“I’m not protecting him, I’m protecting our kids. I was protecting their future, because I know the judge would not have saw what happened before. I was protecting their future.”
These are not the words of Patrick Robinson, the black man who literally rescued a white racist from the hands of some young black guys by putting him over his shoulder and carrying him to the police zone. Robinson was not alone; there were a group of guys out there keeping tabs on the situation and some of them were in the sub-group that tried – and succeeded – in protecting this unnamed far-right protester. These words quoted above are from Jamaine Facey, who has nicely identified a very unpalatable truth: had that white man died, the fallout would have been unthinkable.
Right about the time the BBC has released ‘In Limbo’ – 86 minutes of the most harrowing and blood-boiling drama I’ve seen for a long, long time (and all the more for it being true), the quietly inhumane way in which those members of the Windrush generation were treated by the Government – added to the fact that having all but put its collective knee on the necks of these people throughout their ordeal, they continue to remain in that same position by denying these people their compensation – says everything about this so-called ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. We’re in 2020 and news articles about this injustice are still being published. For the Home Office, these black lives do not matter and I am saying quite categorically that Priti Patel is not going to do anything for the uneasy inter-ethnic-minority alliance between black people and southern Asians. I for one will never look at my British passport the same way as I have done since I first got one. I knew it was bad before; really bad. David Lammy’s speech was not easily forgotten. But to see this depiction of those events was something else and there are too many black people – West Indian people – who have managed to complacently displace themselves away from these shocking events because their lives just happen to work too well for them to take on board these sorts of issues.
In light of all this, Colin Kaepernick’s name has come back to the foreground as the NFL has had to undertake one of the most humiliating climbdowns I can ever recall witnessing in my lifetime. It has been very easy for people to stick pins into Nike for their support of disgraced coach Alberto Salazar’s ‘Oregon Project’. Without glossing the moral and ethical issues involved in cheating in professional sport, even as a serious sports fan I submit that the emphasis placed on banning cheats that we have here in the UK – in light of the issues raised within this post and many more besides – is a grotesque misplacement of energy and focus. That we invest time and money into publicising moral indignation about these sorts of ethical malpractice when people continue to suffer in the most atrocious ways remains an ongoing indictment of societal values and secular morality. However, that is not the worst of the problems. Elsewhere I have written about how Bradley Wiggins showed a real lack of grace in castigating Mark Cavendish for his support of David Millar after Millar had served his ban and returned to cycling. Wiggins’ legacy now looks a lot less shiny than it did (houses glass, anyone?!). But it really saddens me to say that the one person – of mixed race – who had my unmitigated respect but has now lost that respect forever is the retired athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill.
And now the rubber hits the road yet again, because somebody is going to misinterpret and misconstrue what follows. Some of those identifying either in whole or in part as black will see it as reprehensible that this black man is casting aspersions upon that mixed-race woman (the Americans might refer to her as ‘black-biracial’). Some liberal types identifying as white will also suddenly get their knickers in a twist, and in some cases they will bleat about patriarchy and misogyny. But when you do your ethics either from the point of view of white Anglo liberalism or black ‘ghetto mentality’ [I am using a deliberately and profoundly negative rubric to drive this point home, so please do not think I endorse this word on its own terms], you are unlikely to be able to think straight. Moving on…
The sheer speed at which Ennis-Hill insisted that Sheffield United terminate Evans’ contract when even then it was clear that there were so many questions about how his case was handled was unseemly in the extreme. Because she was who she was, she had the power and my word, did she use it. She was obviously convinced he was guilty of rape – and the fact that this has all been overturned and Evans has received a significant six-figure sum from his former defense team is all far too late for his career. If Ennis felt that she could not afford to say, ‘let’s make good and sure that he’s guilty before you kick him out the door forever’ and instead took the line that there was no smoke without fire when her legacy was NOTHING to do with one footballer – or any other footballer and their actions, that says more than has been publicly noted. So this time, a mixed-race woman hammered a white man in the gonads and no-one cares two hoots.
As such, Ennis-Hill will never have the moral authority of a Kaepernick and what that man lost by taking a stand against a ritual that had lost its meaning should be taken very seriously by those who want to ‘comfort’ BAME people as ‘allies’ – on this, more later.
It is not only the southern Asians of specifically Bengali heritage who have reason to be upset at the unconscionable unwillingness of British society in the twenty-first century to take apart Winston Churchill’s legacy. Descendants of Welsh miners have many reasons to look askance at the rose-coloured view of Churchill the hero. But an Al-Jazeera ‘Listening Post’ screened in June 2020 featured a quite remarkable journalistic analysis of the failings of British journalism to actually understand and articulate the reasons why these anti-statue protests are taking place – and not for the first time, either! For once, some American journalists diagnosed British failings with surgical precision – with a particularly galling clip of the BBC’s Emily Maitlis demonstrating for all the world to see the blindness, myopia and – yes, I will go there – remarkable stupidity that seems to have characterised Middle England’s response to so many issues for so long that the fact that it has taken a video documenting George Floyd’s slow-burn murder for people to wake up and smell the Colombian FairTrade seems to have obscured the fact that the very existence of this video is a spectacular ethical failure in and of itself.
Which is why I refused to watch it. I am already experiencing secondary trauma, and this has not been helped by the recent murder of Raychard Brooks. I swear, if anyone is injudicious enough to suggest that he brought his death upon himself by stealing a Taser and making a run for it, our relationship can end right now. I am not joking. Do you think any black man has ANY reason to believe that if he just ‘comes quietly’ he will be treated fairly by a militarised police force whose ‘shoot on sight’ policy has been protected by the US judiciary for years?! I know New York better than I know Birmingham and Sheffield and I know how to behave in certain neighbourhoods. And I know that when you’re in certain places you have to watch out for the Amy Coopers and the Lisa Alexanders of this world – they WILL call the police, who will come! Whereas before when black parents admonished their children to not wear their hair in ‘ghetto’ styles in the hope that this would protect them and this was rightly dismissed as assimilationist hogwash, these days one cannot not (deliberate double negative) try to present oneself in non-threatening ways so as to improve one’s chances of not being seen as a ‘threat’ – definitely here in the UK, but even more so in the US. ‘Responsibility’ is not a truism, nor is it a joke.
The responsibility of the Government to the former Grenfell residents – and the (estimated) 56,000 people who live in dwelling places that are similarly vulnerable to that same sort of fire catastrophe (but with less firemen to deal with it than there were in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsa) remains unmet. These lives – not only black – also do not matter.
I’m not at all sure how I feel about the fact that the word ‘ally’ is being co-opted in the way that it is. It is true that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about the importance of allies but at this moment in history, I feel that this word makes more sense in the LGBTQ+ context than in any BAME context. What about people who self-identify as both BAME and LGBTQ+? Do they need two sets of allies to help them fight their battles?! There is no good way to explain what an ally is in this context without raising the spectre of paternalism once again. However unwittingly. So before folks rush to be identified as BAME allies, how about simply committing 100% instead to anti-racism in all of its forms and to being the best listener and most empathically reflexive (yes, I don’t mean ‘reflective’) person that one can be?
That question can be asked by anyone of any ethnicity/ies.
And as I think about the ways in which my professional music and academic career has been hindered by white fragility and politics of identity, I am sympathetic to the black people who have dumbed down to get paid – but at the same time, I cannot ever be that kind of Uncle Tom. [Oh, by the way: most black people seem to use the expression but never read the original. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s original intention has all but been lost to revisionist history, which is unfortunate. However, although her intentions have been unjustifably misrepresented by people of all ethnicities, I still reject the character she wrote. But that is a matter for another time…]