“You’re looking at this through your own prism as a white man,” said Denise in Enfield during a phone-in on the Black Lives Matter protests on Wednesday on LBC. “Am, I?” I said. “Do tell me what my prism is!” Her reply really set me thinking about how I view race issues.
In fact, it was so profound that I invited her to co-present my show with me the next day to explore the issues further. She opened a lot of people’s eyes with the force of her argument and that, after all, is the point. You win people around to your viewpoint by the force of argument – not force.
What a pity Denise’s good work was undermined by the actions of a selfish few over the weekend.
It’s not unusual for generally peaceful protests to be hijacked by people who have no interest in what the protest is about but just want a good ruck with the Police.
This went further than that, though.
It is entirely legitimate to argue that the protest should never have taken place. In these Covid-19 dominated times, the rules are quite clear – no public gatherings of more than six people and social distancing is still in place.
The police would have been quite within their rights to stop the protest from happening at all. However, in this country, we police by consent. We’re not the United States, where ‘force’ is the prevailing word in policing. And therein lies the incongruity of what happened at the weekend in London, although not the rest of the country where most of the protests passed off peacefully.
I don’t pretend policing in this country is perfect, especially in the field of race relations, but it beggars belief that in a week when we had it confirmed by Public Health England that BAME community members are several times more likely to contract COVID 19 than their Caucasian counterparts, thousands of people thought it was a good idea to stand together, hugger-mugger, in a protest.
I believe in equality, and I abhor discrimination, but this virus does discriminate. And it discriminates against ethnic minorities, especially people of Afro-Caribbean descent.
The desire to protest has eclipsed the fear of becoming ill or even dying. Depending on your viewpoint this either shows the strength of feeling on the issue or it belies a sense of total irresponsibility and risks the R rate in London rising again. Both are true.
The very same people who argue that it is too early to lift lockdown are now arguing that it’s OK for this protest to have gone ahead. They will naturally point out they’re only following in the footsteps of Dominic Cummings, who preached one thing, and then did another. However, white people moaning that they might get infected by your protest when they flocked to beaches last weekend just exacerbates the anger and sense of double standards on all sides.
Add to this the defacing of The Cenotaph and Churchill’s statue on the anniversary of D Day, together with the defacing of a statue of Abraham Lincoln - the man who emancipated American slaves - and you just shake your head in bewilderment at the crassness and ignorance. This has nothing to do with the brutal act meted out to a man in Minneapolis. These were deliberately destructive acts of mindless self-indulgence.
If you want to win the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens, this is no way to go about it, let alone the missile attacks on police and their poor horses. Let’s remember the 27 police officers who were hurt - some badly - in protests this week.
Black commentator Ralph Leonard said this weekend that “It is crass an inflammatory to equate racism in America with the experience of being black and British.” He can say that. I can’t.
The murder – and it was murder – of George Floyd horrified any right-thinking person, and the anger is has initiated all over the world is something to behold. It has shone a light on police brutality which many find deeply uncomfortable.
Our police in this country are not perfect, and nor are we.
A Yougov survey last week showed that 52% of us think that Britain is a racist society. Compared to other countries we have a very good record of integration and race relations, but there is still a long way to go. The day when black unemployment is the same level as that of every other group, or when two people, one called Lucy, and the other called Ndabaningi, get the same chance of a job interview will be the day when we can believe our work is done.
Our failings need to be highlighted, and yes, those of us who are thought to exude ‘white privilege’ need to examine our consciences, views and motivations. But if Black Lives Matter think that their actions of the last few days have done anything to further that cause, I fear they are wrong.
Denise from Enfield did more to open people’s eyes than violent protests ever will.
Iain Dale presents the Evening Show on LBC.