Whether it’s the construction of ‘progressive’ lifestyles (and the offices and luxury apartments to match) or the embrace of certain ‘progressive’ causes, the ‘town hall’ apparatchiks who initiate these makeovers are driven by ideals concealed from the public.
We seldom tackle the fact that those making planning decisions often see things completely differently to the public. The Edward Street Quarter (ESQ) development now rising from the old Amex House site is typically seen by the community living closest to it as a cliff-face of bloated overdevelopment. In 2018, the officials and committee members who approved the development, described ESQ in glowing terms using phrases like ‘simply beautiful’. Two years on, for local residents, for workers passing by on buses, any ‘beauty’ that emerges won’t alter perceptions that the ESQ represents unaffordable housing driven by corporate profit margins. It’s something most of us dislike – so that’s what we see. To the planners, the development might be bloated but it represents 110,000 sq ft of space for the city’s booming media and creative sectors and 168 units of new homes slashed off a government imposed target… ipso facto its ‘progress’ so that’s what they see.
An emblem of the ESQ is the resurrection of Mighell Street (pronounced ‘Mile Street’). As the Argus reports, ‘a road from Brighton’s past is to be brought back to life’. Heralded by developers as ‘restoring memories’ and bringing ‘joy to local residents’, Mighell Street had been a slum for most of its existence. Despite its past the street provided much loved homes for working class families right up until the 1960s. (1) Today, after decades of planners dismantling local communities to make way for urban regeneration, one might even say cancelling them, it is unclear what memories will be restored or to whom. Instead, through the creation of a ‘sculptural gateway’ some vague aspect of the past will be mythically re-presented in order to supply the new ESQ community with an off the shelf sprinkle of ‘authenticity’ (indeed, developers, planners and ‘creatives’ call this placemaking). (2) From ESQs rooftop cocktail bars, similar developments will decorate the distant views, symbolising a city upgraded as the cosmopolitan capital of the south coast. Eco-minded – in fact, ‘progressive’ in every conceivable way – this is a city being haphazardly edited to look more or less the way the town-hall set think it ought to look.
(Clockwise from top left) April 2021, the Edward Street Quarter (ESQ) rises up from the old Amex House site. In its planning application document ‘Heritage, Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment, part3’ the developer refers to its proposed luxury apartment blocks (already overshadowing White St). In a single unguarded sentence all PR-talk of bringing ‘joy’ to local residents vanishes. Strangely indifferent to its own bland architecture, contempt for the area it hopes to displace leeks out when it says, ‘The residential character of the building is in keeping with the character of this area, which is not of any particular visual quality [my emphasis]. Top right: From 2011; The neighbourhood reacts to the contempt handed out by planners when Amex proposed its development. Bottom: an artists impression of 2022; a rooftop cocktail bar for the new smart-set of the ESQ.
Like the ‘beauty’ of the Edward Street Quarter, the way we see things differently goes to the crux of many a contested topic. Disdainful attitudes on how a successful city should present its character and appeal break-surface frequently. A few years ago, the organiser of the Brighton Fringe festival let slip to the local press his partisan vision for a regenerated city. He described the city’s ‘massive public relations problem’ as rooted in an outdated seaside culture of ‘tacky’ sideshows and fish and chips rather than a seafront of ‘bars, shops, galleries, a decent performance venue… a Michelin-star restaurant’. From this standpoint, Brighton’s PR problem is that it attracts the wrong people (the kind who, he says, arrive on coaches and head for the pier’s amusement arcades ‘via Sports Direct and Primark…’). (3) Council officials also let their snobbish views slip out now and then. In London, with a decade of planning departments colluding with developers to identify dilapidated housing estates to ‘regenerate’ (i.e. decant the inhabitants and build luxury apartments), one spin-off is to push out the ‘problematic’ poor. (4) Although a sentiment best whispered over post planning meetings drinks, one journalist captured a London planner saying this: ‘[T]he thing is’, said this senior official, ‘what we find on council estates, a lot of people who live on them, they suffer from obesity and a lot of them are benefits claimants, or on drugs, or worse’. (5)
