I LIKE the idea of further study but didn’t expect to have a whole new learning suddenly imposed on me. Like many I am struggling to keep up; it began on Friday last week when registered nurse Carol Cooper told BBC Woman’s Hour about something very like genocide.
Just back from the Birmingham Black Lives Matter demonstration, she described the ‘less favourable outcome’ for black medical staff with the Covid-19 virus owing to a ‘bias’ in the NHS. Nurse Cooper said they were being deliberately ‘appointed to Covid-19 wards disproportionately’.
Interviewer Jenni Murray was surprised enough to ask her for evidence. ‘Evidence is always a difficult one,’ Cooper replied knowingly. ‘It’s a problem for [dealing with] racism. This is what staff are telling me, and I am in a unique position.’
She’s a Regional NHS Head of Equality, Diversity and Human Rights, and last year won a ‘Nursing Diversity and Inclusion Champion of the Year Award’.
Surprisingly, not all NHS staff have been happy with her allegations. She says some colleagues who have been challenged ungratefully adopt ‘a position of white fragility’, ignoring the fact that, she says, ‘We must all own and accept racism.’
That includes the NHS and Public Health England, which recently carried out a report into the virus and ethnicity looking at a thousand cases. Cooper believes that ‘racism is a toxin, a public health issue’, and the report was just ‘spin’, another attempt at ‘stifling our voices and saying again that black lives don’t matter’.
Rule 1 of the new learning: Asking for facts may be racist. The need for the deconstruction of British institutions is already a given.
For the first time I had to try to ‘own’, as they now say, the idea that empirical evidence is reactionary, required only by the unenlightened. This is just part of a whole new culture we must embrace.
Rule 2: ‘Culture’ now means black, from the street; anything else is elitist and unacceptable.
This was confirmed by a black activist at the London BLM rally who told the BBC Today programme: ‘Black Lives Matter is about breaking the stranglehold of the Oxbridge elite.’
This agenda was perhaps first observed openly in 2011 by historian David Starkey on the BBC’s Question Time. He mentioned a ‘profound cultural change’.
‘The whites have become black,’ he opined. ‘A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion, and black and white boys and girls operate in this language together.’ Outrageously, he called this ‘a problem’.
There was a storm of protest led in the media by Jeremy Corbyn. Owen Jones, who was on the panel with Starkey, said: ‘He tapped into racial prejudice at a time of national crisis [the economic crash]. At other times, those comments would be inflammatory but they are downright dangerous in the current climate.’ Starkey hasn’t been on the programme or anywhere else much since. [Editor’s note: He has been on TCW.]
Later on Friday evening I understood that for middle-aged white people like me, ‘boomers’, ‘gammons’, whatever you call us, our culture is now over and we are all the better for that. Clive Anderson’s BBC Radio 4 programme Loose Ends, once a mild chat show, featured a group called The Last Poets. Formed to commemorate the death of Malcolm X, their name is taken from a poem by South African revolutionary Keorapetse Kgositsile, who believed he was in the last era of poetry before guns would take over. ‘Just as relevant now as it was then,’ chirped Anderson. The group, Abiodun Oyowele, Umar Bin Hassan and Sulaiman El-Hadi, performed a slow rap called ‘Understand What Black Is’ with the clear message ‘Understand or else’.
On Saturday I awoke to an interview with Dr Bettina Love, ‘a professor of hip-hop’ from the University of Georgia. I had felt Starkey’s ‘shift of culture’ but it seemed there had been an overnight coup where useless old discourse had been replaced by the language of the street, the one which winds from Brixton to the US, embracing crack houses rather than middle-class aspiration.
For a few reactionary moments I felt uneasy, but quickly repressed those heretical feelings. Instead I listened eagerly to George the Poet, real name George Mpanga, a Ugandan from Neasden, asked by the BBC to ‘explore what rap can teach us about education’. He explained that during his politics A-Level he realised ‘you had to be really good at reading and that’s not fair’, so he decided on ‘trying to put current affairs into my own way of doing things’ by becoming a rapper. A wise choice: in 2018 he was elected to the National Council of Arts Council England.
Saturday ended with Simon Armitage, Britain’s Poet Laureate, making farting noises with a rapper called Testament, who was teaching him how to ‘beatbox’, a black art-form using the voice to imitate drums. Perhaps I was hearing The Last Poets; it certainly made a change from all that old white stuff we used to hear on Poetry Please presented by Roger McGough.
Over the weekend the new learning continued to be delineated by the BBC as Black Lives Matter demonstrators went into action, injuring ten policemen and putting one in hospital after her horse was hit by a barrage of bottles and stolen bikes. A boy in a red hoodie defaced both the Cenotaph and the statue of Churchill unimpeded by any police action. A white man was filmed being beaten to the ground, again with no concern from the bluebottles. Since the 1980s parts of the black community have been calling for an end to all policing of their community and now at last it seemed they’d achieved their rightful wish.
Rule 3: Better to take no action than be accused of the r-word.
Many demonstrators were fuelled by the belief that policing in the UK is exactly the same as in the US. ‘I’m so glad we can finally be open about the abuse and killing of black people which goes on every single day,’ said a 14-year-old black girl in the crowd.
Rule 4: What black believe must be true. There is no other possibility.
Protests about this incessant massacre led to demonstrations in many cities including Bristol where the statue of slaver, MP and philanthropist Edward Colston was toppled. The BBC refer to him only as a slaver, and on Twitter the event was joyfully compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Rule 5: There is no need for any accurate appraisal of history.
On Sunday evening the BBC gave us Profile when presenter Mark Coles usually interviews cabinet ministers and foreign leaders. This week he appraised ‘Killer Mike’ and played his song, Sanctified Sick.
As he rapped away, I could almost see his long flingers flicking and gold teeth flashing. I once thought I’d left all that behind in South London; how glad I am to find that is no longer possible. But perhaps the BBC didn’t check on Killer’s attitudes before they booked him; he rejected the violence of BLM demonstrators and wept. He is also a philanthropist so if he isn’t careful may find himself in serious trouble.
Monday began with BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. The Rev Professor David Wilkinson furthered Nurse Cooper’s observations by stating that more black infants die in NHS hospitals than white because of racism. He didn’t provide any evidence but, as we all know, statistics are very likely to be racist.
Rule 6: Black cannot be blamed for problems. White created them all.
At lunchtime on Monday Sarah Smith asked on BBC Radio 4’s World at One: ‘Why wasn’t the statue of Colston pulled down earlier?’ and stated that no one mourned its loss. What fool would dare to?
Later, on BBC Radio 4 Extra, by accident I had on, shamefully, a very old episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue broadcast from Liverpool, which was described as ‘an old sea port’. Hearing that sounded to my re-educated ears akin to an old racist joke; Liverpool like Bristol has an evil past which should no longer be ignored. It’s unlikely that it will ever be described in that innocent way again, if described at all.
There have been some surprising slip-ups: a feature on Woman’s Hour about fertility treatment neglected to say that it too is inherently racist. It must be, since everything else is. No doubt they will apologise.
Rule 7: There can be no nuance.
By Tuesday we had a minute’s silence in Parliament in honour of Minneapolis citizen George Floyd and Diane Abbott talking at length on the BBC at lunchtime about the lack of racism she has experienced, which is merely a disguise for underlying ‘micro-aggressions’.
The campaign to replace erroneous British thought is now well under way but another threat looms: handsome, successful Shaun Bailey, black but Conservative, as if that is really possible, and lacking consciousness of his own victimhood, is planning to stand as the next Mayor of London. He will need very careful watching.
This feature first appeared in the Salisbury Review.