Nesrine Malik is right that “a culture war rages, featuring daily assaults on a cast of characters and organisations broadly associated with racial justice, migrant rights or attempts to reappraise Britain’s account of its colonial history” (The culture war isn’t harmless rhetoric, it’s having a chilling effect on equality, 22 February). But because she is on the right side of history, she apparently fails to see that the choice of words that the Black Lives Matter movement uses to frame its funding requirement, ie “to improve black people’s lives in a racist society”, actually leaves those millions of people who were educated in the belief that empire was good with nowhere to go: if it is a racist society and I am not on the right side of history, then I am a racist.
If we are to avoid our fellow citizens falling into the hands of rightwing extremists then, without detracting from the social justice imperative, we need to embrace a vocabulary and dialogue that is more nuanced and which gives people on the wrong side of history the opportunity to reflect on their cultural preconceptions and prejudices in a climate that is less febrile and accusatory.
• Nesrine Malik’s article reminds me of another occasion when the government launched a targeted attack on critics to obscure the impacts of its disastrous social policies. Back in the 1980s, the National Association of Citizens’ Advice Bureaux (NACAB) collected information from its local bureaux about a wide range of issues and published the data in the form of short briefing papers. The cumulative effect of these papers in the area of social security showed how cuts in benefits were generating hugely increased poverty among most population groups.
Thatcher’s government argued that NACAB should not be engaging in politics, and threatened to withdraw NACAB’s core funding, which would have led to its closure. NACAB, supported by a wide-ranging protest, and with legal advice, resisted the threat, which was later ruled unlawful. Fortunately, Black Lives Matter UK does not rely on government funding, but civil society has to ensure that through it and other channels, the fight continues to resist the government’s attempt to obscure its increasingly racist policies, actions and threats.
Prof Gary Craig