This weekend, we learned that the BBC is set to review the inclusion of Rule Britannia at the Last Night of the Proms. At first, I had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn’t April the First. Alas, it seems that broadcasting a performance of an Eighteenth century naval song from the Royal Albert Hall is going to prompt us all to board the nearest frigate and invade Spain. Or might they just have a point?
Of course, the worry about unruly airwaves isn’t simply in response to the Black Lives Matter movement; there are also practical difficulties about accommodating a large orchestra and choir, as is traditionally the case for the Last Night of the Proms. There certainly won’t be any Union flag waving, straw boater wearing promenaders in the audience. But, looking at Twitter, Nigel and Emma are outraged.
Now, to be clear, I’m not knocking the BBC, the Black Lives Matter Movement, nor Nigel and Emma. I agree that there are too many people in our society who have been underrepresented and undervalued for far too long. Our politicians seem to agree too. There is an outfit called the Pew Research Center, which tracks the Twitter activity of national legislators across the globe. They found that, outside the USA, the country with the most political tweeting about the horrific death of George Floyd, and the subsequent protest movement, was the United Kingdom.
Does this demonstrate that we have a bigger problem with racial inequality than other countries? Well, given that 9 out of 10 BAME people believe that Britain is a racist country, you’d be foolish to discount that possibility. Have we made progress? Is it enough? This isn’t really about switching on the TV and worrying about the gender and race balance on panel shows, is it?
I must admit that when it comes to all of this, I’m in the confused middle. I say this because I think calls from some quarters to defund the Police are as nonsense as calls to defund the BBC. I think I understand that this movement isn’t saying that Black Lives Matter more, I think what it’s trying to say is that Black Lives shouldn’t matter less.
But the message is getting lost in the noise. It’s why writing an article like this is terrifying – but maybe saying nothing at all is worse. It’s not as if I haven’t listened. You just can’t hear when everybody’s shouting.
I lived in Bristol for a while, and I walked past the statue of Edward Colston many hundreds of times. I agree that we can’t rewrite history, but many people would say that the statue should have gone years ago. There was talk, for a long time, about putting a second plaque up, explaining Colston’s role in the slave trade, but nobody could agree on the wording.
It’s right to talk about race, and we do need to address the long-standing problems of inclusion in our society. But we also need to include those stuck in the middle, those who would prefer a traditional Last Night of the Proms and “can’t really understand what all the fuss is about”. Those people who, frankly, aren’t quite sure what they think about statues and street names – those for whom the message has just become lost in the noise.