These descriptions may tally with the specific hardships housing officials encounter, but so long as Guardian readers are relaxed about articles vilifying ‘ugly, thick, white Britain’ (6), or the ‘knuckle dragging’ proles who apparently hold the wrong values, it isn’t difficult to imagine the old Victorian disdain for the lower orders making a comeback. Inside Brighton and Hove City Council, there isn’t a political leader or senior official who’d admit to such prejudice of course but on an institutional level examples exist that stretch our incredulity (the infamous case of council mistreatment of its tenants living close to Circus Street is one). (7)
Another haughty ‘town hall’ vision of how things ought to be was evident in last year’s flurry of concern over the removal of statues, street names and other commemorative items deemed racially offensive. Although news to its bemused citizens that their council was anything other, the pledge made on June 12th to become ‘anti-racist’ wasn’t just a moment of solidarity with protests taking place the following day. Reading between the lines of this pledge, we see BHCC giving notice that these actions will be at the behest, not of democratic process, but something called Critical Race Theory (CRT). ‘As a predominantly white council we must recognise what we don’t know, what we don’t experience and see’ announced Councillor Carman Appich in her pledge. Referring to protesters forcibly removing the statue of Edward Colston, Appich said, ‘…Some may be against the action taken in Bristol … but I think it’s understandable… I ask people not to target monuments or memorials in Brighton & Hove this weekend and to trust us to take any appropriate action…’. (8)
What is Critical Race Theory? One ‘appropriate action’ the council took that day is so revealing it will be worth examining it in detail. First, it might be useful to establish what CRT is. When its exponents roll-out CRT, the dry term ‘critical race theory’ is almost never used. Apart from its buzzphrases, which in themselves train us to view the privilege bestowed by whiteness as integral to white socio-economic/political oppression over non-white, a telling sign that CRT is in-play is when it openly seeks to ‘educate’ us. Terms like ‘structural racism’, previously favoured by radicals when denouncing discriminatory systems (within housing, employment, education and so on), now refer directly to the maintenance of ‘white supremacy’. To embrace the new anti-racism – to properly ‘get it’ – we are invited to educate ourselves via the appropriate reading. Of course, if the ‘education’ is instructing us that our collective delusions of colour-blind futures must be abandoned in favour of ‘racial literacy’, it is less education than inculcation. (9) Critics of CRTs version of ‘structural racism’ have pointed to how exponents operate ‘a bluff and a bludgeon’ dare. (10) In the process of ‘educating’ conformity, they dare us to dispute the lessons we are supposed to embrace. If you go ahead and take the dare you instantly betray yourself as unenlightened, ‘fragile’ when faced with the truth – at worst, your conduct will be seen as proof of the systemic racism that caused it. Thus, the circular, Salem-like logic of CRT is its bludgeon. So long as we sense it hovering overhead the bluff is extremely effective. Most of us, if attending staff anti-racism training, will think it better to nod agreement than risk the accusation of racism as betrayed by our protests aka ‘white fragility’ (non-white dissenters are discreetly cast as ‘white on the inside’ and invited to address their racial responsibilities.
(Above left) Best selling US author Robin DiAngelo takes CRT to its zenith. (Above right), two of DiAngelo’s critics Glenn Loury and Colman Hughes. DiAngelo offers, argues Hughes, ‘a prescription for race relations that casts whites as sinners and blacks as children’. (11) In tandem with ‘Intersectionality’, CRT is a controversial US import into Britain. Within UK academia numerous ‘Critical Social Justice’ courses thrive despite offering more a treatise for political activism than a scholarly endeavour. (12) (Below) Our council’s guidance for ‘being anti-racist’ including the ‘appropriate’ reading. To read these more easily see endnote (25).
