Jon Snow should not have apologised

Two white men, both wearing white masks with the red St George's cross on it, with "NO EU" around the forehead. One of them is drinking from a can of Stella Artois beer. (Stella Artois is Belgian.)
Two men at one of Friday’s “Brexit day” rallies.

There is a slogan used by racists throughout recent history: “nothing wrong with being white” (or some variation on that theme). Any celebration of Black or Asian culture is presented as a slur on white culture, and any suggestions that a movement or, say, workplace is “too white” is presented as meaning that there is something wrong with white people, rather than that it should be diverse given the local population. The Channel 4 reporter Jon Snow, covering the pro-Brexit demonstrations that took place in London yesterday (Friday) to mark the day that Britain was originally supposed to have left the European Union, said that he had “never seen so many white people in one place”; the unscripted remark was made when he was reporting from outside the Houses of Parliament. This was immediately leapt on by right-wing, pro-Brexit characters in the media such as the LBC presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer, who called the remarks “unbelievably shocking for a national broadcaster” and offered pictures of other events, such as a People’s Vote march and the Glastonbury festival, which also consisted of a sea of white faces. (More: Micha Frazer-Carrol @ Gal-dem.)

Of course, Jon Snow was not saying that being white was bad or that white people are bad. He was saying that the movement that was demonstrating was suspiciously unpopular with ethnic minority voters in a city that was very diverse, and indeed barely a mile from areas south of the river in particular where there are large non-white populations. Besides the rally being addressed by Tommy Robinson, a noted rabble-rouser and professional violent criminal who has made a name for himself stirring up hatred against Muslims, there were “Generation Identity” flags in the crowd and it was also the end point of the “march for Brexit”; the pro-Brexit campaign was marked by scaremongering about immigration, particularly Muslim immigration (such as the untrue “Turkey is joining the EU” poster), and UKIP while under Nigel Farage’s leadership was more of an anti-immigration party than an anti-EU party. Why would anyone of Muslim or immigrant background attend a rally like that? There were definite violent overtones; at one of the marches there were effigies hanged from a bridge over the Thames and specifically, effigies of Theresa May and Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, dragged around by their necks. Britain’s Black and Asian populations know that these sorts of demonstrations are liable to turn violent, and racist.

Jon Snow should not have apologised. Those of us who were not looking to find fault knew what he meant. There were indeed Black and Asian people who voted to leave the EU; why were they conspicuous by their absence on Friday? By apologising he plays to a racist mentality and honours a dishonest, bigoted complaint which does not deserve it.

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