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Get a grip, Nihal

Working with too many white people harms your mental health? What woke rubbish.

Alka Sehgal Cuthbert

Topics Culture Identity Politics UK

Nihal Arthanayake, a BBC Radio 5 Live presenter, has claimed that his overwhelmingly ‘white’ working environment is damaging his mental health.

Speaking this week at the Journalism Diversity Fund (JDF) conference at BBC Media City in Salford, Arthanayake said: ‘It’s really affecting me that I walk in and all I see is white people… The hardest thing is to walk into a room, look around and nobody looks like you.’

What an embarrassing speech. Not just for Arthanayake, but for me, too – as a fellow brown-skinned member of an ethnic minority. I am embarrassed by the way in which he has weaponised his ethnicity to imply the existence of racism in the BBC. And I am embarrassed by his posing as a victim when, clearly, in terms of social status and employment, he is anything but. This man works for the BBC of all places. He has a high-status job and has just been given a platform at a national journalism conference. He’s exceptionally privileged. And yet he’s acting like he’s a put-upon teenage outsider.

Sadly, his speech has the unmistakable whiff of the kind of critical race theory-lite thinking that predominates in Britain’s institutions today, the BBC included. It’s a mode of thinking that insists that racism is institutional and everywhere, that whiteness is a mark of privilege, and that having brown skin automatically makes you a victim.

This ideology often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who choose to see themselves as helpless victims, menaced by white oppressors, often begin to feel like helpless victims, menaced by the mere presence of white people. And so you end up with a situation in which a BBC presenter can claim to be ‘distressed’, merely because he sees ‘too many’ white faces at work.

Arthanayake also made some completely unsubstantiated claims – saying, for instance, that he ‘thinks’ there is not a single Muslim working at a senior editorial level at the BBC. Whether or not this is true is unclear. He certainly provided no evidence. More to the point, he seems to think all racial disparities must be down to racism. This is demonstrably false. But why let reality get in the way of expressing a race-based grievance?

Arthanayake’s speech was bad enough. But worse still has been the response from the BBC. It could have responded swiftly and robustly to these claims. Instead, it seems willing to indulge them. Cheryl Varley, a producer at Radio 5 Live, told the ethnic-minority attendees at the conference that ‘the BBC needs you more than you need them, because if we do not represent our audience the future for the BBC is grim’.

The future of the BBC could indeed be grim. But not because it is insufficiently woke. If the BBC truly wants to reflect the nation, its people and its values, it should drop this divisive identity politics and tell poor old Nihal to get a grip.

Alka Sehgal Cuthbert is director of campaign group Don’t Divide Us.

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Topics Culture Identity Politics UK

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