The dangers of Britain-bashing

The upper middle-classes’ fashionable loathing for the country they live in is sowing division and tension.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK

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Your country hates you. If you’re a Muslim or a black person and you live in the UK, watch out. This is an Islamophobic hellhole. Muslim-haters lurk everywhere. On the internet, in the media, in the streets. Always ready to pounce with their crude criticisms of Muhammad and their mocking barbs about women who wear the burqa. As for the black community – good luck out there. Schools, universities, the health system, the cops – they’re all racist. They all loathe you. If you’re a black kid you won’t do well at school. You probably won’t get into a good university. Your job application will be turned down. Might as well give up now. This is not a nice country. Sorry.

This, incredibly, is the message that the cultural elites pump out to minority groups in this country all the time. Relentlessly. From their newspaper pulpits, their political soapboxes and their think-tank platforms, they propagate the idea that Britain is a hateful, horrible place. Commentators chalk up every disparity between communities to the racism that allegedly courses through the veins of this post-Empire country. Self-elected Muslim community groups scour the media for any less-than-effusive commentary about Islam and compile it all together as proof of the foul phobias that fuel this nation. Mainstream politicians take the knee to BLM and to its jumped-up claims that black people’s lot today is not that much better than it was 50 years ago.

It’s inescapable, suffocating – the dire message that Britain is not a good place to be a member of an ethnic minority. And then the government dared to push back against this dispiriting narrative with a few facts, via the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, whose report was published last week, and the cultural elites went berserk. How dare you suggest Britain is not a nightmarishly prejudiced country, they cried? How dare you imply the UK has become fairer and more enlightened over the past 50 years? How dare you give ethnic-minority people hope – hope that the country they call home might actually be a nice place? That is essentially what these people are saying. Hooked on the politics of despair, they find themselves horrified by anything that sounds more hopeful, more optimistic, more balanced.

We need to talk about the baleful impact that the upper middle-classes’ Britain-bashing is having on the social fabric and on some communities’ sense of confidence and aspiration. Because it strikes me that it isn’t ‘institutional racism’ that threatens to hold back our ethnic-minority citizens. No, it’s the institutionalised loathings of the new clerisy. The noisy anti-Britishness of the new elites. The orthodoxy that says Britain is an irredeemably racist country, still basking in the half-light of colonialism and Empire – an orthodoxy that has been baked into the education system, the academy, popular culture and much of the political sphere. This institutionalised national self-loathing is what truly says to ethnic-minority people: ‘Don’t bother. They hate you. It’s not worth it.’

Recent events have shone an unforgiving light on the damage that can be inflicted by the fashionable anti-Britishness of the upper-middle classes. At Batley Grammar in West Yorkshire we’ve seen angry Muslim protesters raging against the school after one of its teachers displayed an image of Muhammad in a religious-studies class. This fury must be viewed in the context of the paranoid visions of widespread Islamophobia promoted by unrepresentative Muslim community groups and swathes of the liberal commentariat, who have spent much of the past two decades telling Muslims that Brits don’t understand them and probably hate them. The ridiculous clamour outside Batley Grammar is the logical conclusion of this cult of Islamic grievance nurtured by influential identitarians.

Last week we also saw pupils at Pimlico Academy in London rage against their school for refusing to acknowledge BLM and for – get this – flying the Union flag over the school. The headteacher eventually agreed to take the flag down, on the basis that it ‘evokes often intense reactions’. This, too, must be seen in context. In the context of the disdain for the national flag now shown by everyone from Labour politicians to BBC news anchors, who openly scoff at Tory ministers who display the flag in their offices. And in the context of young black people constantly being told – by influential thinkers, social-media influencers and BLM representatives – that Britain is a nasty little country full of nasty little racists. Rip down the flag, right? It’s a symbol of oppression. This country isn’t really for you, so that’s not really your flag – that’s the implication of identitarianism.

And then, of course, we had the hysterical reaction to the government’s race review, which questioned the existence of ‘institutional racism’ and pointed out that in both education and the workplace, ethnic-minority people in the UK are doing better than ever. The identitarian elites can tolerate no questioning of their borderline religious conviction that Britain is a hellscape of prejudice, racism and Islamophobia. After all, this is the conviction that guarantees their social and moral power in society. It keeps the grants rolling in, the soapboxes polished and ready to be rolled out. ‘Neither the existence nor the extent of institutionalised racism can be denied’, says Halima Begum of the race think-tank, the Runnymede Trust, sounding like a priest of old reprimanding someone for denying the truth of the Bible.

The reason the identitarian elites raged against the race review is, when you consider it, deeply disturbing. It’s because they benefit from propagation of the idea that Britain is not a pleasant or fair country. They depend for their authority, influence and in many cases their funding on the continuance of a vision of modern Britain as a terrible country, a white-supremacist hellscape. They are deeply invested in the cultivation and promotion of an image of the UK as a loathsome, unenlightened entity. Identity politics draws them inexorably to discover – or more likely to invent – facts and stats that highlight our horribleness. Surely this peddling of identitarian division, this propaganda of national self-loathing, is having a worse impact on community relations than old-fashioned racisms that have virtually disappeared?

‘England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality’, said Orwell. That’s still true today, but it’s even worse now. From their ivory towers and their plush media offices, from their fancy conferences and their boardrooms, the new elites push a twisted vision of their country with no regard for the impact this vision might have on social relations and people’s sense of belonging. They benefit from the cult of victimhood and the politics of racial grievance – it gets them platforms, it gets them published, it gets them social capital – so they don’t bother to consider the harm wrought by their toxic politics on race relations and on some ethnic-minority groups’ feeling of comfort in the place where they’ve made their home.

This is the neo-feudalism of the politics of identity: a well-off new priestly class gaining moral authority from a narrative of grievance, without giving a second thought to the impact it has on ordinary people of all backgrounds who would be far better served by a narrative of national unity and togetherness.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics UK


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