Robert Oulds and Niall McCrae are joint authors of this blog and Moralitis: a Cultural Virus (Bruges Group, 2020).
On a sunny Saturday morning, the queue outside Waitrose on the main thoroughfare in Chiswick basked in a glow of self-satisfaction. Dozens of casually-dressed, trendy urbanites displayed their social justice credentials by ‘taking the knee’, a ritual show of support for the Black Lives Matter campaign. Fleetingly, these bearded Bens and earnest Ellies could feel black by proxy.
This virtue-signalling opportunity for the progressive middle class omitted any genuine concern for disadvantaged black people; for the youngsters raised in a world of nihilistic drill rap, mind-numbing skunk and violent territorial gangs; or for the mostly black victims of stabbings and shootings. Day in, day out, the gap between the comfortably salaried and the underclass gets wider.
As explained in our book Moralitis, the real agenda here is class snobbery. According to Sohrab Ahmari, emancipatory causes are exploited by the bourgeoisie to preserve cultural hegemony: –
Which social class most excels at politically correct manners? That would be the professional-managerial class, the laptop class. Its children learn the patois for discussing ‘issues of race, gender and sexuality’ from an early age. They’re expected to have mastered it by the time they take their entry-level jobs. Working-class people, meanwhile, are most likely to struggle with this language. Even when they mean well they don’t always get it right, because the vagaries of critical race theory and LGBTQ acronyms. By fortifying the requirements to speak and think correctly – and raising the stakes for failures – the neoliberal class has now built a repressive new mechanism for staying at the top and keeping the oiks down.
While the black inhabitants of nearby council estates get a façade of sympathy, the white working class is loathed by metropolitan snobs. Poorer folk of all ethnicities will incur the costs of the decarbonising demands of climate change alarmists, as they are all impoverished by cheap labour brought by globalisation. But the white working class suffers most in a society in which (as Priyamvada Gopal at University of Cambridge tweeted), white lives don’t matter. Mounting evidence shows the decline in educational and occupational outcomes for those on the wrong side of the tracks who are not BAME.
Arguably, this is inverse racism, as blatantly expressed by the insult ‘gammon’ for angry white men who don’t like mass immigration or multiculturalism. However, there is something wrong in the attitude to the favoured group too. Alexander Pelling-Bruce described recent anti-racism rallies as a cultural performance: –
Some of the most fervent white supporters of BLM are the same kinds of cosmopolitan people who previously marched for Remain. Then, they used a constitutional dispute to elevate themselves above their supposedly parochial fellow citizens. Now, they display their superiority by drawing attention to the sin of their own whiteness.
Like Prince Harry’s woke apologia from his mansion in LA, this expression of middle-class guilt is no Shia-style self-flagellation with blood flowing along the gutters. Apologising for something that you haven’t done, using the word ‘we’ when you really mean ‘they’, is painless and socially rewarding. By focusing on race, do-gooders are not criticising themselves, but the usual targets: traditionally-minded patriots lower down in the hierarchy.
Yet ordinary black people do not want to be conscripts for divisive identity politics. Reracialising of society is regressive because it confers characteristics on each person on the basis of his or her ethnicity. Race is a scientifically dubious concept; it is certainly not an absolute, as millions of mixed-race children confirm. Troublingly, skin colour is being used to stoke inter-racial tension by the very people who claim to be anti-racist.
The Black Lives Matter movement is racialist not because it’s anti-white (although some activists are blatantly prejudiced), but due to internalising of a mythical essentialism. Firebrand Louis Farrakhan describes white privilege as if there is something inherently superior in Yakub’s devils, who apparently have power simply through their existence to ruin the lives of black people. This idea has become mainstream, with racks of books at Waterstone’s on systemic racism in the light of the BLM protests. Paradoxically, it is a form of white supremacism. So strong is this race campaigners’ fantasy that society must ‘abolish whiteness’ (another of Gopal’s tweets). The woke white apparently believe that their ancestry makes them ruthlessly efficient, while condescendingly regarding other ethnicities as primitive but noble tribes in tune with Mother Nature, as depicted in National Geographic.