Critical race theorists reject, as most of us do, the idea that ‘race’ is a naturally occurring phenomenon but then bend the concept back round to something fixed, not by biology but by the racism hard-wired into society. Where generations of anti-racists fought to place ‘race’ in the dustbin of history, CRT is determined to reinstate it. Thus, CRT racialises all our interpersonal relations finding an abundance of ‘microaggressions’ while asserting the invisible presence of unconscious racism. (13)
The new ‘CRT improved’ anti-racism implores us all to confront a harsh reality; ‘race’ is at the centre of everything. To be steadfastly and virtuously anti-racist in the way CRT promotes is to agree with ‘bluff or bludgeon’ invitations such as ‘racism is the survival strategy of a world dominated by white people’. (10) Last July, anyone who watched the Channel 4 two-part documentary ‘The School That Tried to End Racism’ may recall a clip of Martin Luther King’s 1963 ‘I have a dream’ speech. Just as King extols his hope that children might one day be judged ‘not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’, a new voice takes over. ‘But now many experts argue that colour-blindness is itself a form of racism’, says Asher D as the film cuts to a renowned CRT expert to explain that colour-blindness is offensive because it erases the experience of black people. (14)
Of course, claiming to be ‘colour blind’ can certainly act as a camouflage for those who refuse to recognise instances of racism, but the rubbishing of Kings plea that we might aspire to rise out of the quagmire of racial identity is deeply troubling. During the course of the documentary, the children’s view of their world, which had begun with kids saying ‘it doesn’t matter what colour you are, it’s who you are as a person’, was turned on its head. It does matter, asserts the new anti-racism doctrine, it’s your membership of a racialised group that counts. By the end of the 3 week experiment, reviewing what they’d learnt, a white child says to the camera: ‘race is your culture and identity – its basically you…I feel everyone should be proud of their race’.
In a rare instance, BHCC actually call their operating ideology by its real name when promoting teacher training. The training will provide, it says, ‘an understanding of structural/institutional racism, white privilege and a critical race theory approach’.
(Above) Eleven-year-old participants in the C4 school experiment take their first ‘Implicit Assumption Test’, which apparently revealed their unconscious bias. (24). At the end a black child said ‘we’ve been living in a place where white people are more superior, we never knew that until the first test because that’s been embedded in us for 10 years’.
The council’s CRT ‘education’ programme The BHCC pledge states, ‘We will…educate councillors and officers on white privilege, on language and structural racism’. (15) We might note that if the starting point of council leaders is to ‘recognise what we don’t know’, it is safe to assume that ‘education’ must defer to experts who say they do know. In autumn 2020, the council began the rollout of its ‘Fair and Inclusive Mandatory Virtual Staff Briefing’ to all 11,000 employees. The 80-minute long online training entailed slides accompanied by live commentary. With phrases like ‘changing our thinking’, the trainer served up a how-to guide; how ‘to do what we need to do’. ‘I suppose the term is woke…’, said the trainer, ‘I don’t totally understand it…but its for us to be knowledgeable and up there and knowing …’. Peppered throughout the session was the language of CRT – ‘white fragility’, ‘white privilege’, ‘unconscious bias’ – and the names of American CRT icons (Robin DiAngelo of course, Ibram X. Kendi, Kimberlie Crenshaw…) alongside quotes from their bestselling books.
(Above) Two examples from the 36 slides discussed at the BHCC mandatory training last autumn. Our council’s embrace of CRT would be astounding had the same shift not occurred simultaneously in councils, businesses and institutions up and down the country. (22) Our elected councillors were encouraged to attend their own anti-racism training in March 2021 for which the preparatory homework was a video by Robin DiAngelo. (23)
‘Appropriate Action’ – the Codrington affair Amidst the reaction triggered late last May by the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, it seems likely that a mixture of panic and political opportunism engulfed council leaders. Early in June, as statues became targets and public figures like Keir Starmer knelt in solidarity with protesters, the then council leader Nancy Platts and Equalities chief Carmen Appich were evidently keen to be seen to act.
