Don’t write off Hofesh Shechter – his new work is uniquely haunting

In 2010, when his thrillingly edgy and angry Political Mother delivered modern dance a winding punch right where it hurt, I had high hopes for Hofesh Shechter. Here was an outsider with the courage to make his own rules and engage dance with real-world issues (he had served a traumatising period in the Israeli army) rather than blindly following the fashionable goddess Pina Bausch down the rabbit hole of postmodern irony. He wasn’t interested in playing games. But success has taken his edge off and what has followed has largely been disappointing. Trapped by a limited choreographic vocabulary, Shechter has repeated himself, relying too hard on the brute effect of

Coleman Hughes on neo-racism, US election, and The View

47 min listen

Freddy Gray speaks to writer, podcaster and musician Coleman Hughes. His latest book The End of Race Politics, The: Arguments for a Colorblind America promotes Martin Luther King’s teachings for a colourblind society. On the podcast they discuss Coleman’s recent appearance on The View; whether Coleman thinks Trump is racist and how the Israel-Gaza war exposed the failings of US universities. 

Progressives vs. bigots: How I Won a Nobel Prize, by Julius Taranto, reviewed

This is the kind of comic novel I greatly admire, because it makes me feel so anxious and wrong-footed. I laughed wholeheartedly until an inner voice chided, in a contradictory fashion, ‘that’s not supposed to be funny’ and ‘can’t you see it’s a joke?’ Given that the book is about that very modern set of dilemmas, my admiration for Julius Taranto’s work is even greater. The novel’s protagonist is Helen, a graduate student, who explains her field in the opening sentence: ‘The Rubin Institute had nothing to do with high-temperature superconductors, so I cannot say I had spent much time thinking about it.’ Her supervisor has been offered a position

Prejudice in Pennsylvania: The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, by James McBride, reviewed

If chicken soup is balm for the soul, then James McBride’s eighth book, set in 1930s Chicken Hill, a neighbourhood in a small town in Pennsylvania that is home to Jewish, black and other immigrant people, is its literary equivalent. There is something nourishing about The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, a warm story about the power of community in the face of prejudice that both salutes the American dream while exposing it as a sham. Like much of McBride’s previous work, which includes four other novels, a biography of James Brown and his 1996 memoir, A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, about his Jewish mother, Ruth, The

Melissa Kite, Nigel Biggar and Matt Ridley

24 min listen

This week Melissa Kite mourns the Warwickshire countryside of her childhood, ripped up and torn apart for HS2, and describes how people like her parents have been treated by the doomed project (01:15), Nigel Biggar attempts to explain the thinking behind those who insist on calling Britain a racist country, even though the evidence says otherwise (06:38) and Matt Ridley enters a fool’s paradise where he warns against being so open-minded, that you risk your brain falling out (13:01). Produced and presented by Linden Kemkaran.

Why were 80,000 Asians suddenly expelled from Uganda in 1972?

The mantelpieces of many an Asian family in Leicester and London, it is said, sport two framed photographs. One is of Idi Amin, the African dictator who expelled them from Uganda; the other is of Edward Heath, the prime minister who allowed them in. ‘This double gratitude,’ writes Lucy Fulford, ‘says thanks for throwing us out and thanks for taking us in.’ Asians filled teddy bears with jewellery and baked diamonds into snacks taken aboard their last flights out If the expulsion from ‘the Pearl of Africa’ of 80,000 Asians was the most traumatic experience of their lives, many also retro-actively recognise it as the best thing that ever happened.

Our academics are attacking the whole concept of knowledge

The first problem about decolonisation is the word itself. Colonisation is the process of establishing control over a foreign territory and its indigenous inhabitants, by settlement, conquest or political manipulation. But decolonisation? It has come to mean much more than the reversal of that process. Today, it refers to an altogether wider agenda, whose central objective is to discredit or downgrade the cultural achievements of the West. Objective truth and empirical investigation are mere western constructs. They are optional ideas which need have no weight beyond the western societies which invented them. But the West has imposed them on the rest of the world by a process akin to the

Sam Leith

Does the Met have a racism problem?

