It is nothing but hate speech.
The BBC has tried to justify plans to air Enoch Powell’s notoriously racist Rivers of Blood speech but there can be no justification for hate speech.
The speech has gained notoriety from the first moment it was uttered – forty years ago. The anniversary of such a speech does not deserve attention. It was a stain on the history of Britain. The speech deserves condemnation and for us to never forget our shameful past.
It is important to remember the past, particularly when it’s been recently revealed that the Holocaust is fading from memory in America. In fact, most millennials in the US don’t know significant details about it, such as what Auschwitz is.
“The speech deserves condemnation and for us to never forget our shameful past”
When such significant moments in history are forgotten, we risk repeating them. There’s little room for coincidence that the rise of neo-Nazism and of Holocaust denialism has taken place against a backdrop of lack of education around anti-Semitism. It is therefore clearly important to know about historic acts of racism, so that we can understand just how entrenched and engrained racism is in society so that we continue to challenge acts which take place today.
However, it is entirely irresponsible, particularly in such a climate, to air Powell’s racist speech in its entirety. It is important to discuss it, and its impact and whether its legacy lives on (it does) but to broadcast hate speech is reckless and puts a spotlight back on people of colour and migrants.
The normalisation of racism continues through such a decision. There are many people who will listen to Powell’s words and think that he had a point. There are many people still who already cite Powell’s words and warn against allowing migrants into the UK.
We are just two years on from a bitter referendum which was dominated by anti-migrant rhetoric. Hate crimes have shot up since the Brexit vote, including against migrants and Muslims. The context of the show doesn’t matter. Airing a piece of hate speech could put people in danger, and it at the very least means that racist words get a free pass on our radios under the guise of free speech. Some things should never be allowed.
If we want to really tackle the legacy then we would allow migrants, communities of colour and marginalised people to talk about the impact of the speech. We would let their words lead the discussion. We would not broadcast a racist.
This was the wrong decision in a moment where the country is bitterly divided, and marginalised people are bearing the brunt of that. Instead of elevating the hate filled words of white men, we should be broadcasting the voices of migrants and people of colour. It seems our media will never learn, however.
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