On Friday June 12th, ahead of over 10,000 protesters attending the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstration the following day, there was more happening at BHCC than just the announcement of the ‘anti-racist city’ pledge. As Cllr Appich juggled between radical-sounding promises (‘we will …actively dismantle racist structures…’) and a plea for orderliness given the unruly example set by protesters in Bristol (‘do not target memorials…trust us to take any appropriate action’) the council became panicked. (16) As reported in the press, the council had been ‘made aware’ that a blue plaque above the door of 140 Western Road was the target of protestors. The council explained to the press ‘we left it to [the owners]to decide what action, if any, they wished to take’. Perhaps fearing the whole building would be under siege, the owner ordered the plaque be smashed to pieces with a hammer (that is, to avert the risk of protesters destroying it first). (17)
The blue plaque fixed to the one-time address of Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, commemorated his heroism at the Battle of Navarino in 1827. Codrington’s victory over Egyptian and Ottoman forces opened the way to Greek independence. In Greece, Codrington is a national hero and there is a white marble statue of him overlooking Navarino Bay and dozens of street names named after him (there’s even a postage stamp). Funded by the Greek community in Brighton and the Montpelier & Clifton Hill Association, the UK Greek ambassador unveiled the plaque in 2009. However, none of the glory memorialised by the plaque could alter the fact that the Admiral’s uncle had, in 1797, bequeathed him an Antiguan slave plantation. The University College London database ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’ revealed the Admiral as a recipient of compensation soon after the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. As the date of the June 13th BLM protests approached the targeting of the Codrington plaque to which the council had been ‘made aware’ related to an online crowdsourced map of ‘UK statues and monuments that celebrate slavery and racism’ produced by a group supporting BLM called ‘Topple the Racists’. The map included the Codrington plaque (and another commemorating Gladstone) amongst its UK-wide tally of 78 statues and monuments (the number grew larger every time someone used the interactive map to add a new one). (18)
(Above) June 12th 2020 – The Codrington plaque destroyed ‘on advice’. The seafront hotel plaque to Gladstone survived.
(Above) June 13th 2020, 10,000 protesters (most were student age) demonstrated in Brighton.
The relationship of council leaders to Topple the Racists appears ambiguous. On June 10th, Nancy Platts released a statement that told us she knew Topple the Racists had targeted the Codrington and Gladstone plaques. The council action on the plaques, said Cllr Platts, would be to contact the owners of the two properties ‘to ask them to consider their appropriateness’. (19) She also stated ‘I would like people to contact me directly if they are aware of any statues, monuments, street or building names which cause them concern’. Local Facebook groups pondered these concerns. One post sought advice over which statues or monuments they should be of concerned about while another wanted to know the procedure for changing the name of Gladstone Terrace. Helpful comments then appeared under the post, one of which recommended utilising Toppletheracists.org.
Also on June 10th students of the Universities of Sussex and Brighton were lobbied to sign an open letter to Brighton & Hove City Council, demanding the removal of both Codrington and Gladstone plaques. (20) 500 students and academics signed the letter arguing, ‘Systemic and Institutional racism’ was ‘embodied perfectly in the immortalisation of slave traders and their beneficiaries in statues and plaques across the UK’. CRT ‘bluff and bludgeon’ tactics seem evident in its closing paragraph when the letter challenges the council’s claim to be pro-actively anti-racist: ‘If the council truly wants to keep its promise to support the Black Lives Matter movement’ it must take ‘swift action to remove these plaques’.
It seems likely that the swift action taken by the council carried more force than merely asking the owners of 140 Western Road to reconsider the plaques ‘appropriateness’ (the CRT bluff and bludgeon again?) In the CRT lexicon, failure to act – i.e. leaving the plaque in place – is to be complicit with racism. Platts and Appich may as well have sent round a couple of gangster movie goons (‘let’s do it the easy way shall we? After all, destruction by activists will be err…. “understandable” don’t you think?’). All we know is that the tactic worked, the ‘removal’ of one of the two plaques allowed council leaders to flag to activists in the universities and inside the council that an action had been achieved.
In the event, the crowds that marched in the sunshine the next day made no attempts to remove the Gladstone plaque or any other commemorative item. They were exemplary – 10,000 young people, delighted to breakout of the lockdown and be with one another. They were justifiably outraged at the video images of George Floyd seemingly executed 3000 miles away in Minneapolis by excessive police force. As the father of a 17 year old, I know many the young people who attended the demonstration; all of them wanted to protest their opposition to racism, none had the foggiest idea what Critical Race Theory is or that it has crept its way into city policy. CRT, hiding under a laudable banner of fighting racism, is in fact clearly visible. Many who read this, including the city councillors who marched that day, will also see it clearly too but opt to avoid the bludgeon that awaits anyone who dares to criticise.
