It now appears that HS2, which by most accounts will turn out to be a very expensive white elephant, is a ‘woke’ project. That’s what you’d come away thinking after reading this Daily Telegraph headline: “Jeremy Hunt faces Tory rebellion over £7bn government spending on ‘woke’ projects.” Seven billion on wokery? What a scandal! I guess as far as many Telegraph readers go, that’s enough, they’ll be fuming that a Tory Chancellor can be so conned by lefty woke plots without having to read anymore. But read on. The article says:
“ . . . the publication of a new report by the Conservative Way Forward group on Monday, . . .will claim that £7 billion of public money is spent on “politically motivated and divisive activities” each year. The group’s research is based on an audit of government accounts and Freedom of Information requests to 6,000 public bodies, and will point to spending on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in government, arms-length organisations and contractors including the company building HS2. EDI jobs in the public sector cost the taxpayer £557 million a year, the report will claim, while billions are spent on diversity initiatives by quangos including on contributions to a campaign on “unlearning whiteness” by the publicly-funded Arts Council.”
So the real ‘wokery’ spend (according to these redneck Tories’ own report) is actually only £571 million. And some of that goes to the Arts Council—shock! Horror! There’s a regular target for Tories, who probably would prefer more to be spent on Covent Garden, the Arts Council’s biggest recipient. There are two aspects to this story that disturb me—first its misleading headline—a very common occurrence in the right-wing media and secondly, the content, which is as much about the Tories ’cultural wars’ as anything else. I have just watched Simon Schama’s ’History of Now,’ (on BBC iplayer) which I think is an excellent riposte to the elitist Tory view of art, which simply cannot cope with the post-modern. The Tory culture wars are embedded in their affinities with the imperial order of hierarchies. One of these hierarchies is that Great Art emanated mainly from the Western canon, and most of the rest sits in a pecking order of greater or lesser inferiority. It may be the case that if something is not Great Art it may not even be classed as art at all, in which case it shouldn’t get a penny from the Arts Council.
One of the most notable artists who challenged this worldview was Joseph Beuys, who asserted that we are all artists. He was also a ‘leftie’ if such an appellation is appropriate for one of the founders of the German Green Party. His activism I am sure offended the old elites—I believe he was finally relieved of a university teaching post after he declared its courses freely open to everybody. And he sought to promote alternatives to the prevailing economic order, that is, capitalism, which not only drains the creative instinct in individuals (unless it’s related to entrepreneurship which is in capitalist terms good if it seeks to make more capital) - but all this is seen by some as not the role of the artist. Great Art is meant to transcend politics (tell that to Gustav Courbet).
I sought on Google to find what ‘unlearning whiteness’ meant in terms of getting an Arts Council grant but didn’t in my brief attempt find anything. Obviously Tory researchers dig deeper to find the material that suits their argument. But I did discover a website by an American ‘unlearning whiteness’ practitioner and coach, called Bear Herbert (a they/them) who made it clear what this business is all about:
“This work is intended for white people who have at least a basic analysis of systemic oppression who are seeking to dig deeper into their own personal culpability in upholding racist systems, behaviors and dynamics. The cost for this work is $1800, which includes 12 hour-long sessions of support over six months, with email and messaging support between calls. Because dismantling capitalism is an essential part of dismantling racism, I offer no-interest payment plans freely. A standard payment plan is $300/month for 6 months, or $150/month for 12 months. I have limited spots for sliding scale clients with financial need.” (emphasis added) Unlearning Whiteness — Bear Hebert (bearcoaches.com)
Well, I can’t imagine what there is in that that might offend a white middle aged or elderly Tory! It combines unlearning whiteness with an entrepreneurial spirit! Of course, here in the UK it’s the danger that the public purse could be paying for such liberation that offends.
Anyway, it’s over to Jeremy Hunt now to decide whether to cut all this taxpayers’ money going to wokery, and needless to say, that means that HS2 contractors, in between digging tunnels and laying sleepers through Tory shire constituencies must cease training their hi-vis jacketed engineers in how to combat their guilt-ridden innate whiteness.