Why should straight white men “pass the power”?

If you happened to be driving through Southwark this week, you might have been accosted by a large public sign. “Hey straight white men,” the billboard roared, “Pass the power!” Similar billboards have apparently popped up in other equally squalid parts of London. They are from a black artist from Marseille called Nadina. Anyone who has seen her work will not be surprised to learn that Nadina is self-taught. His other street art includes posters saying “Never forget George Floyd” and “No one is free until Palestine is free”. It is brought to us by a gallery run, as far as I know, by two white men.

Anyway, if I was a straight white dude walking around Southwark, I’m not sure I’d welcome Nadina’s catchphrases. If I had just left one of the toughest fields in search of a job, I might feel especially bad about the mythical “power” I was said to hold. I might also wonder who exactly I’m supposed to pass on this “power” to. Nadina seems to be doing quite well. Should I just give it to someone who isn’t white or straight? Kemi Badenoch, shall we say? Or Lord Mandelson?

When I see such a public insult, a number of things cross my otherwise quiet mind. The first is a desire to set foot in the billboard in question. The second is whether Southwark Council, the Mayor of London or anyone else would allow similar public posts if they reversed the situation. ‘Oy, black guys. Give us your rights! “, for example. Or: “Hey, gays, give me the money!” These billboards would most likely be hate crimes, and the Mayor of London, Southwark Council, General Synod and everyone else would immediately condemn them as such. But when it comes to not just insulting straight white men, but harassing them, it seems no one can bother to raise a whisper of objection.

There would always have been a backlash to that kind of overshoot, and in the US, if not the UK, the pendulum is swinging. For years, the left has succeeded in insulting and intimidating. For example, they found it extremely advantageous to say that any right-wing politician was racist. They didn’t care who they used this tactic against. In America, they did it to all Republicans. In Britain, the Labor Party has never stopped its MPs from claiming that Boris Johnson, Theresa May and everyone else in Conservative circles were racist, homophobic, misogynistic and more.

For a while I waited to see what the right would fight back with – and now we’ve finally got there. The first salvo from the right is to retaliate with ‘groomer’.

It’s clever, in a way. The only thing our society abhors more than racism is child abuse. Check with anyone of any social class and they will agree that nuncios are the worst. Even those incarcerated for murder look down with disgust on those who are there for abusing children.

So there, the American right has discovered its new weapon. It originated in the commotion around something called Drag Queen Story Hour. It was a slightly exaggerated short story about groups of school children being read in their local library by drag queens. Personally I have nothing against drag queens and it seemed to me that the story was partly the victim of a collapse of the context. But the American right was everywhere. Some have even tried to stoke anger over the disgusting tradition of cross-dressing that happens every year in the UK, where people play members of the opposite sex for laughs in front of children. It was hard to explain that Christmas panto season is not considered a problem.

Drag Queen Story Hour in Riverside, California (Getty Images)

But ours is a time of getting angry, and the Internet is a great helper in doing so. In the United States, there really are schools that give children the impression that ours is a hermaphroditic species. In Britain this week, the appalling campaign group Stonewall announced that: “Research suggests that children as young as two recognize their trans identity. Yet many nurseries and schools teach a binary understanding of pre-assigned gender. Inclusive and valuing LGBTQ education is crucial for the well-being of all young people. What a number of people online and offline have said about “groomers”.

Of course, it’s worse in the United States where videos are now circulating of drag queen strippers performing in front of children and kids being encouraged to put money in their underwear. Most of these cases seem to involve the recently passed Pride month and heterosexual people taking their children (or allowing their children to be taken) to totally unsuitable events.

You won’t be surprised that the response to this LGBT overreach has also been ‘neater’. And in some of these cases, the allegation is not wrong, nor is it always wrong to call someone a racist. It’s just that it’s not true all the time. Still, part of the right decided they didn’t care. If you’ve been bullied long enough with misrepresentations, you might just feel the need to go back.

If you want to get a taste of the current state of the political debate, here it is: two sides are making equally insincere claims. Except this week Twitter banned the use of the word ‘groomer’ in this context from its platform. We’ll see if Twitter also bans the word ‘racist’, or if Southwark Council has the wit to alienate the majority population. I suspect not. That’s why this asymmetrical battle is in danger of getting even uglier.

This article appears in this week’s Spectator, to be published tomorrow

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