‘Rouse tempers, goad and lacerate, raise whirlwinds.’ Those were the words that Kenneth Tynan, the most celebrated drama critic of the 20th century, had pinned above his desk. During my five-year stint as The Spectator’s theatre critic I did my best to follow that philosophy. But according to a new set of guidelines devised by Equity and embraced by the National Union of Journalists, reviews should be ‘balanced, fair and designed to be productive’. Any critic living by that credo would be more likely to raise a yawn than a whirlwind.
The guidelines, part of Equity’s anti-racism campaign, have been developed to help critics ‘challenge their own biases and to encourage responsible writing about race’. Ink-stained wretches in the stalls are told to ‘avoid referring to immutable characteristics such as age, race, gender and appearance’, but at the same time to ‘distinguish clearly between different racial and ethnic groups’.
This guidance suffers from the same flaw as many anti-racism initiatives, which is its adherence to a narrow ideological orthodoxy rooted in critical race theory. It urges critics to ‘approach unfamiliar themes, contexts and stories… as an opportunity to learn’. But it’s clear from the accompanying reading list that what ‘learn’ means here is ‘uncritically embrace fashionable neo-Marxist dogma’. The list will be so familiar to anyone who’s been urged to have an ‘open conversation’ about race in the past 12 months they’ll be able to recite it with their eyes closed: Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi.
If the ‘diverse collective’ of critics who’ve drawn up these rules are genuine about wanting to broaden their colleagues’ minds regarding racism, why not recommend a wider intellectual range of black authors? Such reading lists never include Shelby Steele’s The Content of Our Character, Thomas Sowell’s The Economics and Politics of Race or Self-Portrait in Black and White by Thomas Chatterton Williams.