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Black right-wing ‘spokespeople’ do not speak for me

Comedian and social commentator Ava Vidal reflects on the rise of new media Black British right-wingers downplaying racism to aid their own careers.

07 Oct 2020

Every Black person has been there at one time or another. Those tense discussions about race with white friends or colleagues when they bring out their trump card — “Well X says this isn’t offensive and he’s Black. And Y says they see nothing wrong with this and she’s Black. Or Morgan Freeman doesn’t think there’s a need for a Black History Month and he’s Black.” And then they sit back and smile, convinced they somehow won the argument. You can almost hear the voice in their head screaming “check” and any Black person with sense knows not to rise to it. Simply, quietly and calmly, you point out that “not all skin folk are kinfolk”, because one Black person doesn’t speak for us all. Checkmate motherfucker.

Some are even binfolk. As in, they need to get into the nearest one. I am not speaking about code-switchers or those who let the odd comment slide for the sake of an easier time at work, or to avoid an argument. You need to protect yourself to a certain extent. Black people have learned this though genetic memory, our elders and life experience. You can do a risk assessment of an unfamiliar area, read the facial expressions and hear the change of someone’s tone of voice very quickly. “How did you know it was racist?” we are often asked, like we haven’t been navigating racism all of our lives. 

As a journalist, comedian and social commentator for the past 10 years, I’m always asked to comment on racism, but there’s been a recent change in the landscape. Before, there was at least a concerted effort to promote a variety of Black voices in the British mainstream media. We’d have our Dear Uncle Trevor (Phillips) but we’d also hear from George the Poet. There would be people like Kwasi Kwarteng being challenged by grime artists such as Marci Phoenix. You’d hear from the likes of Shaun Bailey pontificating on the evils of grime music, but you’d also hear from Akala. We would be given the points of view from a range of Black people from Lorraine Pascale to Trisha Goddard. 

“They seem to have no appreciation for the sacrifices made by their elders that enable them to live life as freely as they do”

Nowadays, it seems that the Black people being favoured as “community spokespeople” by the mainstream media are the ones who are keen to downplay anti-Blackness, and minimise or deny the existence of racism altogether. Hardcore right-wing organisations such as Toby Young’s Free Speech Union and Turning Point UK have dedicated themselves to fighting “wokeness” by recruiting these people, just to place them front and centre and deflect accusations of racism. “Some of our best friends are Black.” Blah, blah, blah. We have seen the profiles of people such as Dominique Samuels, Esther Krakue, Calvin Robinson and Inaya Folarin Iman rise expeditiously.

The age of these people is also interesting to me. They all seem to be fairly young and lack life experience. There’s no appreciation for the sacrifices made by their elders that enable them to live life as freely as they do. They don’t seem to understand what life was like when Teddy Boys roamed the streets looking for Black people to violently attack. They have no grasp of how frustrating it was before legislation forced a tiny crack in a few doors open, to allow a few Black people to gain management positions. They don’t have to add on an extra hour to their journeys, to let policemen harass them using SUS laws. None of these things have gone away, they were improvements. Perhaps these new “community spokespeople” don’t appreciate just how serious things are getting or how vulnerable they’ll leave themselves if they are successful in dismantling years of work put in by those who came before them. 

What is motivating these people? Do they honestly believe that once racists have rolled back the rights of those who look like them, they will have done enough to be spared? “And then they came for me” obviously rings no bells for them. 

“Despite the cries of ‘debate me’, when you do attempt to do so, they’ll unleash their racist defenders against you”

I will quickly dispel the usual arguments employed by the Black right-wingers downplaying racism. “Black people are picking on me because I have a different opinion from them. We don’t all have to think the same. Black people are jealous of me because I refuse to play victim like most of them do. They hate me cause I won’t use my race as an excuse. If you’re willing to work hard, then you too can achieve what you want in this life.” They really don’t have much outside of that. 

Black people are more than familiar with the fact we don’t all think the same or are a monolith. We’ve all got blerds, blimbos and bougie family members. We have different styles of dressing and different tastes in music. We have different dietary needs and wants. But the one thing most of us tend to agree on, is that we should not suffer or be punished for the colour of our skin. That we deserve the same opportunities as everybody else on this planet and we certainly shouldn’t be killed for looking the way we do. There is a pathological interest in what Black people are doing due to the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, and our cultures are often repulsed and revered in equal measures by outsiders.

What I find particularly interesting, well not really if I am honest, is how these purveyors of “diversity of thought” amongst Black people always respond one way to you should you challenge them online. Despite the cries of “debate me”, when you do attempt to do so, they’ll unleash their racist defenders against you. They will insist that Black people are allowed to have different opinions to one another but will never accept the fact that many of us have different ones to them. I often wonder if they feel in the slightest bit stupid that many of their defenders will use racist tropes or racially abuse other Black people in their name. 

They don’t appear to have any shame, which is unsurprising when you consider who they’ve aligned themselves with – people with long histories of making racist, offensive comments and those who champion eugenics and believe that Black people are intellectually inferior.

“Some of them know exactly what they’re doing, others think racism can be solved over a pint”

Not all of the people engaging in this kind of activity are young. But the difference is that the aforementioned people are semi-famous or becoming well known for absolutely no other reason. There will always be Black people we see or hear on TV or the radio, who’ll make the majority of us elicit a sigh when we hear them announced. Trevor Phillips is one. John Barnes is another. Edward Adoo is another one still. But they all had careers before they rented themselves out to piss all over other Black people. Some of them know exactly what they’re doing, others think racism can be solved over a pint.

An interesting addition to this list, though I don’t place her in the same bracket as the others, is African American playwright Bonnie Greer. As Laurence Fox’s popularity increased, she decided to reach out to him over Twitter, offering to meet him for coffee so she could discuss things with him. We have all seen this before. When I was younger there was a relative of mine that would always like the racist characters in a film we were watching. I never truly understood it until I was older. Now I understand that it comes from a place of frustration, hurt and rejection. They think to themselves, “I’m a decent person. I’m kind. I’m responsible. Maybe if they knew Black people like me exist, hell maybe if they knew I existed they would change their minds. They’ve just never met a Black person like me before. I can change their mind.”

And they end up getting badly hurt and humiliated because racism isn’t reasonable and it certainly isn’t logical. Greer met up with Fox and the next day he was back to posting racially provocative comments after sharing the photo she’d taken with herself draped around him. It wasn’t even the meeting up with him despite so much advice not to do so – we can all get a little stubborn and think we know best. There’s nothing wrong with that. It was the attitude she took on afterwards. She kept tweeting at Fox and she looked increasingly desperate as he ignored her. She, like her younger counterparts, disregarded the fact some of the people coming to her defence were horrifically racist. She sounded like a schoolgirl with an unrequited crush. I believe that she was operating from a place of embarrassment and was motivated by shame. 

Things are going to get more and more difficult for marginalised people in the UK. When Brexit really hits and the full extent of the pandemic is felt and money becomes tighter, it will get worse still. We have already seen this right-wing Tory government using people of colour as scapegoats to distract from their utter incompetence. What are you going to do? Tories gonna Tory. Racism and fascism will always adapt and change. Anti-Blackness is a business that even Black people can benefit financially from. They’re using us to hurt us. This isn’t a Black vs White issue. It’s a Racist vs Anti Racist issue. Trevor Phillips once said “we are sleepwalking to segregation”, he just forgot to add he’d be playing the role of Moses and leading us there.