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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Race: The Forbidden Word of the Political Classes

[This is a parody of a frankly racist piece by David Starkey, now hidden behind a pay-wall, in which I rewrite Starkey's article, sticking as closely as possible to his words while making a completely opposing point.]
David Starkey in his latest piece on the Summer Riots of 2011 Revisited (which I urge you to read before reading further) begins by quoting T.S. Eliot: "Humankind cannot bear very much reality." How true.  How very true.  Once again, as is his wont, Starkey hits the nail right on the head.

Just over five years ago (9 August 2007), in the first rumblings of trouble, BNP (Banque Nationale de Paris) reported a 'total evaporation of liquidity'.  A year later, amid scenes none of us can forget, a man identified only as 'Big Ben' went to the US government and grabbed a $700 billion bank bail-out.  Since then, those scenes have been repeated over and over, as huge sums of money have been taken from ordinary people - people like you and me - and given to this, what we can surely only call a 'criminal overclass' to 'bail them out'.  And then that money has been recouped by 'austerity' measures, with ordinary, decent people losing their jobs, prices going up, basic services being cut back and sold off to the menacing gangs known as 'the private sector'.  It has become so bad that recently the army had to be called in to rein in the damage done by one such 'massive', which calls itself the G4S (which, though I am out of touch with young people, I am informed plays on the names of the infamous 'Gang of four' and 'SClub7').  Remember them?  Remember those extraordinary scenes that played out, night after night on our TV screens?  As men in suits walked away from the wreckage of national economies openly clutching their huge 'bonuses'? As these people ostentatiously avoided paying their taxes? It certainly seemed impossible to forget such bare-faced wrong-doing.

Yet forget is what our political masters seem determined to do.  In typically sanitised language, parliamentary 'inquiries' have been called for and launched.  Our leaders have publicly wrung their hands about it all.  But actual confrontation with the root causes has been safely filed away, labelled 'too difficult to talk about'; 'don't touch with a barge pole' or 'our economy depends more on the financial sector than other countries''.  Since then, silence. A blessed amnesia has swept over our political class, and now it’s almost a case of “banking crisis? What banking crisis?”.

There is a perfectly innocent explanation, of course, if hardly an edifying one. We live in an age of multiple crises, with new problems cropping up at every turn. We are also enduring a regime of omnishambles, with a weak Government drifting at the mercy of events. In such circumstances, things, even big ones, do just get forgotten.

But I fear there is more to it than that. For something rather odd started to happen, even as events were unrolling: we were told, with increasing firmness, not to believe our own senses.  It was obvious from the beginning, to anybody with eyes to see, that these were irresponsible financial foul-ups on a global scale in which the race of many of the participants played an important part.  Almost every one of these 'fat cats' was white.

A stop should have been put to this nonsense by the official reports and public pronouncements. Instead, shamefully, the financial crisis was subjected to every sort of blame-shifting: it was the fault of the Labour government for not regulating the City, or for regulating it too much; it was the fault of ordinary families for borrowing too much; it was the fault of the Euro; of the Welfare State and the 'Something for Nothing' culture; benefits scroungers; the disabled; and so on. There was one glaring omission: there was no tabulation of ethnicity. Nevertheless, and having rehearsed no evidence whatever, the government still does not believe that "this was a banking crisis.”

The proper, unvarnished picture is incontrovertible: over 90 per cent of those involved were white. These figures must of course be read against the proportion of the various groups in the population as a whole: in London, where the unregulated 'wild west' of the financial sector is located, some 12 per cent of the population is black and 69 per cent is white. Whites, in other words, were significantly over-represented among the fat cats.  The conclusion is inescapable and painful. Far from being merely opportunistic, the core of the financial sector was formed from an already existing class and that class is disproportionately white. This is the reality. But in our present society it is unbearable (in Eliot’s formulation). And unsayable.  No wonder the Government and the media worked so hard to suppress it. And no wonder outraged media and public opinion came down like a ton of bricks on those naive or foolhardy enough to tell the truth.   “Libtard” and "Deficit Denier" have been among the least of the insults thrown at those who point out the unsayable truth.

Actually I don't believe in race.  But I do believe in culture.  Not “white culture” of course, since such a uniform construct does not exist any more than a uniform “black culture”.  But there is a “a particular sort” of white culture: the “greedy, selfish, nihilistic, culture” of the market. I deplore its specific linguistic forms: the “management” patois in which these City denizens speak, thuggishly glorifying salaries, glossing over sexism and homophobia: 'blue-skies thinking to deliver sustainable growth from a competitive spend year on year going forward'.  We are all familiar with it as it creeps everywhere into our day-to-day culture.  This sort of white male culture militates against ethics, social responsibility, merit and education (as opposed to 'training').  I would emphasise (in anti-racist terms) its insidious attractiveness to white youth.

Curiously, the strongest voices who agree with me are white, like George Monbiot, the nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman and the educator Richard Drayton.  "Something must be done,” they have said. It must indeed, otherwise we are doomed to repeat the bail-outs and disastrous austerity packages in an ever-shortening cycle. But, my experience has taught me, only a white leader can do it.  None of our current crop of white politicians quite fits the bill. David Cameron is too rich; George Osborne is too compromised; Ed Milliband is too ineffectual; while David Starkey, with his mindless comments about the need confront the intrusion of black culture into white society and to shift the blame from class and capitalist economics onto race, his outrageously un-pc views (which he has for money, to a deadline*) is himself part of the problem.

Only one person is of the necessary stature: Her Majesty the Queen. Imagine if she turned her passion, energy, political skills, organisational drive and burning sense of moral righteousness into tackling head-on the destructive culture of unrestrained neo-liberal capitalism.  She has already appeared, as James Bond heroine, in the Olympic opening ceremony; if she took on this task she would become great indeed. 

Oh.  What's that you're saying?  That this has nothing to do with culture, skin colour or ethnicity? That it's to do with economics, class and differential access to wealth and opportunity? Ah, right.

*(c) Stewart Lee