Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Sometimes, Radio 4 is simply beyond parody - like yesterday’s Front Row featuring a “Jamaican-American” poetess

Claudia Rankine
I sometimes switch the radio on while doing the washing up (I’m in touch with my feminine side). It’s always on Radio 4, because, like many women from her background, my wife has apparently been brought up with a confirmed disbelief in the existence of other radio stations (apart from Radio 4 Extra, of course). Consequently, the kitchen radio is always set to R4. Anyway, I’d just got stuck in to the pans when I heard the following mouth-watering introduction to the next item:
“Last night, it was announced that the Jamaican-American poet Claudia Rankine has won the Forward Prize for Poetry. A few weeks ago, she came onto Front Row to talk about her latest collection, Citizen: An American Lyric, which is a series of prose poems - almost like very short stories - about casual, everyday racism. Here she is, reading one of them for us.” 
I got about ten seconds into the prose poem almost like a very short story before uttering my own improvised prose poem - almost like a string of very loud obscenities - and switching the radio off.

I remembered the incident today while watching the lunchtime news. It seems that the Prime Minister of Jamaica has extended a traditional warm Caribbean welcome to David Cameron by demanding that British taxpayers like me should pay reparations to present-day Jamaicans on account of slavery. Which was abolished in Britain in 1833. And I’m half-Norwegian, so do I get a discount? And does the UK have to divvy up for all those of Jamaican descent who - despite the terrible psychological scars left by reading about slavery in history books - are now living over here, apparently voluntarily? And what about Ainsley Harriott, who is apparently descended from a white slave-owner - should he get double, or nothing? 600 Jamaican nationals are currently languishing in British prisons - as they’re already costing us an average of £36,000 per annum each, do we really have to give them more money for stuff that happened almost 200 years ago?

Or - and here’s a thought - why don’t Jamaican politicians grow up and devise ways of turning Jamaica from a criminal hell-hole (one of the highest murder rates in the world) back into a relatively prosperous, low-crime society with a successful tourist industry? You know, like it used to be. Before independence.

The vast majority of racially-motivated crimes in America are committed by blacks against whites, but the opening of Ms Rankine’s prose poem didn’t suggest that this startling but undeniable fact was necessarily going to be one of her main themes. On the contrary, the opening hinted that it was going to be about inherently racist policemen unfairly suspecting middle class black males of being up to no good. Which is actually highly relevant, because knife crime in London has recently risen by 23%, presumably because the Home Secretary ordered the police to cut down on the number of stop-and-searches they were conducting, in order to reduce tensions among the criminal community and anger on the part of law-abiding young black males (in other words, the majority) at being frequently inconvenienced. If I were a law-abiding young black male, I’d be a lot angrier with the young black criminals whose anti-social behaviour had rendered me a police target - but the police don’t carry knives, so I guess it’s easier (and less dangerous) to blame them.

What I heard of Ms Rankine’s poem sounded dreadful, so I looked her up on the Poetry Foundation website, and found the following:
Her work often crosses genres as it tracks wild and precise movements of mind. Noting that “hers is an art neither of epiphany nor story,” critic Calvin Bedient observed that “Rankine’s style is the sanity, but just barely, of the insanity, the grace, but just barely, of the grotesqueness.” Discussing the borrowed and fragmentary sources for her work in an interview with Paul Legault for the Academy of American Poets, Rankine stated, “I don't feel any commitment to any external idea of the truth. I feel like the making of the thing is the truth, will make its own truth.” 
When it comes to race, it seems that many people prefer to make their own truth.


  1. Sadly, my radio is also tuned tp Radio 4 more or less permanently. As such, it is rarely on for longer than one or two minutes.

    There was a time when I loved (not too strong a word) Radio 4 but its ceaseless promotion of cultural Marxism has put paid to that.

    PS Dishwashers are very good these days.

    1. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older, crotchetier and more conservative, but it does seem to have upped the propaganda part of its remit recently. God knows, I enjoy being lectured by man-hating feminists, climate-change maniacs and multiculturalism fanatics as much as the next man - and I bow to no one in my contempt for business, the profit motive, and private sector involvement in transport, education and health care - but even I am beginning to wonder if dear old R4 might think about leavening the diet of Guardian right-onery with an occasional nod to the majority of licence-payers who don't happen to share these enlightened attitudes. Asking too much, I expect.

  2. SG -sent your piece to my friend in Jamaica, who responded with this...

    In Jamaica the begging bowl is never far away. As a group this seems not to provoke in Jamaicans any sense of shame. The officials who are paid to know these things- in this case the British High Commissioner and his team here in Kingston- allowed Cameron to embark on a potentially humiliating and totally futile mission. Seems to be the norm for US and UK diplomats in recent years.

    Here’s a few rejoinders I’d have suggested to Cameron had they had the wit to ask my advice ....

    · Try asking the Arabs - they’re the ones who bought the slaves from the tribal chiefs in the first place- and they’ve got lots of moulah

    · Failing that ask the Nigerian clan chiefs ( some of them Govt ministers) to cough up because it was their ancestors who, instead of as usual eating their captives, sold them to the Arabs

    · Say a big thank-you to Britain for abolishing the Slave trade after your ancestors escaped from darkest Africa to find gainful employment in a happier clime.

    · Why would anyone pay you anything when you MPs don’t pay your taxes. ( Daily Gleaner / less than 50% of MPs of both parties have filed a tax return on election donations received 5 yrs ago )

    1. Fascinating to hear the views of someone on the spot, mahlerman - my thank to you and your friend. I didn't know about their MPs not paying taxes, but it's not all that surprising, given the moral insanity of those who believe that strangers who owe them nothing should be forced to pay for their unaffordable lifestyle choices.

      An old friend of mine used to be invited every year to be a judge at the annual world steel band festival held in the West Indies. He used to enjoy the experience, but the last time he went he found the general atmosphere so ugly and threatening, he decided to refuse further invitations.

  3. Africa has received over one trillion dollars in aid money over the last 50 years.The continent is simply awash with the stuff.I'm sure the considerate rulers there would be only too delighted to share some of this with the African diaspora.

    1. Depends if they can remember the numbers of the Swiss bank accounts in which most of our money is now temporarily "resting".