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They can’t turn the clock on racism… we won’t let them

Black Lives Matter protesters hold a banner as they take part during the Kill The Bill march outside Buckingham Palace, April 3, 2021 - Credit: Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Malignant nostalgia is covering up the truth about racism in the UK, claims Bonnie Greer.

The new voting laws in the US state of Georgia and the newly published report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities in the UK have one thing in common: They belong to another age.

Both came into being in reaction to the times: one a set of rushed provisions, another a rushed report, albeit one that took almost a year to publish.

They are examples of two factors: pressure and control. They are twins in that they were brought into being in reaction to the social justice movement known as Black Lives Matter. It is the underpinning of this specific pressure on the culture that right wing and right of centre leaders and governments are feeling.

The Sewell Report even implies that the slogan should be mocked, seen as alien in relation to the protests in Britain.

Alien, too, is the freedom of the African American vote, hard-fought and hard-won: alien to the Georgia of governor Brian Kemp. Senate Bill 202, under the guise of protecting elections after a general election that the Attorney General of the state, whose office runs elections, said was the safest in Georgia’s history, limits ballot access. It potentially confuses voters; takes away control at the local level and hands more power to the Republican majority in the legislature.

SB202 will make it so that voters have less time to request absentee ballots; there are strict new ID requirements for those ballots; it is illegal now for election officials to mail out absentee ballots.

Drop boxes are all but gone; mobile voting centres are essentially banned; early voting is expanded in small counties – mainly rural – but harder in more populous, ethnically diverse communities.

Offering food and water to people standing in line becomes a misdemeanour; if you go to the wrong polling place it will be even harder to vote; if a problem arises at an election place, it is more difficult to resolve; higher voter turnout elections will become more difficult to call… and it goes on and on.

In other words, SB202 is designed to prevent what happened at GE2020: The defeat of the Republican Party. It is, as many have called it, “Jim Crow In A Suit” – a reference to the notorious emblem of segregation.

The Sewell Report, meant to be an examination of institutional racism, also examines the plight of the majority population. Important in its own right, but the inclusion of this is an absurdity in a report whose commission was not set up to examine the majority culture.

Yet it does make sense when the report is seen as an attempt to create an illusion of a jolly nice Britain just beneath the surface.

I will avoid the tempting term ‘whitewash’ to describe the entire work of Sewell and his fellow commissioners.

The pressure, in the case of Georgia, on its Republican governor and Republican majority legislature, is the fact that they are losing the demographic race. This is happening in the UK, too.

Both the creators of SB 202 and The Sewell Report cling to a time in which it was possible to believe that ordinary people, in the case of Georgia, can be bulldozed, and worse. And in the case of the UK, that they obey their ‘betters’ and that they do not read.

They aim to reduce the citizenry to become passive spectators of the theatre that they are attempting to create.

In Georgia’s case, a rushed solution to a problem that does not exist. And in the case of Britain, a theatre of the absurd produced for its master of ceremonies, Boris Johnson.

And in the wings of this ridiculous theatre, Policy Exchange: a think tank that exchanges no policies except the ones that it creates, largely from the right. An organisation that does not believe that institutional racism, which it was advising the commissioners tasked to investigate, even exists.

If you take the ‘a’ and the ‘e’ out of the report’s formal title you get the acronym CRED. Only a report generated by Boris Johnson could come up with something as hilarious as that.

Georgia, of course, is the home of that masterpiece of Ku Klux Klan apologia Gone With The Wind.  

And CRED has the air of judgement on the lower orders being passed by the kind of assemblage of of “the great and the good” that Mr Pooter from Diary Of A Nobody longed to join. It is Edwardian in tone, perfect for the most Edwardian PM since, well, Edwardian times.

In the introduction to the report, penned by the leader of the commissioners, Dr Tony Sewell proudly states: “There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain.”

That is 100% ‘the sun never sets’ Empire jargon. It is at once absurd, offensive and shocking, especially coming from a man whose ancestors, it can be assumed, were the survivors of the “Caribbean experience.”

The Georgia state voter suppression laws, like CRED, should be read aloud in class by every teen, especially ethnic minority ones, so that they can understand how the powers-that-be see them. What their future might be.

It would certainly be read aloud by Mr Pooter at his Edwardian supper table as an example of Britain, read that for “England”, being better than the rest of the world.
Georgia and Britain are now being led into a malignant nostalgia. The most intelligent and far-seeing among Republicans and Conservatives know that their parties, as are they now, have no future.

By the mid-century, the US will not be ruled by the Brian Kemps of this world, but by the adherents of his opponent in the ferocious Georgia gubernatorial race: the former leader of the state Assembly, Stacey Abrams.

And who will lead Britain?

It will be the 18- to 23-year-olds I have the honour of working with. Multi-ethnic, they are the adherents of Stacey Abrams’ admonition to the voters of Georgia to “Stay In Line.” Stay in the space that you make for yourself; let nothing deter you.

The Edwardian England that Boris Johnson is attempting to impose on 21st century Britain will not hold, just as the attempt of Brian Kemp to turn back the clock will not.

Diary Of A Nobody and Gone With The Wind are powerful works. They speak to a national subconscious. They are  examples of the saying: “If you have to explain, you’re losing.”  

The future is out of the hands of Brian Kemp, Boris Johnson and their adherents.

And the present is, too.

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