Has Akala just dramatically moved the race debate?


Most Black writers or activists know that going on national TV and radio to talk about race issues, particularly race inequality, more often than not will be to enter a rigged debate. That is to say that most of the time the presenter and their chosen guests will not only set themselves up Full Square against you, but they will also attempt to characterize you as part of the problem for daring to raise the issues; rather than discuss some of the legitimate elements that cause persistent inequalities.

I remember painfully watching the writer Afua Hirsch get politically mauled during a discussion on Sky TV programme called The Pledge. In it Hirsch was talking about the racism that Meghan Markle had been subjected to and lamenting about Donald Trump’s reference to African countries as ‘sh**holes’.

The four guests rounded on her like a pack of wolves. Two of them in particular: Columnist Carole Malone turned her nose up to Hirsch and dismissively huffed, ‘You see racism everywhere'. Whilst Apprentice star Michelle Dewsbury arrogantly snooted, ‘I don’t look at the race of anyone', before going on to say, 'I’m uncomfortable about people pushing stuff on racism that I didn’t even consider.’

This is one of many examples, and why in no small measure Renni Edde-Lodge wrote her ground breaking book; Why I don’t talk to white people about race’.

But what I witnessed yesterday on Good Morning Britain with the more than opinionated Piers Morgan was something quite extraordinary.

Rather than adopt his usual adversarial mode, Morgan had clearly read Akala’s notes beforehand and agreed with just about everything he said. In particular, that the UK, its media and Government, viewed recent ‘knife crime’ only through the prism of race. “Black people do not have the monopoly on serious crime or general bad behaviour’ stated Akala, adding, “but when soaring levels of knife crime occurred in Glasgow, for example, the race of the criminals was not an issue, but with Black people it’s the only issue.”

Morgan agreed, then without prompting, articulated the shocking disparity of journalism that had written about New Zealand murderer, in comparison to, for example an ISIS Jihadist. “Why are they never viewed the same” opined Morgan. So reflective was the conversation that Akala was able to say something I’ve always wanted to raise, but not dared publically for fear of a backlash – was that white men such as Piers Morgan ‘could fit the racial profile of a paedophile (white, middle-aged man) but that would be shockingly wrong’. Morgan turned to him and said “you’re absolutely right.”

Now let’s be clear, it’s unlikely that this one interview, brilliant as it was, is not going to radically move the dial on racial politics anytime soon, but it could be a start. I think the dynamics of the interview should be widely shared, and we should urge other presenters to both see it and engage more in this type of sensible debate. That way we can begin to talk about solutions rather than justifying the debate at all.

But I won’t be holding my breath that politicians and media people will readily engage. I once remember, for example, having a quiet chat at a function with shockjock Nick Ferrari of LBC radio. I said, ‘Nick why does it always have to be Punch and Judy style conversation when I’m on your programme, why can’t we discuss solutions? He shook his head in a weary way, and said, “you clearly have not understood what my show is about’”

I clearly did understand that his programme was all about: Creating drama often from a white privileged ivory tower that sought to metaphorically kick Black people and in particularly Muslims, because much of their audience liked it. I just wanted it to stop.

Simon Woolley