JOHN HUMPHRYS insists Britons are NOT all guilty of racism
End this race to blame us all: JOHN HUMPHRYS insists Britons are NOT all guilty of racism… and warns of a nation more dangerously divided than ever
When the BBC asked me back in the mid-Seventies to leave the United States and open a television news bureau in South Africa, I knew exactly what I would not do.
I would not become one of those ghastly privileged whites who expressed their disgust for apartheid but enjoyed its benefits. I would not, for a start, have black servants.
My resolve lasted roughly 24 hours. On my first day there, I set about cutting the overgrown grass in front of my house. Within 30 seconds I was surrounded by half a dozen young black men. ‘Let me do that, boss,’ they were shouting over the noise of the mower. ‘You shouldn’t be doing that!’ And of course they were right. I shouldn’t.
They needed the money. That was the last time I tried to cut my own grass. And then there was Caroline. She’d been working for my old friend John Simpson, who asked me to take her in when he returned to London.
I could have preserved my self-conferred status as a good liberal who was damned if he’d exploit a poor black women. But then Caroline would have had to leave Johannesburg for her so-called ‘homeland’ where she had no home and no job.
Protesters throw statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally, in memory of George Floyd who was killed on May 25
So I gave her a job. That’s how apartheid worked. And I had become a part of it. I also lived for long periods in Rhodesia. It was the height of the war for independence from the white regime led by Ian Smith.
Robert Mugabe and his fighters won. He had promised black people democracy and dignity in the new Zimbabwe. What he gave them was a hell on earth. He had his opponents murdered by the thousand and vast numbers died from starvation in what had once been the bread basket of southern Africa.
Mugabe lived like an emperor. That was 40 years ago. The people are suffering still. So, two different kinds of racism. In South Africa the white Afrikaans leaders believed blacks were an inferior race. They had God’s word for it. Or so the former prime minister P.W. Botha told me.
In Zimbabwe, once white rule had been overthrown, it was tribal racism. One has been defeated. The other survives.
It’s been hard to avoid thinking about those two former British colonies since the hideous killing in the United States of George Floyd, a black man choked to death by a white police officer.
In the 20 turbulent days since it happened, we have been told repeatedly that we privileged whites must admit to our own racism. We are historically complicit in the great crime of colonialism and we are to blame for the troubled lives of so many black people today.
But are we? I’ve no doubt that what follows will be challenged by many black readers. Humphrys is a privileged white man so he would deny racism, wouldn’t he?
A demonstrator throws a bottle during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, with scenes of violence now marring the proceedings as tensions build
Fair enough — except that I haven’t always been privileged. My education ended at 15 and I know what it’s like to be poor. And, anyway, I can’t help being white any more than someone else can help being black. It does not automatically confer guilt.
And, though it seems almost trivial in the wider context, I have always been uncomfortable at the blacking-up of white actors or comedians for comic effect. So I rather approve of the cultural revolution that’s finally reading the last rites.
As for banning Gone With The Wind, the black maid happy to be a slave was always a grotesque mockery of reality. But to return to the big picture. Mr Floyd was murdered by a thug masquerading as an officer of the law. It has happened often before in America. Far too often.
The peculiarly barbaric nature of this killing and the fact that it was filmed by a bystander for all to see is what brought it to the attention of the world. The symbolism could hardly have been more powerful: a white man kneeling on the neck of a black man, ignoring his victim’s ever more desperate gasps of ‘I can’t breathe’.
Hardly surprising that the organisation Black Lives Matter should have seized on it, nor that ‘I can’t breathe’ should have become a rallying cry at protests across the country. Nor, perhaps, that they should link it with the horror of slavery.
Unsurprising, too, that they say the murder represents a tipping point. That everything must now change. And that it is white people who bear the responsibility for bringing about those changes. That certainly seems to be the view of the BBC.
A Police officer receives medical attention after Police clashed with demonstrators in Whitehall during the Black Lives Matter protest in London
Some of my old friends and colleagues who still work there tell me they are puzzled and a little worried that the BBC seems to have accepted the white guilt verdict. This is not the usual gripe about BBC News occasionally failing in its duty to be impartial.
Those charges have been made ever since I can remember — and my memory goes back a very long way. Sometimes they are justified, often they are not. This is more serious. It’s about the BBC as a corporate body assuming that it is the conscience of the nation.
One startling illustration came from Radio Four’s Pick Of The Week. Its top item on Sunday was the murder. Fair enough. But it wasn’t a graphic account of demonstrations or a moving interview with a relative of Mr Floyd.
No It was a monologue from the Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo telling her audience why she had not been presenting as scheduled the day before.
Here’s a flavour: ‘My mental health was in a really bad way. I didn’t have the mental strength to face you yesterday.’ Then there was total silence for several seconds. Ms Amfo was overcome and weeping.
She eventually recovered and told us the cause of her mental health problem had been ‘the news of another brutalised black body’. And then she added: ‘. . .We know how the world enjoys blackness . . . we know they want our culture but they don’t want us. You want my talent but you don’t want me.’
