So now we know what happens if you criticise Black Lives Matter. You’ll be packed off for re-education. You will be sent to have your mind cleansed of foul, dissenting thoughts. You will be reminded of the First Commandment of the strange year of 2020: Thou Shalt Not Question BLM.
That’s the lesson of Keir Starmer’s bizarre confession this morning that he will submit himself for unconscious bias training after he dared, ever so mildly, to criticise a few aspects of the BLM worldview.
Last week Starmer referred to the BLM protests of the past few weeks as a ‘moment’. That was crime No. 1. In reducing this movement to a moment, Starmer, according to the warriors against anti-BLM blasphemy, was being dismissive of the incredibly important events that have taken place since the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Worse, Starmer said the idea of defunding the police, which has become a rallying cry of BLM supporters, is ‘nonsense’. This outraged some, which is bizarre: did they think a former Director of Public Prosecutions and generally middle-of-the-road politician was going to line up behind an anti-police worldview?
And yet, Starmer has now said that he will make amends for his words. In an interview with LBC this morning he declared that he would take part in unconscious bias training, partly for his alleged moral error of being overly dismissive of BLM.
A Labour Party member called Sharon phoned in to LBC and asked Starmer about his BLM comments. She challenged him to undergo unconscious bias training. Starmer said he would, and in fact he plans to introduce such training for the entire Labour Party, just in case there are any other Labourites out there who deviate even a tiny bit from the BLM worldview.
This is bizarre on so many levels. Firstly, why can’t we criticise BLM? It’s a political movement. It’s an ideological grouping. Its policy agenda includes not only challenging police brutality (great) but also dismantling the nuclear family and overthrowing capitalism. Guess what — loads of people disagree with those stances! And yet if a public figure raises a peep of concern about BLM, he’ll be mauled.
Look at Dominic Raab, who was slammed for days when he said he wouldn’t take the knee for BLM. Or Stu Peters, a radio host on the Isle of Man, who was suspended after he questioned BLM and the idea of white privilege (he has since been reinstated). Or the Welsh journalist Martin Shipton, who was forced to stand down as a judge for the Wales Book of the Year when he criticised BLM protests that were taking place during lockdown.
None of these people said or did anything racist. They simply made political points. And yet that isn’t allowed, it seems. The culture of conformism around BLM has become stifling. Aside from a tiny handful of racist idiots, everyone agrees that black lives matter as much as every other life. But that shouldn’t mean we have to agree with Black Lives Matter the movement.
The second mad thing about Starmer’s self-re-education is the use of the phrase ‘unconscious bias’. If we are calling criticism of BLM a case of ‘unconscious bias’, then we are seriously running the risk of pathologising perfectly legitimate political viewpoints.
There are many people, white and black, who are made uncomfortable by some of BLM’s demands and by the behaviour of some BLM activists. Are they all unconsciously biased? There is something borderline totalitarian in this urge to depict dissenting or difficult views as a kind of mental malaise, an unconscious failing, a sickness of the mind that requires, in Starmer’s case, training and erasure.
Not only does this slyly delegitimise certain views — it also risks diluting the seriousness of racism where it does exist.
Racism is not some unconscious bias or social faux pas. It is a nasty ideology that views certain groups of people as being inferior to others. We should tackle racism where it rears its ugly head, rather than branding anyone who says something critical or iffy as a racist. The fashion for seeing racism everywhere actually undermines the task of tackling racism where it does still linger. We can’t see the prejudiced wood for the virtue-signalling trees.
Starmer is making a mistake. Isn’t Labour meant to be thinking about how to win back the armies of working-class voters it lost to Boris Johnson in December? If Starmer thinks he can do that by playing PC games and buckling under pressure from woke warriors who demand that he repent for his speechcrimes, he’s in for a surprise.