The liberal middle-class likes a cause célèbre, and as there is insufficient material in British police brutality, historical slavery is a richer seam. Any commemorated figure who traded overseas in the 17th and 18th centuries epitomises a racist country, their philanthropic deeds invalidated. Economic benefits bequeathed to the progressive intelligentsia are declared as morally tainted, as family inheritance is attributed to a privileged upper class that benefited from chattel slavery. It is less crass than dropping into the conversation that the cousin of some minor-aristocrat attends one’s candle-lit suppers, but the class-ridden motive is the same. As Lionel Shriver observed, real shame is uncomfortable, not gleeful.
Racialism is a manifestation of the white saviour complex. It is the attitude of those who go to Africa to save helpless natives from their miserable plight, for which white people must be ultimately responsible. With their mantra ‘white silence is violence’, these post-modern missionaries advocate reparations for slavery, as if the black man must live off the leftover scraps of white opulence. Of course, black and Asian citizens do not need affirmation from people in posh houses that their lives matter.
Underlying the lionising of George Floyd, whose killing by a cop sparked global outrage, is Marxist determinism and its emphasis of structure over agency. In the minds of white BLM supporters, a black man with a career of criminality and drug-taking is only doing what was forced on him. The police and courts are the problem, not the offender. A similar attitude is shown towards the Prevent scheme to steer impressionable young Muslims away from terrorism. Of course, armed burglary and suicide bombings are a scourge on civil society, but there is social benefit in siding with an endorsed victim group.
According to social commentator Inaya Folarin Iman, ‘this is not a continuation of the liberation struggles of the past but a rejection of them’. The lack of agency conferred by middle-class progressives on lawbreakers suggests a crude stereotypical belief in inferiority, espousing a racist relativism whereby black people are held to a lower standard. Racism is undeniably a problem, but choices in life do not depend on the amount of melanin. For the narcissistic Eloi this emancipatory broadcasting is a psychological insurance plan against the ogre of hooded Morlocks on the streets at night (though they chose their area carefully, and use Uber). Crude stereotypes persist on. The call to ‘defund the police’, parroted on social media, is only meant for black neighbourhoods, not a burglary licence for the leafy avenues of W4.
Ironically the Black Lives Matter wave has swept over land on which there was less overt racism than ever. Instead of appreciating this progress, agitators are constantly looking for new signs of ‘racecraft’. As behaviourists such as BF Skinner discovered, learned behavior is most strongly reinforced by infrequent rewards. The desire to signal one’s virtue by condemning others is irresistible, and to some extent addictive. For a dopamine fix the denouncers look under every stone to find something racist. The social media companies take advantage of our dependency, and the Twitter ‘trending’ box encourages users to participate in public shaming. If racism was easy to find, the novelty would soon wear off.
So this is not really about race. Indeed, the middle-class craze for BLM diverts attention from solving the social problems in our cities, which disproportionately affect black communities. Instead of wasting time and money on unconscious bias training, BAME pay audits and committees on removal of statues, society should be more concerned with tackling crime, gangs, drug dealing and dependence, and the despond of fatherless families. Liberal progressives have similar low expectations as the teacher in a 1970s comprehensive school who guides a gifted black boy into sport rather than science. Throwing money at graffiti classes is the opposite of the aspirational approach that is needed.
On Chiswick High Road, as the wannabe members of the metropolitan elite sauntered off in smugness, Boris Johnson’s government appeared impotent while our heritage and cultural artifacts were being trashed by BLM vandals. This was all very exciting to a genteel district of west London, where three quarters voted to Remain. Allegiance to a European superstate with 27 other predominantly white countries had a neo-imperialist aspect: this protectionist bloc imposes heavy tariffs on African exports. But that’s okay, because once in a while the bien pensants donate bundles of clothes to Oxfam.