Henry Hopwood-Phillips peruses a provocative exegesis
Adrian Hart, That’s Racist! How the Regulation of Speech and Thought Divides Us All, Imprint Academic, 2014, pb, 136 pp, £9.95
Veteran anti-racist campaigner, teacher and film-maker Adrian Hart has watched as his cause, anti-racism, has been hijacked by successive governments in a manner that reminds this reader of James Delingpole’s Watermelons (2011) – where ‘green’ (environmental) problems were seized upon as excuses for (big-government) ‘red’ solutions.
The outline of his argument is that at the same time that society chose to purge itself of its racist edges (broadly coterminous with the emergence of the Macpherson Report, 1999), the UK government decided to use the report to justify an unparalleled increase in its own powers.
Hart notes that although we are drip-fed the failures of multicultural Britain by the media, Britain’s largest minority group is now the category formerly known as ‘mixed race’, showing that ethnic fusion is increasing, and perhaps more importantly, a rising proportion picking ‘English’ rather than the looser, baggier ‘British’ label on forms. Not only that, a Home Office Citizenship Survey of 2011 showed that whites were more likely to believe that racial prejudice had increased than the people who were supposedly experiencing it (by almost 25 per cent).
However this seemingly rosy picture did not suit the government narrative in 1999. Even though the Macpherson inquiry acknowledged that Doreen Lawrence said ‘I personally have never had any racism directed at me’, that a white witness noted that ‘the attack [on Stephen Lawrence] seemed motiveless and could have been levelled at me’, and that Detective Sergeant John Davidson believed ‘it was thugs attacking anyone, as they had done on previous occasions with other white lads’, the government decided to utilise public goodwill not only to implement much-needed institutional reform but to redefine racism according to what is going on in other peoples minds, a phenomenon Hart describes as the introduction of chaotic ‘third-party victimhood’.
This fantastically broad definition has enabled fantasy racism to displace the real thing. It is less worried about quashing real racism than enabling total control over ‘incorrect’ thought or behaviour. This tool is placed in the hands of the government by what seems to have been a legion of useful idiots. From Dr Oakley (a big player in the Macpherson Report) to Martin Jacques, who came curiously close to actual racism when he wrote in the Guardian in 2007 that racism is ‘constantly reproduced in each and every white citizen of [England]’.
The heroes of the book are usually immigrants resisting nonsense from above. Dr Tony Sewell insists that black underachievement comes far less from racist stereotypes and low expectations than from a cloying ‘victim morality’ generated by a PC culture that is eventually internalised. Arwa Mahdaawi notices the homogeneity (and racism?) of a ‘diversity’ that only recognises multiplicity in skin tones, not types of people, having gone on a civil service fast stream diversity internship programme, where:
“Despite the many shades of brown, I’m not sure we were a “diverse” bunch. We were uniformly articulate and educated. We hailed from the same five universities.”
Talking of education, the real teeth in the book are the parts where children are involved (Hart’s specialism as an ex-teacher). Lowlights include Essex council’s intimidation of a school suffering ‘too few’ racist incidents with a letter claiming ‘high levels of reported incidents are the result of good practice rather than the converse’ – a statement that comes dangerously close to suggesting that kids are naturally racist. The absurdity is stripped bare as Hart notes that:
“If [children] express an awareness of different skin colour, they are reflecting [racism]… if they do not remark on difference, they have been inculcated into a ‘colour blindness’ that is, itself, racist [because it suggests they have been subsumed into a white identity].”
This double bind shows how insincere the government is about tackling real racism. If this was not the case, the confrontation of these two ‘types’ of racism would have been resolved. The collision with no conclusion, however, allows for government control: it is the cage it can capture anybody in. And it is a power exercised even at the lowest levels of society.
Some of the book’s most disturbing passages recount how kids as young as three are being sent to the counselor or to the ‘pastoral team’. Here perhaps Hart could have highlighted how would-be racist epithets flying around the playground form evidence less of a core of race-hate, than the fact the terms have lost their sting and have in fact become lazy throwaway remarks, comments that thrive because they have been reduced to the stock repertoire.
Hart calls the cleavage between our non-racist society and a government that sees racism everywhere, the ‘reality-gap’. Citing Brian Barry, the left-wing philosopher, Hart reminds people that elites use divide and conquer techniques to keep the people subdued; that equality before the law has been inverted to mean all difference should be respected so that it can be used as a weapon; and to raise awareness of the rise of a dangerous therapeutic form of government that seeks to micromanage our emotions and thoughts, and, in the words of Kenan Malik ‘seal the people into ethnic boxes [so that government can] police the boundaries.’
And it is with people secure in their boxes that Hart discerns the end of a public sphere as a place where disagreements contend. Instead common sense is rejected in favour of an official arbitration that relies on procedures which would be comical if they were not so tragic. The overall tone of the book, however, isn’t tragic, quite the reverse. At the end the author announces:
“We have a choice. We can fear the nightmare vision of society in which racism lurks unwittingly just under the surface… OR we can embrace genuine diversity.”
HENRY HOPWOOD-PHILLIPS works in publishing