Back in the winter of 2012, a postal worker named Zac Sharif-Ali was taking a lunchtime stroll with his dog on Chiswick Common when he was stopped by a police officer named Duncan Bullock. PC Bullock was out for a lunchtime sandwich run himself, and apparently thought this might be a good opportunity to get his numbers up. Two birds with one stone, and all that. According to colleagues testifying to an Independent Office for Police Conduct investigation, he was enterprising in that way. ‘I remember that day PC Bullock had gone out for his sandwich, so I knew he would bring back a stop and search record form,’ the

Black Britons betrayed

In this frustrating book, Tomiwa Owolade sets out to establish that American attempts to identify and deal with issues of race are irrelevant to those of Britain. His basic case is that even if it might exist in America, structural racism based on colour is not found in Britain, and he criticises a significant number of people of colour, on both sides of the Atlantic, who’ve argued that it is. He believes that looking at the lived experience of people should be the starting point; and that the lived experience of black Britons is determined by nationality (and class) more than it is by race. That’s fair. The sons and

Kwame Kwei-Armah’s embarrassing update of Love Thy Neighbour: Beneatha’s Place, at the Young Vic, reviewed

Beneatha’s Place, set in the 1950s, follows a black couple who encounter racial prejudice when they move to a predominately white suburb. The location is Nigeria but it might as well be the USA because most of the characters, both black and white, are American. (The Young Vic has strong links with America, and a transfer to Broadway may be under discussion.) The script by Kwame Kwei-Armah is inspired by the British sitcom Love Thy Neighbour, which aired five decades ago. This misunderstood show was pretty progressive for the 1970s, and it examined the conflict between two thick white bigots living next door to an intelligent and sophisticated couple from

Daniel Penny and the problem with have-a-go heroes

I have always liked the phrase ‘have-a-go hero’. It sums up a certain type of person who can emerge from nowhere and coat their name with honour. One thinks, for instance, of John Smeaton, the baggage handler who was having a fag outside Glasgow airport in 2007 when two jihadis tried to blow the place up. After a couple of explosions, Smeaton, Alex McIlveen and others ran to find out what was up and, finding one of the terrorists on fire, proceeded to kick the guy in the nuts. Indeed, so hard did McIlveen kick the guy that he himself tore a tendon. But Smeaton, McIlveen and others rightly became

Watch white women being shamed while they dine: CBC’s Deconstructing Karen reviewed

Nothing heightens the sense of the unpalatable better than a dinner scene. Think of the violence meted out at the dining table in Pasolini’s Salò (1975). Think of André Gregory lecturing Wallace Shawn on his solipsism – much to our discomfort – in Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre (1981). CBC’s documentary Deconstructing Karen accidentally borrows from the form. Eight white women are chided ceaselessly at dinner by two activists – failed Congressional candidate Saira Rao (who is Indian-American) and hitherto unknown Regina Jackson (who is African-American) – until the white women admit that they are racist. Rao and Jackson are co-founders of Race2Dinner, an events company specialising in coming

Rupa Huq and the politics of prejudice

The Labour party’s contribution to the national debate this week has included the idea that someone can be ‘superficially’ black. Rupa Huq, a Labour MP, used this phrase to describe Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng. ‘If you hear him on the Today programme,’ she said, ‘you wouldn’t know he’s black.’ It was a daft yet revealing comment. In her moment of unintended (and perhaps career-destroying) candour, Huq exposed a prejudice that remains pervasive in British politics. Any such suggestion is, of course, racist, and Labour could not deny it. Huq has been suspended. But she was articulating an attitude that has become widespread. She probably thought that her comments were uncontroversial for

