Taking the knee is not “gesture politics” , it’s a cry for human rights.

In The Times today Trevor Philips argues that in Britain class is a bigger discriminator than race. I don’t want to rank prejudices and for what it’s worth see all too many cultural dividers around. Race, Class, Gender – and a dozen more. But Class is certainly high up this gruesome list.

Shaw rightly said how we speak is a huge divider. Accents are not infallible evidence of social class, but they are pretty good. Factor in dress and manners and you can pretty precisely place someone’s background in a few minutes. Joan Bakewell, from a working class background changed her speech on the train from Liverpool. My employer back in the 1960s unquestionably discriminated and selected white middle class males ahead of any other group.

Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about discrimination. Race is important. You can, like Bakewell, change how you speak. You can educate yourself to smarten your intelligence. You can adopt behaviour that the culture you’re in sees as the norm. But you can’t change your race.

The hair straighteners and skin whiteners don’t work. And race brings a culture with it including, sometimes, religion and family norms. The various anti discrimination movements try to make us believe that those who are different from us matter. They are right, black lives do matter and we need more activism, not less. More “taking the knee” not less. And those at the top, especially those who are themselves from a minority, should be in the front line.

Priti Patel has made her position clear. She is of course of East African Asian heritage. Her family fled discrimination to make a home in Britain. She grew up in a Hindu household so she will be quite aware what being an immigrant and not of the mainstream religion, as well as not of the dominant white middle class, means.

I don’t want to discuss Patel here – I find her Hard Right stance on everything puzzling (given her background) but that’s not the key point about discrimination.

That point is the irrationally of prejudice combined with the fact that it is inculcated into British society. If people are different far too many of us denigrate them. Perhaps it’s idealism but I welcome multiculturalism and believe it enriches our society. And if a group is marginalised because of their colour we should all protest – it’s not “gesture politics” , it’s a cry for human rights.

One thought on “Taking the knee is not “gesture politics” , it’s a cry for human rights.

  1. There is nobody more fond of gesture politics than the prime minister. He uses gestures of one sort or another constantly. In fact, every time he appears in public he makes some form of gesture. So it’s odd Patel makes a criticism of the practice. So we must assume their form of gesture politics is OK but others not.
    I have to admit to being uncomfortable with any form of political gesture. I prefer rational arguments with words.
    The validity of ‘taking the knee’ in my view depends a lot on who is doing it. For example, I thought Starmer’s knee gesture a tad embarrassing.
    At sports events, on the other hand, it’s valid since sport needs to atone for generations of racial discrimination. I also see ‘taking the knee’ as a visible act of contrition rather than a cry for human rights.
    Human rights are and always have been self evidently just that.


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