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Dominic Raab’s obliviousness to taking a knee feels eerily like a government ploy to enrage black people

The minister is supposed to be an expert on foreign affairs, yet his giddy ignorance over Black Lives Matter seems like yet another attempt to heighten tensions

Nels Abbey
Thursday 18 June 2020 17:00 BST
Dominic Raab says he would only take the knee for the Queen and 'the Mrs when I asked her to marry me'

Politically, Britain has been in the sewer for a while now. But the sewer has levels. Thanks to Dominic Raab, our politics and standing in the eyes of the world sunk a few levels lower today.

In a jolly interview with right-wing radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer (on TalkRadio) he was asked about Black Lives Matter and, specifically, taking a knee. The right honourable Dominic Raab, Her Majesty’s principal secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, said the following: “I understand this sense of frustration and restlessness which is driving the Black Lives Matter movement...”

A point of quick correction for the foreign secretary: the Black Lives Matter movement is not driven by a sense of “frustration and restlessness”. It is driven by an urgent push for justice after the entire world saw an 8 minute and 46-second lynching of a black man at the hands of American police officers.

One would have thought that a whole British foreign secretary would know this but at times we all expect far too much.

Raab continued: “I’ve got say, on this take the knee thing – which, I don’t know, maybe it’s got a broader history but it seems to be taken from Game of Thrones – feels to me like a symbol of subjugation and subordination, rather than one of liberation and emancipation. But I understand people feel differently about it, so it’s a matter of personal choice.”

Raab sounds like every slick proud racist I have ever met. That is not to say that he is or is not a racist (I don’t want to be sued for libel): but he does a fantastic job of sounding like one.

Taking a knee is, of course, not a symbol of “subjugation and subordination” or even one of “liberation and emancipation”. It is a symbol of solidarity and respect for black victims of police brutality. It is a sign of aligning oneself with the movement towards the re-humanisation, re-dignifying and just treatment of black people.

Contrary to the clear insult by Raab, it did not come from Game of Thrones. It emerged (in recent times) after the American football star Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee in protest against police brutality while the American anthem played, as opposed to sitting out, a compromise he came to out of respect for the military.

Raab is the most senior diplomat in the land. He is supposed to be an expert on foreign affairs – especially affairs that started in our closest allied nation and have near-identical reverberations in our country too. He is supposed to be someone who can contextualise the rest of the world to Britain and Britain to the rest of the world. He is supposed to know that his words reflect the thoughts and position of the British government and people. Raab is supposed to be one of our leaders.

His words on TalkRadio today were some of the greater shirks of responsibility and derelictions of duty ever by a holder of one of the great offices of state.

Raab would never label a culturally-linked mark of respect and/or solidarity such as a moment of silence, bowing one’s head or joining arms as some form of “subjugation or subordination”. But when it comes to black people and black traditions, the foreign secretary clearly views them as cheap comedy fodder.

I repeat: I am not saying Raab is a racist. I am saying he doing an excellent job of creating the impression that he is one.

Our current Tory government has been an ill-respected catastrophe in every sense of the word, including coronavirus, communications, the economy, driving issues, Brexit and beyond. So, what does any gambler (or Tory politician) do when the chips are down? They always bet on black. The British government, however, appear to be betting on anti-black.

Why are they so eager to pick a fight with their own black citizens? Almost every move they make that may be notably relevant to black people seems to be designed to enrage (and perhaps embolden the racist elements of their base). There’s the redacted Bame Covid-19 report; the selection of a racism-denier to lead the completely unnecessary and unrequested commission into racial inequality; their desire to maintain statues of white supremacists; their desire to make the Black Lives Matter struggle a culture war about statues and TV shows. And now Raab’s words on Black Lives Matter and taking a knee.

From London to Lagos to Atlanta to everywhere, Raab’s words and this government’s anti-black actions will be remembered a lot longer than a news cycle or even a term in government. They will help shape how post-Covid-19 Brexit Britain is perceived and embraced.

This is a pivotal time; we are in a period of swift change. When we needed our government to show emphatic world-conquering leadership on this change they decided to mock, immiserate and fight to maintain statues and the status quo.

Nels Abbey is a writer and media executive based in London. His debut book, ‘Think Like A White Man’, will be out in paperback on the 16 July 2020

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