In a radio interview, Home Secretary Priti Patel stated that she would refuse to kneel in honour of the Black Lives Matter movement.
She described the protests last year – in the wake of George Floyd’s killing last year in the US – as “dreadful”, and that she would refuse to take the knee.
There has since been a public reckoning and debate in the UK with regards to whether or not some statues should remain erected or removed from public spectacle.
Several statues of historical British figures have been called into question due to their relations to slavery and colonialism, including a statue of Edward Colston (a former slave trader) which was toppled illegally and pushed into the nearby docks.
In a similar incident, a memorial of Winston Churchill in central London was vandalised with the words “is a racist” by Black Lives Matter activists.
Many people have questioned whether or not the United Kingdom is a safe place for black people, when powerful political leaders such as Priti Patel openly express disapproval and disgust for an anti-racism movement.
In an radio interview with broadcaster Nick Ferrari, Priti Patel described the Black Lives Matter protests which took place last year as “dreadful”. Live on LBC Radio, Priti Patel made it abundantly clear that she did not approve of the “taking the knee” gesture.
She said [about being prepared to take the knee], “No I wouldn’t, and I would not have done at the time either.”
“There are other ways in which people can express their opinions, protesting in the way that people did last summer was not the right way at all … I didn’t support the protests. Those protests were dreadful.”
“We saw policing as well coming under a great deal of pressure from some of the protest. I don’t support protest and I also did not support the protests that were associated …”
When challenged by Ferrari, she clarified that she was referring to specific BLM protests, and not that she believed that people should not have a right to protest as a democratic right which citizens have the right to exercise.
The comments were related to recent comments made by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg who accused London Mayor Sadiq Khan of overseeing “loony, left-wing wheezes“, following a commission to promoted diversity in London’s public spaces.
It has raised debate as to whether or not BAME people (particularly black) feel safe or welcome in the UK.
It’s hard to decipher whether Priti Patel simply delights in offending minorities or whether she genuinely believes what she says.
In any event, her most recent comments are the latest in a saga of offence and gross indifference at plights of minorities, especially Black British people. For many, this latest episode will coalesce what they have come to believe about the Home Secretary as aloof and dense.
They will say that It is a damning indictment of our society that a British home secretary appears to be more offended by the pulling down of a statue, and more outraged at protests against racial inequality and injustice, than she is by the suffering of Black British people. It isn’t a good look for a woman who doesn’t have the best of reputations in the Black community and in politics, the optic matters. Ever since she made the statements, pressure has been growing on Priti Patel.
She branded the anti-racism protest movement Black Lives Matter “dreadful” and criticised the practice of taking a knee. Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said his counterpart’s comments were “unacceptable” and that the Black Lives Matter movement was “a powerful call for change from across society”.
Ms Patel had said she opposed the civil rights protests as “not the right way at all” and also that she opposed the peaceful symbolic gesture of “taking the knee”. The natural response is, well, what is the right way’?. Taking the knee” – these three simple words call attention to the racial inequality and racial injustice suffered by Black people. In her own words, there ‘many ways’ to make your voice heard and protestors decided taking the knee was one of them.
There is no monolithic view of what an ethnic minority woman should stand for. However, no one should use their position and influence to deepen racial inequality.
The UK is a home for black people.
Not all black people think in a monolithic manner, and assuming so removes any kind of consideration for individuality and diversity of opinion. It is wrong to put all Afro-Caribbean people into the same ideological category.
Assumptions and loaded questions like this have the potential to further marginalise black individuals who do not identify with mainstream narratives about black people.
There are black individuals out there who agree with Patel and find the BLM protests distasteful. An example of this is Kemi Badenoch, Minister for Equalities, who called out BLM in a speech in Parliament that went viral.
Ironically, many of the people who claim that Britain isn’t a safe space for black people racially abused Badenoch after her speech.
Badenoch and Patel’s respective positions should not obligate them to take a certain stance on a movement such as BLM.
Britain is not an innocent party in the history of racism, but to say that it isn’t a safe place for black people is an insult to the enormous amount of progress made.
Examples of this include Patel and Badenoch’s respective positions in Parliament. There was once a time in Britain where BAME people holding such prestigious positions in the government would unheard of and unthinkable. Now, it’s commonplace.
As recently as the 60s, there were signs which read “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish” in the windows of establishments. Now, there are laws and legislation which prohibit discrimination based upon characteristics, including race and ethnicity.
The truth of the matter is that two BAME people not only hold positions of power and influence, but have committed the grave sin of disagreeing with a movement.
If to be ‘safe’ means to have rights to not be discriminated against and to be able to choose your own path, then black people are more than ‘safe’.
If being ‘safe’ means to have intellectual comfort and be offended that another black person does not subscribe to your own viewpoints and ideology, then black people aren’t ‘safe’; then again, nobody should be.
To not be discriminated against is a right. Intellectual and ideological comfort is not.