This is not a criticism of Ms Amfo breaking down live on air. It is, though, a criticism of the BBC for repeating it. Put aside the absurdity of a successful radio presenter complaining that she is not ‘wanted’; by choosing to repeat it, the BBC is endorsing her sentiments. Is that its job? It was the same with one of Radio Four’s most successful comedy programmes, the News Quiz.
This time, it was the turn of the black stand-up comedian Sophie Duker. The point of the show is the (often hilarious) ad-libbing by the panellists. But Ms Duker had prepared an announcement.
First she dismissed the Tory MP Desmond Swayne as a ‘despicable human being’ for comments he’d made about rioters and looters and then she said: ‘If arsonists and looters have it coming (to them) then so do the Royal Family, the British Museum and the council that opted for cheaper and more flammable cladding.
They had better watch their backs. ‘From Windrush to Grenfell . . . Stephen Lawrence to Sarah Reed… our nation has blood on its hands. These protests are about Diane Abbott and Meghan Markle… about you and me and those who clean your streets and save your lives.’
A protester was seen attempting to burn a flag at the cenotaph in Whitehall, London
When she finished, the rest of the team applauded. And Angela Barnes, who was presenting the show, announced: ‘If 500 people were in this studio they should feel uncomfortable and awkward… we bloody well should.’ This show was pre-recorded and broadcast twice.
The BBC believes there is racism in this country and its director of news has said so. She’s right. Of course there is. I doubt there is a multicultural country on earth where it does not exist in one form or another — and probably never has been.
But that’s not the point. The point is whether all of us are ‘guilty’. All of us whites, that is. By nailing its colours so firmly to the Black Lives Matter mast, the BBC has made clear where it stands. This is troubling.
The BBC is our national broadcaster. It is our voice. But if it is not seen to give a platform to those who hold different views, we enter dangerous territory. By unquestioningly accepting the claim of BLM that we are all racists whether we realise it or not, it has effectively become a campaigning organisation.
In doing so it risks creating the very thing it stands against — a more polarised society. The BBC has an obligation to bring people closer together. This new accusatory tone — an undiscriminating roll call of white sins across all its channels — can only lead to division.
How long before there are marches behind banners declaring ‘White Lives Matter’? Note that the odious Tommy Robinson and his followers are making an unwelcome reappearance.
Many white people will have listened to those two black women I’ve just quoted, and will say: ‘I do not want the BBC to apologise on my behalf. I abhor racism. I have always treated black people in the same way I treat white people. I am not to blame for slavery or Grenfell Tower or those disgraceful police officers who abuse their power to single out young black men for harassment or worse. I believe what happened to the Windrush immigrants was disgraceful. I am a decent person who happens to be white.’
Yet many black people believe passionately they are the victims of white privilege. It’s true that ships no longer sail from Bristol to transport black slaves kidnapped in West Africa.
There are no slaves picking cotton to help build the massive wealth of a British Empire that ground other non-whites under its heel. But, they will say, white subjugation of blacks still exists. White colonialism has simply taken a new form. Its black victims are to be found at Grenfell, in police custody and in the mortuaries of Britain’s Covid hospitals.
Britain remains a racist country and there is only one remedy: whites must admit guilt, offer apology and make amends. It is a compelling and emotionally powerful argument.
But so is the case that Britain has made huge progress in countering discrimination. When I was a child, landlords could and did put signs in their windows saying ‘No blacks or Irish’.
A parliamentary candidate really was elected in Birmingham in 1964 with the slogan: ‘If you want a n***** for a neighbour, vote Labour.’ Illegal and unthinkable today. Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood never did flow. Instead, we are increasingly blind to the colour of a person’s skin. Indeed, in more enlightened institutions (yes, including the BBC) you hear young white men complaining that they’d have a better chance of promotion if they were black.
The masses turned out in Oxford to demand the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue
The problems are not about race: they are fundamentally social and economic. They are better seen in terms of social class and economic inequality. And best tackled in those terms too. The demand that the admission of white guilt must be the way forward is profoundly mistaken. Whites have no more nor less reason to feel guilty than anyone else.
Even the charge of colonial guilt is hopelessly one-sided. Yes, many atrocities were committed by whites in the name of the British Empire. But did they bequeath no benefits to the world, including to black people? The legacy of decent education, fair laws and an incorruptible civil service system remains in many black countries — though, tragically, not enough.
Are we really to blame for the horror of modern Zimbabwe or the breath-taking corruption of Nigeria or the desperate state of the South African economy or the legacy of empire, and to absolve blacks themselves from any responsibility?
It is the poor blacks in every case who suffer the most. And should our most urgent response to it all really be to tear down Cecil Rhodes’s statue in Oxford?
I cannot get too excited about a few thousand young people staging protests — nor about a few statues. But let’s crack down on those who incite violence, and let’s put the statues in museums rather than dump them in the harbour.
And if we want to judge whether every white is guilty of racism, let’s look at our children and grandchildren rather than listen to the Twitter mob or a sobbing radio presenter.
My own experience is that when children choose their friends, the colour of their skin is irrelevant. Surely we must look to the future rather than the past.
Source: Read Full Article