The subject of today’s column furnishes so many examples that I am spoilt for choice. I think I’ll start with Winston Churchill, because everyone has heard of him.
On Thursday, a conference was held on the “racial consequences” of Churchill. Its speakers condemned him. Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, said Churchill was the “perfect embodiment of white supremacy”. “The British Empire was far worse than the Nazis”, he added. No one defended Churchill. The conference was held at Churchill College, Cambridge, at that college’s instigation. The college was founded in 1964, with the great man’s blessing. It is also the home of the Churchill Archives, by far the most important collection of his papers.
Here is my second example. In 2019, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the charity which looks after charities, chose the experienced Karl Wilding, already on the staff, as its new chief executive. It was criticised for picking “another white man”. Once appointed, Mr Wilding announced his urgent priority to improve the NCVO’s Diversity and Inclusion. He and the board commissioned “independent consultants” to report on the situation. He also met “#CharitySoWhite”, a campaign group devoted to attacking white dominance of charities. It was a pre-requisite for the consultants that NCVO should admit to institutional racism, so the eventual report was a foregone conclusion.
In the course of its inquiries, the leading consultant claimed she had been shocked by a meeting with Mr Wilding. He was the oppressor, she judged, and had exhibited the sin of “white fragility”.
During Covid, Mr Wilding had scored an extraordinary hit for the charity sector – securing £750 million from the Government to save it from collapse. This did not save him. He recently left his post at the NCVO. A leak of the consultants’ report this week claimed there had been “bullying and harassment” on the basis of race. The new-ish chairman of the NCVO, Priya Singh, grovellingly acknowledged it was “a structurally racist organisation” (and equally dreadful about homophobia, transphobia etc).
Both these stories reveal organisations which are unfair and ungrateful to those who help them and indulgent to those who hate them. Churchill College could never have raised the money to exist at all without the respect in which the statesman himself was held. The NCVO would have precious few charities to oversee if Mr Wilding had not obtained that huge subvention from the Government.
The question, then, is, why did Churchill College and why did the NCVO (including poor Mr Wilding) and why do bodies such as the National Trust or Historic England or the British Museum give room to those who detest what these organisations do and try to oust the people who run them?
Simple fear is part of it. No one wants to be accused of racism, harassment and “microaggressions”. Most realise that, if they are, their colleagues will not dare defend them. It feels easier to give in – though it isn’t. But I think there must be another feeling in the minds of the institutions blowing with this gale. They half-believe that people like Pror Andrews and organisations such as #CharitySoWhite are right – a bit hot-headed, perhaps, but on the right track.
It is true, as a general proposition about human nature, that people who dominate tend to exploit the rest. Western nations have dominated most of the world for more than 200 years, so there is a history of (among many other, better things) exploitation. It should be told, and that tale will involve Churchill, if only because he was the last globally powerful Englishman. Any painful consequences of the past (along with many more beneficial ones such as the spread of Christianity, the rule of law and modern medicine) for minority-ethnic people alive today should not be hidden. Wrongs that persist must be righted.
But it is a mistake – indeed, for the institutions involved, a potentially fatal mistake – to accept all “anti-racists” at their own valuation. What is emerging as this attempted Cultural Revolution spools out is that Martin Luther King’s ideal that people be judged by “the content of their character” not by the colour of their skin has been rejected by organisations such as Black Lives Matter.
Instead, they have set up doctrines uncommonly like those of apartheid South Africa, except that the racial hierarchy is reversed. Whereas apartheid demeaned blacks people above all, woke “anti-racism” demeans white people. It does this explicitly. The very name #CharitySoWhite is a small example. (You can prove it by imagining how people would rightly abhor an organisation called #CharitySoBlack designed to stop black people running charities.) Whiteness is seen as badness: so it must be extirpated. This is a racist doctrine. It is pretty much as simple as that.
When our institutions accept such critiques, they are not only digging their own graves; they also ignorantly and patronisingly accepting the unwarranted claim that the authors of these critiques speak for most ethnic minority people.
Surely anyone who wants BAME people to prosper would favour greater opportunity. And surely opportunity is less likely to open up if they are taught (literally taught, as happens in some schools) that society is against them. Every time one of our institutions gives room to this performative wokery, it denies space to genuine opportunity for ethnic minorities.
There are millions of ethnic minority people in this country doing jobs well and, as a result, often getting better jobs. Some of them, funnily enough, are Conservative MPs, elected mostly by the votes of supposedly racist whites. Several have reached Cabinet level. One, Rishi Sunak, is even Chancellor of the Exchequer. There are no BAME politicians of comparable importance in the Labour Party.
A more junior minister, Kemi Badenoch, eloquently defends British culture against Critical Race Theory, speaking in a language – English – which is not her first. She is also active trying to overcome minorities’ suspicion of Covid vaccines. Like Priti Patel, she suffers a flood of social-media abuse as a result, some mentioning her other “race-traitor” sins, such as being married to a white man. Despite the BBC’s strengthened impartiality policy, Emily Maitlis approvingly retweets the editor whose reporter seemingly attacks Mrs Badenoch at every turn.
In BLM-style woke ideology, the rise of ethnic minorities is seen as a positively bad thing. The ineffable Professor Andrews puts it thus: “Do not be fooled: a cabinet packed with ministers with brown skin wearing Tory masks represents the opposite of racial progress.” He would seem to prefer an all-white Cabinet, then.
Within government today, discussion is inconclusive. There are strong voices, such as that of the No 10 Policy Unit head, Munira Mirza, which understand exactly how wokery can intimidate BAME people who not agree with its doctrines. Dr Tony Sewell’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, expected next month, is likely to show reasons other than ubiquitous racism for some disparities. Why, for example, are young black males and young white males, doing worse academically than all other ethnic groups? Might it have something to do with weak family structures?
Also within government and officialdom, however, are nervous voices daunted by the task of turning round the oil tanker of nonsense. They need urgently to understand that if they accept the essential woke premise that Britain is a racist state, they must accept the implied conclusion – that Britain must be destroyed.