SARAH VINE: Sometimes you simply can't win in the race debate

SARAH VINE: The race debate is so toxic that sometimes you simply can’t win. Just ask Fiona Bruce!

As a middle-aged woman of bog-standard Caucasian descent, I have never in my life experienced any form of racism. 

Well, that’s not strictly true. When I moved back to the UK from Italy I was teased for being a ‘spag’ (short for spaghetti), but I hardly think that counts.

I have, however, witnessed plenty of racism directed at black and Asian friends over the years – and I have to admit, a lot of it is casual and, yes, unconscious.

Such as the time one was assumed to be a waiter purely on the basis that he was the only black man in the room; or another who was happily sipping his cocktail on a beach in an upmarket resort when another guest spotted him – and complained to the management.

Those and other jaw-dropping moments prove, to my mind at least, that people do judge others on the basis of their skin colour, and that even if we don’t mean to we can sometimes cause serious offence.

Especially if we come from the sort of ethnic background that hasn’t generally had to put up with very much of it. Just because it never really happens to us doesn’t mean it’s not real.

That said, there are some times when you just can’t win, however hard you try.

One such moment happened this week, when Fiona Bruce, presenter of BBC1’s Question Time, was accused of racism for directing a question about the cricketer Azeem Rafiq at the only person of colour on her panel, former Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal.

SARAH VINE: There are some times when you just can’t win, however hard you try. One such moment happened this week, when Fiona Bruce, presenter of BBC1’s Question Time, was accused of racism by panellist and former Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal

‘The brown person will answer first,’ he said, flashing a knowing smile at the audience. Somewhat taken aback, she responded. ‘Nazir, do you think that was wrong of me to come to you first?’ He replied, ‘I think so’.

Clearly upset by his response, she said, ‘Well let’s not do it. I’m not being sarcastic at all. I mean if that’s how you feel, I respect that.’ She then went to another member of the panel, Jordan Peterson, for his view.

It was really quite an extraordinary moment, and it perfectly illustrated the difficulties of the current, highly toxic and escalating atmosphere around issues of race, one that is being fuelled by extreme ideology, largely emanating from America.

Because the truth is there was simply no way Bruce, as a white person, could have got it right.

If she had not gone to Afzal first, she may have been accused of unconscious bias towards the white members of her panel, and found guilty of exercising her – and their – white privilege over the only person of Asian descent among them.

Perhaps that was in the back of her mind when she turned to him; or perhaps she just wanted to hear from the person who, because of his background and campaigning work in this area, might offer the best insight.

Pictured: Former Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal, who scolded BBC Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce for asking him a question first on cricketer Azeem Rafiq

In the context of leading a debate around the subject, that would seem like a sensible, logical step.

But of course it’s not about the debate, or about exploring a very complex issue in a civilised and constructive way. It’s about scoring as many points as possible, which is exactly what Afzal chose to do.

Personally, I think it rather backfired. By trying to embarrass Bruce, he not only lost control of the conversation, but he also crossed a line. A line between legitimate grievance; and deliberately finding offence where absolutely none is intended.

And that, in a nutshell, is the issue here. The vast majority of people are more than willing to accept that yes, racism – conscious or unconscious – is a problem and that it’s in everyone’s interest to eradicate it. What they can’t accept is that all white people are de facto and by virtue of their birth automatically guilty of it.

Fiona Bruce was accused of racism for directing a question about the cricketer Azeem Rafiq (pictured giving evidence to a parliamentary select committee on racism at Yorkshire Cricket Club) at the only person of colour on her panel, former Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal

Yet that is the narrative that has taken hold over the past few years in America, and which is now embedding itself in our schools, our universities and our institutions.

It paints all people of colour as victims; and all whites as their oppressors. It is simplistic, divisive – and most importantly, it’s not true.

Because as we saw from the case of Rafiq himself – who having given evidence to the select committee about the appalling abuse he suffered at Yorkshire Cricket Club was later found to have posted antisemitic jibes on Facebook – non-whites can also be racist.

Martin Luther King was right when he said that his dream was to see his kids grow up in a nation where they would be judged by the content of their character, not the colour of their skin.

If things carry on the way they are going we will only be getting further, not closer, to fulfilling that dream.

  • Colin Pitchfork, sentenced to ‘life’ in 1988 for the rape and murder of 15-year-old girls but released two months ago after serving 33 years is now back behind bars after exhibiting ‘concerning behaviour’. But the truth is he should never have been allowed out in the first place. Life should mean life. It’s really not that complicated.

Sorry Meghan but, once an actress…

Watching the Duchess of Sussex on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, it occurred to me that, as misguided and mystifying as her appearance was, it wasn’t real.

It was just another performance, another role in the Meghan playbook. We’ve had sad Meghan (talking to ITV’s Tom Bradby in South Africa), victim Meghan (Oprah), and now this is fun, upbeat, relatable Meghan. 

But this month the Appeal Court heard about the real Meghan, the one who likes to ‘pull at the heart strings’. I wonder: is anyone still buying her nonsense?

Pictured: The Duchess of Sussex appears on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Thursday

A Church of England primary school which removed Winston Churchill and J.K. Rowling as house names has justified its actions on the basis that ‘the change was entirely driven and led by our pupils’. And there, in a nutshell, is the problem. Adults are supposed to lead children, not the other way round. 

  • The Government is reportedly considering a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year. ‘Considering’? What is there to consider? As if Covid and the genocide of the Uighur Muslims isn’t enough, how about the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who vanished two weeks ago after she accused China’s ex-vice-premier of sexual assault? Britain’s absence won’t, of course, make a blind bit of difference in the grand scheme of things; but it would at least send an important signal.

Narcissistic nonsense!

The other day my son asked me how you knew you are finally a grown up. 

I said it was a) when you flossed regularly and b) when you at last learnt to put your plate actually IN the dishwasher as supposed to in the general vicinity in the vague hope that it will sprout legs and put itself in the machine.

But actually I’m wrong. It’s when you open the latest edition of Vogue, see nonsense like this, below, and realise that all high fashion these days is narcissistic nonsense.

Pictured: The December edition of British Vogue featuring Dandy glove bag and an oversized tweed coat

  • It’s suggested that the Remembrance Day bomber, Emad Al Swealmeen, may have converted to Christianity in order to strengthen his bid to remain in the UK. He wouldn’t be the first – or the last – to pull the wool over the eyes of gullible Church of England clergy desperate to get more bums on seats. After all, plenty of middle-class non-believers become avid church-goers to get their children into nice church schools. 

THE BIG MET QUESTION

On the very day the Met Police released a list of 44 questions officers should ask themselves before, during and after they handcuff a suspect, a friend forwarded me a video from his local neighbourhood watch group.

It shows a group of muggers chasing a middle-aged man near Sloane Square and repeatedly tasering him while his friend tries desperately to fight him off. The man writhes in agony before his attackers grab his watch and make off. 

If you ask me, there’s only really one question that needs asking: why is Cressida Dick still in her job?

Pictured: Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick

  • Why do men – like the Australian cricket captain Tim Paine – think it’s a good idea to send women pictures of their appendages? Even attached to a sportsman, it’s never a pretty sight.

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