From David Maughan Brown in York: the road to Damascus.

15th June

It is reported that Boris has recently been sighted on the dusty verge of the road to Damascus.  In response to the Black Lives Matter protests, he has declared a commitment to the establishment of a commission on race and ethnic disparities that will look into ‘all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life.’  Somebody doing something about inequality would be very welcome, but Boris Johnson genuinely concerned about inequality and ethnic disparities?  We can perhaps be forgiven for taking that with a spadeful or two of the proverbial salt.   It is not unknown for commissions to serve very well as very long drawn-out holding operations.   Boris has declared a variety of commitments many times before, as some among his string of wives and girlfriends would no doubt be happy to testify.   The chances are that he has merely alighted fleetingly at the roadside, hoping desperately that the main force of the winds of change will pass him by, like a migratory bird taking brief shelter after being blown off-course by a powerful storm.

Boris’s ‘piccaninnies’ with their ‘water-melon smiles’, and his burka ‘letterboxes’, suggest that it would take a conversion of Pauline proportions for anyone to believe this new commitment to racial equality. He can try to explain those garishly coloured turns of phrase away as irony, and others might try to exonerate them merely as ill-judged attempts at linguistic embellishment.  But it seems clear that they are more than that: they look much more like the pointers to a deep-lying conviction of racial superiority.   If any further evidence of that is needed it is to be found in a 2002 article from The Spectator cited in this morning’s Independent.   The racial paternalism and stereotyping of sentences like ‘If left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain….’ would feel entirely at home in a colonial-settler account of life in Kenya in the 1920s.   And that, of course, is anything but coincidental: Johnson then proceeds to demonstrate his colonial credentials by asserting that, “The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”

How lucky would Africa be if, for example, the present government of the United Kingdom were to succeed in Johnson’s hypothetical scramble to recolonize Africa?  This morning the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention cited 6,464 as the total number of Covid-19 deaths from all 54 countries of Africa combined.   Even making very substantial allowance for undercounting, the grand total seems unlikely to come anywhere near matching the duplicitously understated ‘official’ total of rather more than 40,000 deaths, and counting, that history will surely hold Johnson and his incompetent government culpably accountable for. That’s racial superiority for you.

Johnson is going to need to find some way of convincing people he has sloughed off every last shred of the racist skin he has worn with such nonchalance for so long if he is going to carry any conviction whatever as an upholder of racial equality.  Setting up yet another commission to find the facts, instead of implementing the recommendations of all the other commissions looking into institutionalised racism and racial disparities over the past forty years, won’t cut it.  It is known as kicking the can down the road.   As a serious way to address the important issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, setting up a ‘cross-government’ commission across this government of xenophobic Brexiteers is too ridiculous for words.   

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