The uncomfortable lessons of the new Fourth Plinth statues

The Revd John Chilembwe – whose statue now adorns Trafalgar Square – is notorious for the church service he conducted beneath the severed head of William Jervis Livingstone, a Scottish plantation manager with a reputation for mistreating his workers. The night before, Chilembwe’s followers had broken into his house and chased him from room to room as he tried to fend them off with an unloaded rifle. Eventually, they pinned him down and decapitated him in front of his wife and children. It was the most significant action in the 1915 Chilembwe rebellion, a small, short-lived affair in an obscure corner of the British Empire today known as Malawi. It

Guston is treated with contempt: Philip Guston Now reviewed

Philip Guston is hard to dislike. The most damning critique levied against the canonical mid-century American painter is that he is too uncontroversial, his appeal too broad, his approach altogether too winsome. None of that stopped the team behind Philip Guston Now – a travelling mega-survey of his work, which will reach Tate Modern in 2023 – from announcing otherwise. In 2020, the year the show was due to open, the curators announced that in light of the ‘racial justice movement’, the artist’s works might now legitimately be read as racist, and the show could not go forward as planned. This was and is quite obviously nonsense. The works in

I feel sorry for those stupid enough to believe that ballet is racist or transphobic

Sick though one may be of the way that the poison dart of ‘woke’ is lazily flung at what is a real and complex set of problems, I fear that it’s deservedly winging its way towards Leeds’s Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Last month it announced that it would no longer require a competence in ballet for its auditions on the grounds that it is ‘an essentially elitist form’ built around ‘white European ideas and body shapes that are often alienating’. Stifle your groans for a moment, and let me unwrap this and offer some context. First of all, it is not uncommon for schools specialising in contemporary dance to

A post-racial world: The Last White Man, by Mohsin Hamid, reviewed

Mohsin Hamid’s fifth novel opens with a Kafkaesque twist: Anders, a white man, wakes to find that he has turned ‘a deep and undeniable brown’. Unrecognisable to his entourage, he first confesses his predicament to Oona, an old friend and new lover. Similar metamorphoses begin to be reported throughout the country and violence ensues as pale-skinned militants stalk the streets. In its use of a speculative device, The Last White Man recalls Hamid’s 2017 Booker-shortlisted Exit West, in which migrants teleport through Narnia-like doors. Whereas his first three books played with narrative conventions – a trial framing Moth Smoke (2000), dramatic monologue in The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) and the self-help

Spare us the preaching: The Railway Children Return reviewed

It doesn’t help the cause of The Railway Children Return that the original 1970 Railway Children film is currently on iPlayer. Just to test my capacity to cry, having emerged dry-eyed from the new one, I came home and re-watched the original. Yup. The 2022 sequel has three scenes of the new cohort of Railway Children – three second world war evacuees from Manchester, Lily, Pattie and Ted – waving goodbye to their soldier father as he departs for war, in the fog, never to return. Violins soar. Eyes remain dry. The 1970 film has just one scene of Daddy arriving home, in the fog of a steam train, and

Stop tearing down controversial statues, says British-Guyanan artist Hew Locke

When Hew Locke was growing up in Guyana, he would pass by the statue of Queen Victoria in front of Georgetown’s law courts. Henry Richard Hope-Pinker’s 1894 statue had been commissioned to mark the monarch’s golden jubilee, but not long after Guyana became independent from British rule in 1970, the statue was beheaded and the remains thrown into bushes in the botanical gardens. ‘I remember being shocked that such a sacrilegious thing could happen,’ says the Edinburgh-born, Guyana-raised, London-based 62-year-old artist. ‘It set me thinking about what public statues are for. Who are these people? How come we pass by them without noticing every day?’ Half a century later and

Accusations of racism have lost all meaning

The War on the West is Douglas Murray’s latest blast against loony left wokery, chiefly in the areas of race and ‘social justice’. ‘This is not like earlier wars,’ he writes. ‘It is a cultural war, and it is being waged remorselessly against all the roots of the western tradition and against everything good that the western tradition has produced.’ The meticulous, measured way that Murray presents his arguments and evidence suggests a man who knows he’s in for a lot of flak. For instance, he has the audacity to suggest that the death of George Floyd, however brutal and inept the policing, doesn’t actually bear any signs of racism.