In the wake of the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, the right has become increasingly desperate in its search to find ways to resist calls for equality and social justice and, moreover, deny the existence of structural and institutional forms of oppression. These vary from smear tactics, like claiming BLM is dominated variously by “Marxists”, “communists” or “well-meaning white liberals” to deploying Black or Brown Tories to deny that they’ve faced racism. Alternatively, they will use their social class to diminish the lived experiences of those of us who have had to endure racism in our lives. Sometimes, this involves the claim that “there has always been slavery throughout history” and although this is true, the very nature of chattel slavery was distinct from other forms of slavery, which occurred for financial gain, rather than as part of the spoils of war. Western capitalist economies, like the United States, Britain and France, were founded on chattel slavery. This is the reality.
Black and brown collaboration with racists and colonisers
Slavers and colonisers have always made use of collaborators. For example, in British-ruled India, the colonisers could not have dominated the subcontinent without the help of willing collaborators. Many Indian princelings willingly offered their services to the colonisers. In colonial Algeria, Frantz Fanon, identified the Arab collaborators with the colonial rulers as the bourgeoisie, but also observed the psychological effect on the colonized people. In the United States, the right kind of black person, was used to keep black people in their lowly place in the social hierarchy. Racist US President, Woodrow Wilson, used Booker T Washington explicitly for this purpose. For his collaboration with Wilson, the nascent NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) called him “The Great Accommodator”. More recently, a Black man called H K Edgerton, collaborated with the neoconfederate movement in the United States. The neoconfederate movement is an irredentist movement that seeks to re-establish the Confederacy, while eliding the cruelty of chattel slavery and the Jim Crow laws, which emerged from the Black Codes following Reconstruction. Indeed, Jim Crow laws even existed in many Northern states that are usually seen as “liberal” by Southern conservatives.
The Civil Rights movement
In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement was seen as a threat to white hegemony in the United States. Informed by Galton’s pseudo-science and buoyed by the recent Red Scare, white supremacists sought to discredit the movement by claiming that “Communists” or “Jews” were directing Black people to rise up and resist Jim Crow. This notion is predicated on the belief that people of African origin lacked the intellectual abilities for self-organization and needed the guiding hand of paternalistic Others. Indeed, this discourse often strayed into outright antisemitism.
Currently, we are witnessing something similar with BLM: that they’re “Marxists” or led by them or, alternatively, they’re being guided by “white liberals who hate their own race (sic)”. Some of the words may have changed but the sentiment behind them hasn’t. BLM is also seen by white supremacists as a threat to “Western civilization”, whatever that means.
In response to the demands from BLM and others, the Tory government and its outriders have deployed a number of collaborators, all of them Black or Brown, to try to deny the existence of institutional and structural racism. First, the government announced the creation of a racial equality commission, to which they appointed Munira Mirza as chair. Mirza, a member of the LM Network, has gone on record to deny the existence of systemic racism.
The government then deployed Kemi Badenoch, who admitted to hacking into Harriet Harman’s website, to deny the existence of structural racism, but particularly to attack Critical Race Theory, which, like Women’s Studies, seeks to critique the structures of power that oppress minorities and women. Badenoch’s unspoken discourse and that of her colleagues is “Question nothing. Know your place”. Fraser Nelson of The Spectator interviewed Badenoch, who claimed:
A Tory equalities agenda, she says, should be based on Martin Luther King’s ‘dream’ — that people should be judged ‘on the content of their character’ and not the colour of their skin. ‘Now, it’s all about the colour of your skin. That cannot be,’ she says emphatically. ‘You can’t pick and choose the rules depending on the colour of someone’s skin. That is what the racists do.’
White supremacists and their helpers, like Badenoch, will often try to hide behind the words of Dr Martin Luther King and repurpose them to suit their objectives. Yet, when King was alive, he was labelled as a “communist” and much else besides by angry whites and Black collaborators. Do these people know that? I don’t think they do. The use of Dr King’s words to justify a deeply flawed “equalities” agenda is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty and doesn’t bear scrutiny.
Today, I found this tweet from Katharine Burbalsingh, who has been collaborating with the Tories for more than a decade.
Burbalsingh, who writes for the Daily Telegraph and Spiked Online, has offered her services to white supremacists in government and the media. Here, she not only claims that anti-racists are “the real racists”, she also quote tweets the far-right Turning Point UK site. Now, Turning Point can claim that they aren’t racist, because they count a few Black faces among their number, but such claims are empty when the group is viewed against the backdrop of its links to far-right groups in the United States. The group is also supported by hardline far-right Tories like Jacob Rees Mogg and Priti Patel, who have both used the phrase “Cultural Marxism”, which is both an antisemitic trope and a conspiracy theory. I reported on this in 2012.
Burbalsingh wilfully ignores collaborationists because it doesn’t suit her or her masters’ version of history, which posits that the British Empire was a “civilizing” institution, when in fact, it was barbaric and committed numerous atrocities across the globe, all of which were intellectually supported by a racial hierarchical framework that was justified by the social Darwinism of Francis Galton.
In response to the demands for equality, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson demanded that there should be a “narrative of success” to nullify concerns about structural racism. Hence, the reason why figures like Badenoch, Burbalsingh and Calvin Robinson have been deployed to make, what is in effect, a weak counter-argument. In the case of Robinson, who writes for Spiked Online and who has stood as a Conservative local council candidate, he’s teamed up with self-styled “fierce liberal” Laurence Fox, in fairly pathetic attempt to elide and diminish the lived experience of Black and Brown people by denying the continued existence of racism and calls for Britain to come to terms with its imperial past, which it continues to mythologize.
There is no evidence to support Robinson’s claim that “Britain is the most tolerant, least racist nation on earth. Anyone can live a fruitful life here and achieve success”. If we look at his first sentence, the paper for which he’s writing has a long history of attacks on people of colour and immigrants. The second sentence is an unsupported claim and a handful of “success stories” won’t change that (qv. The American Dream). There are newly-arrived immigrants and refugees who have been forced into squalid conditions in former army barracks and so-called “hotels”, and if any of them are lucky enough to gain permanent residence or even citizenship, they will find it difficult. Moreover, the conditions for people of colour and newly-arrived immigrants have become increasingly difficult since Brexit, which has further widened the space for the expression of far-right discourses on identity, nationality and immigration that were opened up by Tony Blair during the 2005 general election. Robinson, who supported Brexit, ignores this.
Robinson also accuses Black and Brown people (and the vaguely-defined “Left”), who don’t support his contentions of “division and hatred”, while ignoring the divisiveness and hatred of the likes of Nigel Farage, Katie Hopkins, Tommy Robinson and a host of media commentators who are stuck in some colonial-nostalgic time loop. Robinson is clearly colour-blind when it comes to racism, which apparently, he’s never experienced, but then contradicted himself, but only to get in an attack on Prof. Kehinde Andrews on BBC1’s The Big Questions (14/02/2021). Thus, his words are at best, intellectually dishonest and smack of denial. At worst, they’re the words of the master expressed through the mouth of the slave.
Since the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol last year, there have been numerous outpourings of anger from white supremacists, who have claimed that their history is being “erased” or “cancelled”. Ironically, these are the very same people who have edited their own history, by removing the uncomfortable truths in order to present a flattering picture of a civilizing nation that spread goodness throughout the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Fanon, F. (2008). Black Skin, White Masks. London: Grove Press.
Fanon, F. (2007). The Wretched Of The Earth. Grove/Atlantic, Inc..