by UnHerd
Monday, 28
June 2021
Video
17:24

Kemi Badenoch: Britain is the best place in the world to be black

Freddie Sayers spoke to the Equalities Minister about race relations in the UK
by UnHerd

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

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Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

I am totally inclined with her . I am an ethnic minority and have lived here since 2011. I have not really found racism here, partly because
1) I choose not to see certain comments as racist. They are simply old words in use & a jargon that is more descriptive than demeaning
2) I choose not to TAKE offence.
3) there are racial differences everywhere, in the whole world. Here it is minute in comparison
4) despite (some)racial overtones the people here are mostly tolerant and the opportunities ( which are not racially biased) far outweigh the problems of racial inequality
5)the freedom of speech allows all voices to be heard which is non existent in many countries
6) It is unrealistic to expect no alarm from the existing citizens when vast number of people enter & live in a country esp if the look and language ( culture) of the place is visibly changing. The first generation of newcomers are more aware of trying to fit in than the children of that generation.
All in all I find UK is a great place to live , I appreciate it & the experience has been positive on the whole.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago

Your first comment is very relevant. It is important not to choose to take offence where none is intended but quite easy to do so!

jill dowling
jill dowling
1 year ago

What a sensible person you are, glad you are here

Howard Gleave
Howard Gleave
1 year ago

I so totally agree with Judy Johnson. You choose not to take offence. We can all find “micro aggressions”. But why look for offence where none is meant? Good post.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
1 year ago

This is a really impressive lady — aware of complexity and nuance, the abuse of language, problems with quotas, she even knows what’s going on in France! I’d vote for her!

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
1 year ago

She’ll end up being the country’s first black prime minister one day.

gillian.johnstone
gillian.johnstone
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

I hope so. She is so impressive in debate, when she responds to the oppositions shouty virtue-signalling with effortless-seeming precision!

D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago

wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to make everything about “race” though. I wonder if i’ll ever live to see the day. The progress we’ve made in the last 40 years appears to have been annihilated in the last 12 months

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

I do hope so!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

Very absorbing interview and a super smart woman indeed. May this sort of engagement indicate the way of the future in respect of equality and diversity discussions. Intelligent, nuanced, polite. So very tired of the baying mob.

Hugh Eveleigh
Hugh Eveleigh
1 year ago

An extraordinary woman who speaks rationally, carefully and eloquently. Entirely admirable and thank goodness for having such an individual in government.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

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,….(Kemi Badenoch above)
This statement does not fill me with confidence.
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. (Kemi Badenoch above).
Louise Perry in The New Statesman this weekend, “The Conservatives are pursuing an anti-woke agenda because they know that it resonates with voters.”
I lived in Nigeria, and I moved to the UK aged 16….  I always say that Britain is the best place in the world to be black, specifically. And I still stick to that.” 
She has never lived in another country apart from Nigeria so how can she say?
I am not against the ideas or politics of Ms Badenoch but her statements come over to me as very amateurish.
The issue of woke, who is driving it and who is not, is quite simple. The Left are arguing and talking at every opportunity and they are winning. The Right is ignoring it and hoping that it will go away but still passing legislation in line with the demands of the Left. The issue hinges on the point of positive discrimination. The Left wants to attack anyone with privilege (except themselves of course) and the Right is plodding on, giving a little here, giving a little there. Arguably, the Right is wrong because not speaking about woke is bringing it in through the back door.

Frederick B
Frederick B
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I rarely agree with you Mr.Wheatley, but on this you are spot on.

Ana Cronin
Ana Cronin
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I agree re your last paragraph. In reagrd to Mrs Badenoch living long term in only two countries I am sure that even if she has not lived full time in other countries she will have traveled and visited many. I have lived in several countries but have also visted others for extended period or visited & stayed off the tourist trail.
With the latter two trip types, you also learn alot about a country particulary on the latter, and especially when accompanied with your mixed race family!. France remains an unpleasant experience and despite the common assumption that cities are more liberal it is rural France that is a more pleasant experience. Many Arab countries remain racist for visitors and workers, ask the Asian populations who work in the Middle East.
Mrs Badenoch is indeed impressive.

Kasia Chapman
Kasia Chapman
1 year ago
Reply to  Ana Cronin

It was fascinating to learn about Nigerian take on equality and diversity and how quotas may deliver that but they don’t deliver good public service. This is the best argument for meritocracy. There will always be individuals and groups of peoples who despite the signs of hostility towards them shine through . My examples are: Marie Curie as a woman scientist in the ( then) man’s world persevered and was awarded two Nobel prizes and Jewish people who have risen in every discipline to the top ( except …. sport) despite discrimination in every country they resided and the horrors of Holocaust.

I am very impressed by Kemi Badenoch as I am impressed by any woman who goes into politics. They are very brave.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
1 year ago
Reply to  Kasia Chapman

Very true. I shudder to think what it must be like for a politician and her family to open their computer and find a slew of rape and death threats if she has dared to say anything unpopular with the keyboard warriors. How do you learn to ignore that?

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Hi Chris
When you say that Ms Badenoch’s statements are ‘amateurish’ I suggest that you mean she talks like a normal human being not an ideologue or a politician or an academic. She makes her points very clearly without hedging or using distancing jargon.
Regarding her point about crime. I think it is well made. Nearly everyone has broken the law at some point (even if it’s only speeding) and been the victim of some sort of crime, those two facts are not unconnected. None of us is perfect. In the same way, many Britons have their little prejudices and a few of them are out and out racists, but racism is not a defining characteristic of this country, as it might be said to be in South Africa or the US.
I think it’s a bit harsh to say you need to have lived in every country in the world to know which ones are better or worse on various counts. You can learn a lot if you watch the news. For instance, almost every country in Europe has a flourishing anti-foreigner, right-wing party, except for the UK. The US, Canada, Australia and NZ all have to cope with having ousted an indigenous population that remains discriminated against. (You will mention that it was British immigrants that originally invaded these countries, and I agree, but I am speaking of the present not the past).
As regards your last paragraph, I totally agree and hope that Ms Badenoch represents the fight back against these divisive and oppressive theories.

George Wells
George Wells
1 year ago

Good interview.
As she is Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, UnHerd might do another interview with her relating to that.
I feel some sadness that the black person is so often discussing racism (though, yes, it relates to her other job).
Kemi also has an interesting perspective on class. Perhaps she would like to talk about that.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago

The USA is the most racially diverse integrated society in the world. At roughly 60 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic, 13 percent black. 4 percent Asian. No other country on Earth comes even close. Arguably Sinapore but the mix is not as diverse and it is a much smaller country. Yet still it is claimed it is an evil racist country.