Thursday, 1 April 2021

Playing to the audience


The UK government’s report yesterday on racial discrimination deserved the panning that it got from all quarters. Whet it did not deserve, however, was the surprise which so many expressed at the suggestion that discrimination is more to do with the mindset of those discriminated against than the UK’s institutions. Victim-blaming is the standard approach of the current government – in their eyes, the poor are responsible for their own poverty and the sick are responsible for their own illnesses. Why wouldn’t they also blame minorities for being treated unequally?

It’s not deliberate; it’s the result of a mindset which truly believes that the rich are rich because they work hard and apply themselves, and the healthy are such because they look after themselves. It’s neither prejudice nor discrimination to assume that if ethnic minorities are being treated differently from white British people, then that too must be down to them. It’s an assumption that they can’t help making, and stand no chance of understanding why it’s wrong. If they were capable of understanding why it is wrong, we’d have a properly funded NHS, and a decent benefits system.

Of more concern than leopards putting on a display of their spots is the politics behind it. They don’t care what anybody with a different mindset thinks, because their attitude strikes a chord with their target supporters. When so many electors are happy to go along with blaming the poor for poverty, for instance – to say nothing of their attitudes towards people of a different ethnicity – playing to those prejudices is ‘good politics’ if your objective is unlimited power indefinitely. Saying what they know a substantial proportion of people want to hear hardens and strengthens those attitudes and bolsters their electoral support. And that is the real issue that should worry us: not that a hand-picked bunch of people who could be relied on to support the government’s position have done exactly the job with which they were tasked, but that the report will resonate with those who are already disposed to prejudice. Those who have leapt to criticise the report are missing the point – Johnson and his ilk don’t care what the critics think. They only care what their carefully selected section of the electorate thinks.

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