Identity politics is the last thing we need

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Mark Lehain
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There is unquestionably genuine frustration and grievance among Britain’s black and ethnic minority communities – from Windrush to concerns over stop and search to inequalities in education and health outcomes. It is right that these concerns are recognised and addressed. 

It is sad therefore that the legitimate concerns of Black Lives Matter have become a bandwagon influenced by a mass mob mentality imported from the US to a vastly different situation here in the UK. The movement has been hijacked by extreme left-wing activists who are callously exploiting grievances to promote their own agenda by exaggerating and warping reality.

Britain is clearly not a society bursting at the seams with racial prejudice, hellbent on preventing ethnic minorities from doing well. We do not believe that and according to research conducted just last month by Ipsos Mori, neither in fact do the overwhelming majority of British people.

Whilst it goes without saying that no society on earth is entirely free of such prejudice, this race-obsessed narrative peddled by the identitarian left is so utterly divorced from reality that their absurd claims must be tackled head-on. Just last year findings were published in the Frontiers in Sociology journal which found that Britain was one of the least racist countries on the continent and revealed that 85% of Brits would have no objection to having migrants as neighbours whilst 90% would have no objection to neighbours of a different race.

Whilst there are legitimate concerns about patterns in other countries, we should be similarly alarmed by the politicisation of statistics taken out of context, particularly on a matter as important as this. There is no question that black people are disproportionately apprehended by the police. However as this excellent analysis by the BBC shows, the stats do not show a clear pattern – look at them one way and black people are more than twice as likely to die in police custody. Look at the same figures another way – the proportion of people who end up dying in police custody – and the stats reveal that 8% were black whilst 85% were white.

A large part of the problem here is that if you convince yourself that you are a victim – that no matter your efforts, system and state are against you – it becomes increasingly difficult to look at the world through the lens of objective reality. Make no mistake, by insisting on looking at any and every social phenomenon through the prism of race, the purveyors of identity politics are trying to sow division. This will lead to the inevitable conflict, tension and distrust that is the ugly hallmark of the “us” and “them” mentality.  

Let us not forget that the UK is home to one of the most successful multicultural societies on earth, near colour-blind especially in comparison to its neighbours in Europe – a fact that should be trumpeted by our politicians and business leaders as a source of pride but who too often come across as rather awkward and a little supine in making this point. That’s not to say there isn’t more work to do, there always is, but let us also recognise how far we’ve come.

An identitarian view of the world is exactly the kind of narrative that is most harmful to the advancement and inclusion of the very groups whose grievances the left purport to champion. Furthermore, by assuming that black people, or Asians or indeed any other group of people distinguished by skin colour think and behave as a homogeneous bloc is not only in and of itself racist, it is incredibly patronising and condescending – this simply works to reduce the assumption that individuals are capable of independent thought to the notion that views are determined by physical characteristics – you are black and I am white therefore you surely must perceive things differently to me.

Racism is about discriminating against people based on their skin colour. When Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is sung at Twickenham, there is not an ounce of racist intent but is simply part of a rich sporting heritage and is in fact a celebration of Britain’s fantastic diversity and inclusive culture.

To those on the identitarian side of the debate who will no doubt sigh at another “white person” proffering their view on racial equality in the UK I say this – just as we agree that a person should not be judged by the colour of their skin but the content of their character, no position, no point of view should ever be judged by the ethnicity of its author but by the merits of their argument alone.

By framing British society as one of black lives and white privilege, skin colour is being used to first define us and then segregate us. The sorts of things that really exert a pernicious effect on doing well in modern Britain, class and educational disparities for example, are being side-lined at a time when they should be taking centre stage. It is vital that in a debate on race, common sense and facts lead the way – if they do not, it will be steered by those motivated not by a sincere desire to understand and ameliorate disparity but by those seeking to weaponise race in order to engage in that most disturbing of political point-scoring. 

Mark Lehain


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