to this treatment pretend it is not the case.

I had to take one of those tests online last year and was amused that one of the answers provided to the question about the purpose of the test itself (it was multiple choice) was, roughly, to ensure political correctness. That was the correct answer — obviously — but not according to the bureaucratic fascists who designed the thing. Luckily I’m such a jaded, cynical, ultra-right wing, reactionary bigot that I saw through their sneaky ways and lied.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech, and it’s been marked by the BBC on tv and radio. It’s also 25 years since the murder of Stephen Lawrence, an event which institutionalised the concept of institutional racism that race-hustlers find so useful. And maybe it’s synchronicity but the Windrush generation scandal has blown up at the same time, highlighting the ineptitude of successive governments and their civil servants in grasping the nettle of mass immigration, but providing the left with an easy political target in the nasty Tories.

The broadcast on Powell’s speech was anything but objective, as you’d now expect from the BBC, mainly featuring predictable commentary from anti-Powell figures, including David Lammy, Peter Hain, and Gina Miller (Brexit is racist, you see). Matthew Parris contributed his pennyworth of smear by turning out the cliche of Powell as the stupid person’s idea of what a clever man is (a jibe better applied to Parris himself). Only about two voices were included to give any context or perspective: David Goodhart and Simon Heffer, Powell’s biographer.

If you read Powell’s speech — and it is clear that so many people who comment on it have not — you will see that within the overwrought and inflammatory rhetoric he raised some crucial points that have still not been addressed, and probably never will be addressed by politicians or media.

Firstly, he knew that by pointing out the possible problems of immigration he would be accused of deliberately stirring them up and wanting them to happen. Secondly, he knew silence was not an option regarding the fears of his constituents: “I do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else”. Thirdly, he recognised that “numbers are of the essence”, since the effects of a 1% influx will not be the same as those of 10%. Fourthly, he acknowledged the cultural effects on the native population, their “sense of alarm and resentment”, the feeling they had been made “strangers in their own country”, “their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition”. And fifthly, tied up with that last point, was the fact this had happened “For reasons which they could not comprehend, and in pursuance of a decision by default, on which they were never consulted”. The people have never been consulted about immigration, which is one of the reasons why when the EU referendum turned up they finally had their chance to express themselves.

I don’t think I have ever heard any mainstream politician or media pundit discuss any of these ideas or take them seriously. The post-referendum drivel issuing from the media, for instance, has been directed at either the economic arguments (not the primary concern of those who voted leave) or the racism of Brexiteers. Although nowadays they can look forward to being called xenophobic as well, which sounds more intellectual.

Not once at the time of the first immigrant arrivals did anyone consider the effect on the indigenous population, the majority of whom would not have encountered black people or different cultures before. Nor, for that matter, did anyone think of the effects on the immigrants, arriving in a country that had not been prepared for them and for which they themselves had not been prepared. It’s so easy for those with the correct views then and now to simply label people racist and dismiss them as if their lives didn’t matter. Many of them were racist, of course, but their lives still mattered.

The abominable and inexcusable treatment meted out to immigrants and their families over the decades is not in question…

The abominable and inexcusable treatment meted out to immigrants and their families over the decades is not in question. But the deliberate policy of the left in recent years of opening up the old wounds and pursuing a course of malevolent compassion, or rather malevolence masquerading as compassion in exploiting minority groups, is also abominable. My sense of the country is that by the end of the 1990s, most of the hostility had died down and people were getting on better with each other. That was damaged by New Labour when it deliberately ramped up the immigration issue in order to wreck the culture.

Powell’s speech certainly inflamed feelings and increased tension, there’s no doubt about that. Much of what he had to say needed to be faced. Whether those issues would have been faced up to if he had avoided the scaremongering and offensiveness I don’t know. I suspect not, given the general cowardliness of the political classes.

We’ve gone from the situation where people employed the magical thinking Powell described, hoping that whatever they feared would go away if they didn’t talk about it, to the opposite — where people are talking about racism all the time and conducting a permanent witch hunt to uncover it everywhere, including in people’s unconsciousness. This is as tiresome as it is destructive. If politicians had shown an ounce of intelligence and honesty over the last couple of decades we wouldn’t have a situation where HR departments are using tests that have no scientific credibility (and may even produce the opposite results), and the BBC thinks it worth raising the spectre of Powell’s rivers of blood to frighten us all again. But yes, I think we’ve got the message: we’re all racists now. What’s next?

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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