June 28, 2021 - 5:24pm

Is Britain a racist country? This is a question that sharply divides most Brits, but for one Government minister, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’. In an interview with UnHerd’s LockdownTV, Kemi Badenoch, exchequer secretary for the treasury and an Equalities Minister, tells Freddie Sayers that Britain is the “best place in the world to be black” and that an excessive focus on race alone can end up obscuring the debate.

Her comments follow on from an education report that came out last week which found that white working-class pupils had been failed by decades of neglect in England’s education system. It is examples like these, argues Badenoch, that highlight how phrases like ‘white privilege’ are not only divisive, but inaccurate too.

Is Britain racist?

No. And I think many people find that answer challenging. The analogy I often use to express it is that I don’t believe that the UK is a criminal country. Despite almost everyone I know having been a victim of crime, the threshold for what one uses to describe whether an entire country is racist for me is quite high. It needs to be embedded in systems deliberately designed to disadvantaged people like we saw in the US with Jim Crow or in South Africa with apartheid. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have problems. But my view is that we should look at the very best in terms of the behaviour of the people around us.
- Kemi Badenoch, UnHerd

On “White Privilege”:

When the zeitgeist is talking about white privilege, unconsciously, I think a lot of the policy is then focused away from those people who need it the most into other areas that are easy for other people to talk about…Many people who use it [white privilege] are well-meaning but they don’t understand that it is contested, and the meaning of the phrase is contested… 
- Kemi Badenoch, UnHerd

Is it difficult taking these positions as a black politician?

I know that if I don’t say these things, it’ll be very hard for other people to say what they believe to be true…What really pleases me is that after any intervention I make, I get so many emails from not just white people, but actually lots of ethnic minorities, who say, “thank God you’re saying this, because it feels like no one understands or hears my point of view”…Actually having a government minister saying “we don’t think this is the right way to do these things” is very helpful. So I’ll keep going. 
- Kemi Badenoch, UnHerd

On her experience as a first-generation immigrant:

I lived in Nigeria, and I moved to the UK aged 16. I came here on my own… Growing up in a place where everybody looked the same meant that I didn’t have a view of being ‘othered’; I chose to come to this country. One of the advantages you have as a first generation immigrant is that you can often compare two totally different places. That’s one of the reasons I always say that Britain is the best place in the world to be black, specifically. And I still stick to that.”
- Kemi Badenoch, UnHerd

On why she ‘hates’ the phrase culture wars:

I hate the phrase culture wars, I don’t even like the term woke. It’s not a word I use. One of the reasons why is because it makes it sound like you’re fighting a battle with people rather than making a very clear, coherent argument. For a long time, the government didn’t say anything on these topics, because we don’t want to look like we’re distracted from the things that really matter to people like looking after their health, their education, the economy.
- Kemi Badenoch, UnHerd

Who is fighting the culture wars?

You can look at the Batley and Spen by-election as a very classic example that even when the Right says nothing, a lot of these arguments that are supposedly cultural arguments  are happening purely on the Left. Just look at the battle between LGBT rights versus the rights of religious minorities. This is mostly a battle on the Left. It’s the same thing with Left-wing feminists and trans-rights activists. These are not Right-wing battles, and the Right doesn’t need to get involved for these so-called culture wars to take place. 
- Kemi Badenoch, UnHerd

On the race and ethnic disparities report:

All but one of the [Commission on Race and Ethnicity Disparities] report’s authors were from an ethnic minority background. They were called Coons and Uncle Toms; their workplaces were targeted; they had death threats. We can recognise in a liberal society that anyone who behaves like that certainly cannot be on the right side of the argument. There are people who are threatened by hearing these things, because in some way they profit, if not financially, but emotionally from these arguments. It helps them affirm their own beliefs, which I believe comes from a hard Left perspective.
- Kemi Badenoch, UnHerd

Are we at a turning point in discussions around race in Britain?

People shouldn’t be rash when having these discussions. It can be very sensitive, especially for those people who have had really awful horrible experiences, and we mustn’t discount that. We do want to look at everything that’s happening. We want people to trust us because we have an ambition to provide opportunity to all, irrespective of whatever background or gender or sexuality someone comes from. That’s really what this government believes, and that’s what we’re fighting for.
- Kemi Badenoch, UnHerd