Over the weekend, the official Black Lives Matter UK twitter account put out a tweet that read:
“As Israel moves forward with the annexation of the West Bank, and mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism, and Israel’s settler colonial pursuits, we loudly and clearly stand beside our Palestinian comrades.
It caused a lot of liberals who had hitherto not questioned Black Lives Matter as being anything other than for the greater good to think again. Not about racism, obviously, I just mean about what this organisation that has taken on the slogan really stands for and what it wishes to accomplish. Particularly galling was the “gagged of the right to critique Zionism”, a line which could have come straight out of a far right pamphlet. Not a good look for an organisation dedicated to fighting racism, to say the least. The use of the word “comrades” gave away something as well; less sinister, but noteworthy nonetheless.
There has been a paradox at the heart of the protests around race relations in this country since they began following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. On one hand, the argument they are putting forth is that the UK is deeply, institutionally racist. Yet the messaging and approach all rests on the assumption that the UK is actually pretty tolerant and liberal; the whole thing has been done on the basis that most Britons broadly support the sentence “Black Lives Matter”. My worry here is that the liberal consensus that is often assumed to be now permanent, not just subconsciously by leftist anti-racist campaigners but by Blue Labour/Red Tory types amongst others, is nothing of the sort. I worry constantly these days about Britain actually becoming a less tolerant country over the next decade and not for institutional reasons but because of a backlash against socialism parading as liberalism.
I’ve spoken before about where I think anti-Semitism on the far left comes from. Under the modern socialist mindset, the world is split into good guys and bad guys, or more specifically, victims and oppressors. They have put Israel into the bad guys/oppressors category, mostly because of their relationship with the US, the great Satan in modern socialist thinking. They don’t see themselves as anti-Semitic because so long as Jews are at least partly ashamed to be Jewish – in the same way Anglo-Saxon white people should be ashamed to be Anglo-Saxon white people in their view – then they are absolved of any association with the bad guys. Just denounce Israel, that’s all they ask of British Jews on the left. They are only asking Jews to do what they themselves are willing to do and denounce portions of their own ethnic heritage, one that has been placed in the oppressor category.
All of this is deeply illiberal. It is other things too, but I’ll stick with my focus here. What liberalism seeks to do on race is to try and move toward a world where it does not matter. Good liberalism understands that this is complicated. Take positive discrimination. On the surface it may seem illiberal to some, but if it is used to give a generation of BAME kids a leg up in life so that the socio-economic distance between people of different races is far less for the next generation, than I support it for what I feel are liberal reasons.
My fear is that this may be the opposite of what a lot of socialists want to achieve. The far left simplifies things in the fight against racism and seeks to separate the good guys from the bad guys, as it does in every other sphere of life. The push to demonise “whiteness”, while to some extent I understand where the idea comes from, is a deeply problematic example of this. Once you accept that white people should be ashamed of their skin colour, it sets up a reality where being ashamed of one’s skin colour, whatever skin colour that happens to be, is an acceptable premise. Further, it solidifies the idea that judgements of people based on skin colour are a reasonable thing to do, at least in some instances. Amongst other negatives, this can only be bad for BAME people, particularly in a country where almost 90% are white.
What is particularly galling about white liberals declaring their shame at their skin colour, while seemingly having no idea of the long term damage this is causing, is the fact that it is so easily done on their part. This isn’t a real sacrifice of any description – for the vast majority of white people, whiteness isn’t really a part of their true identity. Having lived in a society where your skin colour is the predominant one, unless you become a white supremacist, the colour of your skin isn’t something that is genuinely important to you. You identify as many things, but “white” is way, way, way down the list. You could say this is part of what white privilege actually is in reality – the freedom from having to feel insecure about your racial identity to the point that you can publicly denounce it without any fear of repercussion.
All of this is difficult to talk about and to be honest, my instinct was to let it all go. Let someone else discuss this stuff. But I knew that would be cowardly. Yes, this stuff is tricky but it’s important. If we want to eventually get to a world where race really doesn’t matter, we can’t leave this to bad faith actors, with the rest of us too scared to speak. If we hand anti-racism to the far left, we are damning it to failure and it is far too important to allow that to happen.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
It’s available here:
Derek Payne says
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that a relatively privileged white man should be surprised by the concept of intersectionality.
This goes back to 1989 when Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term to define individuals or communities experiencing overlapping systems of oppression based on gender, race, ethnicity and other socioeconomic factors.
More recently, the BLM tweet is consistent with a call made by the Movement for Black Lives in 2016 to endorse the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel.
The commonality is obvious. It’s based on the shared history of colonialism and imperialism.
Dave Chapman says
Your post was obviously lost on some people, Nick.
They usually are, Dave, so don’t unduly worry about it.
Neil mcgrady says
you fail to mention the white money ie soros and co funding blm , now you are labeling blm racists and anti semitic and at the same time doing the Palestinian cause no good
Lorenzo Cherin says
The decision to comment regarding a subject you had not wanted to comment on for understandable reasons, led to your best piece in a long while, Nick, very good here.
Denis Mollison says
In common with many across the political spectrum I “put Israel into the bad guys/oppressors category” not “because of their relationship with the US” but because Israeli governments over the years have pursued colonialist and apartheid-like policies, the most recent being the “Basic law”, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
That “mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism” is a reasonable criticism: the main parties have all been persuaded to sign up to the so-called “IHRA definition” of antisemitism, which combines a uselessly vague definition with examples designed to entangle anti-Zioinism with antisemitism.