‘The vast majority in this country are not racist’
Julia Hartley-Brewer talks to Brendan O’Neill about the explosion of woke idiocy.
For the past few months, Black Lives Matter has taken over the world, even pushing aside the Covid-19 pandemic. Protests against police brutality have mutated into what feels like a full-blown cultural revolution. Julia Hartley-Brewer, host of talkRADIO’s breakfast show, joined spiked’s editor for the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show to discuss this explosion of woke fervour. What follows is an edited extract. Listen to the full conversation here.
Brendan O’Neill: I want to ask you about one of the clearest manifestations of the woke agenda that we have seen over the past few weeks. Following the killing of George Floyd, there were huge protests. Most of those were understandable – many people were incredibly angry about the horrific killing. But that seems to have given way very quickly to a form of mass psychosis, where we have people tearing down or vandalising public monuments. There seems to be an effort to edit the public square, to make it more agreeable to woke protesters and politically correct people. I just wonder what you think of what is almost a war on history – the attempt to redecorate public space?
Julia Hartley-Brewer: It is a level of hysteria. It is the idea that you can wipe away our history. First of all, you start from the argument that because of a horrible, brutal killing by a police officer in another country thousands of miles away, we must erase all of our culture. That is a big jump. Of course, there is police brutality in our country, and of course there has been systemic racism in the police in the past. But we should not pretend that it has not massively changed, and that the problem we have here in the UK is anything other than tiny compared to the issues in America.
The idea we must rewrite our history, question every aspect of our past and the morality of all white people, is idiocy. It does not make any sense. God knows what they are teaching in universities these days if genuinely intelligent people think we should be totally ashamed of our British history and culture, because of something that has happened recently in another country. Yes, we have a national history that was almost entirely white until the 1950s. We were an empire. But the same was true for virtually every other country. Until only a couple of hundred years ago, slaves were considered the spoils of war. That was the norm. If we are going to get rid of British culture and ransack our past, it is hard to see how we should not do the same to other countries. If we do that, there is not going to be much left of Russia, Italy, or pretty much any country in the world.
And you know why we all have difficult pasts? Because the past was not a very nice place. The difference between the past and today is that the world today is a better place. Women do have equal rights. Gay people have equal rights. Trans people have equal rights. Black and white are equal before the law. Sure – not always in every scenario. We have still got work to do in all of those areas. But the world has never been a better place than it is today. And it is going to be even better tomorrow. The whole raft of human history over the last few hundred years has been things getting better.
I just find it quite bizarre that people do not understand that the reason we are where we are now – where people can protest, we can have prominent people in the highest government offices who are from ethnic minorities – is because of our past. We are the sum of every good thing and every bad thing we have ever done. We are human beings, and we have learned from everything. People who want to pretend the past did not happen or to rewrite it – to whitewash it – are failing to learn from the past and failing to give the past credit for teaching us the lessons that got us here today. That is a really big mistake. The idea that taking down a statue of someone who did something bad in the past changes anything now, or will make a single black or Asian kid’s life better today, is frankly insulting.
O’Neill: It is indicative of a very negative, fatalistic outlook among some of those people who call themselves progressive. Instead of doing what people in history did, which was to think about how to improve the future or to change the world, they obsess over the past. One of the things I wanted to ask you about was the historic fatalism that seems to infect lots of these groups and a lot of this outlook. Black people are seen as still feeling the wounds of history, which strikes me as a deeply patronising view of black people, who I think have equal agency to everyone else and can decide for themselves how they feel about the world and about history. And white people are depicted as the beneficiaries of slavery and colonialism, and as complicit in racism. One of the most disturbing things I have seen is white people on their knees, begging for forgiveness. It has almost become the fashion to flagellate yourself for the crimes of history. What do you make of this bizarre spectacle?
