August 7, 2023 - 4:30pm

Jeff Goodell, climate correspondent of Rolling Stone, alarmingly told the Guardian in an interview on Sunday that racism is “at the heart of the failure to tackle heatwaves”. What’s more, “the people most impacted by heat are not the kind of voting demographic that gets any politician nervous,” according to the writer, who can’t have been paying attention to American politics for the last 70 years, let alone the steeply declining death rate from weather events.

To a certain class of white American, everything — no matter how important or trivial — is refracted through the prism of race. Think back to 2021, when fresh-faced former presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg confidently declared that motorways were somehow racist. Robin di Angelo, meanwhile, makes a living telling off other white Americans for their “white fragility”, apparently her term for when people tell her she’s talking a load of rubbish. Denying the charge of racism, of course, only makes one’s guilt more obvious.

This discussion is almost entirely conducted by white people, in America and increasingly in the UK, and has become little more than a pious point-scoring exercise. The subject matter — climate, motorways, whatever you pluck from the air — can be bludgeoned into shape as a spurious conversation piece with which white Americans can annoy other white Americans. The ludicrousness is a key element of the debate: it is a kind of tribal goading, a ploy to annoy the out-group. “Racism is absolutely central to the Government’s failure to protect vulnerable people,” Goodell says, without offering the slightest piece of evidence to support this serious claim.

For these types, ethnic minorities become mere pieces on the board, props in a skirmish. Witness how an unimaginably vast, multifarious and incommensurable global population of billions of disparate individuals are stuffed into a tiny box marked “people of colour” and treated as a monolithic block of clients — no matter how varied they might actually be.  

Of course, the moment a “person of colour” is not compliant with progressive ideology, these very same white progressives start depicting them as animals, mocking up photos of them with white faces and calling them “uncle Toms”. It’s different when the good guys do it, apparently.

The danger, as we see in the United States, comes when white people follow through and take it all seriously. They will then do anything, however stupid and counterproductive — “defunding” law enforcement, turning a blind eye to looting and shoplifting — just to spite their rival tribe. All the while, Buttigieg is gifted a billion dollars to tear up “racist” motorways. Not bad for something that doesn’t get politicians nervous, as Goodell suggests. 

There is some frustration that the UK is at the back of the queue for a lucrative trade deal with America. Really, though, this is a good thing. We should go further, and cut the place off completely until Americans have sorted themselves out. The contagion of their race fixation — with its totally different and much more unpleasant history — must be resisted, and we should decolonise our own discourse from them urgently. 

Gareth Roberts is a screenwriter and novelist, best known for his work on Doctor Who.