Hartley-Brewer: It is like watching a cult. Why do they not just whip themselves in public and have done with it? They have this idea that punishment for the sins of the father and the mother should be constantly visited upon the children. You and I are no more beneficiaries of the privilege of white slave-owners than anyone else. I am pretty darn sure that my family, given their background and their working-class heritage, did not benefit from slavery. Indeed, probably 99.9 per cent of the population of this country did not benefit.
It is different in the UK to America – the black population in America largely arrived on slave ships. It was one of the greatest crimes ever done by humanity. But the idea that the people living right now in America and Britain are eternal victims, and that anyone who is white is the eternal oppressor, basically means that we have no responsibility for any of our actions. If we cannot be responsible for anything good from the past, then we surely cannot be responsible for anything bad from the past?
I am under no illusion that some people will reject CVs or housing applications with foreign-sounding names on them. Of course there are people like that. But we know the vast majority of people in this country are not racist. Attitudinal surveys over the last few decades have shown a massive change. Questions like whether you would be happy for black people to move in next door, or for a black person to marry your daughter – these are very good indicators of whether people are racist. And the answers to these questions have shown such a marked change in recent years. You cannot deny that this is a better, kinder and more tolerant country than in previous years. The idea that we should now be telling everybody who is black that they are a victim, and telling everyone who is white that they are an oppressor, rips off all of the good work that has been done in previous decades to strip away racism and the obsession with colour. I was raised to be colourblind. In my life and personal relations, colour has not been significant. Now people are trying to make it more significant. That is a reversal of the ideas of Martin Luther King.
O’Neill: It is now racist to say that you are colourblind. In fact, there are some campuses in America where it is now considered a racial microaggression, because apparently you are denying someone’s life experiences. But of course, for decades, the progressive idea was a refusal to judge people by the colour of their skin and a preference to judge them by their character and by what they believed.
The thing this brings to my mind is the question of whether groups like Black Lives Matter can legitimately be referred to as anti-racist. I always understood anti-racist movements to be about bringing society to a situation where race was not a factor – a place where it did not impact on what kind of job you were able to get, and did not lead to any form of discrimination, insult or abuse. Now, we have these new movements that are constantly cajoling people to think racially, to think of themselves as nothing more than their skin colour. It is almost as if the trap of racial thinking has been rehabilitated in pseudo-progressive language. And I think that is quite dangerous, especially for younger people, who will now have a very different view of what British society is like for them.
Hartley-Brewer: Indeed. And it is doing the work of the racists for them. This idea that the races should not mix, that this is a white country – this is exactly the message that is coming from the social-justice warriors in America on their campuses. And we are seeing it a lot in the universities in the UK as well. There is this idea that you should have black-only spaces. I absolutely understand things like minority police organisations when you only have a few police officers who are from ethnic-minority backgrounds. When I was in the House of Commons as a political journalist we started up a women’s lobby group because there were so few of us. But there comes a point where that is no longer necessary.
There is a sense in which people are being othered. They are being seen and judged purely on the basis of things they have no control over. It is assumed that people can only think or behave a certain way because of the pigmentation of their skin, their gender or their sexuality. But this time, instead of it being skinheads and other bigots making these arguments, it is supposedly highly educated people. We have got lecturers from Oxford and Cambridge making these arguments. I cannot be the only person in this country who is despairing at this stuff. It is almost like dealing with small children – you can keep explaining it, but they are just going to put their fingers in their ears and say no.
There are only two explanations. They either are just too stupid to realise what they are doing, or it is deliberate. It occurs to me that, actually, if you are a social-justice warrior, you do not want there to be racial harmony. You do not want there to be harmony between the sexes. You want to tell black people they are victims, you want to tell white people they are horrible abusers, you want to tell men they are rapists and women they are going to be sexually assaulted at any moment. And if they do not have that dichotomy of victim and perpetrator, they have got nothing left. It is almost like they are trying to create a race war, create a sex war, create a gender war, just so they have got the excuse to grab their trusty swords and shields.
Julia Hartley-Brewer was talking to Brendan O’Neill in the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. Listen to the full conversation here:
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