The Labour administration collapsed 6 weeks after the June 13th protests amid, ironically, accusations of racism amongst its number. (21) Since then, attempts by the Brighton Society to get an explanation on the Codrington plaque affair have come to nothing. Why did the council not attempt to safeguard this heritage feature pending public consultation? I would add the question: Why is public policy being shaped by Critical Race Theory? If the city’s public employees, teachers and elected councillors are being stealthily persuaded that they must view the world through CRTs racialised lens then shouldn’t we be told?
Both this essay and its companion (The Despicable Past) are presented as opinion pieces, not necessarily reflecting the views of the Brighton Society but published in the spirit of open, free-thinking debate. We welcome your comments below.
Feature image: ‘Down with Colonially Derived Exoticism’ is a mock-up impression of what placards might soon look like if UoB activists get carried away. Criticism of the Pavilion centres on exoticism as a mask for wealth amassed by the slave trade. See the section ‘Tracing racialised pasts in a British coastal city’ in this UoB essay: ‘…colonially derived exoticism remains central to the city’s dominant heritage narrative today, but it also helps to obscure the significance of the colonial wealth extracted from the other side of the Atlantic…’.
With all accept the 17th C Farmhouse at the top end of Mighell Street demolished 50 years ago, the site was swallowed up by the construction of the original ‘Amex House’ office building, nicknamed the Wedding Cake.
Brighton and Hove Council fell foul of this. It was only after being thoroughly shamed in the press that BHCC sent its head of housing to a community hall in Milner and Kingswood estate to explain why tenants had been hung out to dry.
(9) ‘Racial literacy’ is defined as ‘the capacity of teachers to understand the ways in which race and racisms work in society, and to have the skills, knowledge and confidence to implement that understanding in teaching practice’.
(12) An excellent book debunking critical theory is reviewed here: https://medium.com/curious/in-defense-of-liberalism-review-of-cynical-theories-f45c226c797a
Teaching the tenets of a political doctrine to 11-year old schoolchildren runs counter to s406 and 407 of the Education Act (1996) but, aside from references to this made by the Minister for Women and Equalities, no one seems to care. A glance at the current draft ‘Brighton & Hove Anti-Racist Schools Strategy’ indicates that CRT is indeed heading straight into schools.
(24) CRT-influenced anti-racism training grows increasingly fond of the ‘Implicit Assumption Test’ (IAT), a highly controversial method that is currently questioned by its Harvard creators. See: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/12/05/psychologys-favourite-tool-for-measuring-implicit-bias-is-still-mired-in-controversy/
(25) Below is the text from the two BHCC document pages released onto the council staff microsite ‘The Wave’:
Learning resources to support being anti-racist
14 September 2020
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of white people and predominantly white organisations are waking up to the ever-present trauma of systemic racism, white supremacy and colonial oppression.
The council has made a public pledge to work towards being anti-racist and for becoming an anti-racist city. Updates on the council’s anti-racism work published on our website and news will be shared regularly.
This resource list is not and cannot be comprehensive. It is intended as a starting point for staff to increase their knowledge of racism and how to be actively anti-racist, both as individuals and in their council work.
This is not an exclusive list, nor an exhaustive one. Not everyone will agree with the perspectives offered in the books, articles, podcasts and other sources here. We are keen to know what you would add and will keep updating this list from staff suggestions – email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
The council is not responsible for the content on any externally produced resources outlined below. The following resources are provided to support education, awareness and to prompt discussion on race and racism.
Racism is when a person is treated worse, excluded, disadvantaged, harassed, bullied, humiliated or degraded because of their race or ethnicity.
At an organisational level, it can also be the collective failure to provide an inclusive and professional working environment to people because of their race or ethnicity*. This is sometimes described as ‘institutional racism’, based on the definition recommended by Sir William Macpherson in the 1999 Lawrence report (UK)
*Race or ethnicity includes people’s colour, and nationality (including citizenship) ethnic or national origins.
Being antiracist is different for white people than it is for people of colour. For white people, they must acknowledge and understand their white privilege, work to change their internalised racism and unconscious bias, and interrupt and challenge racism when they see it.
We hope that the following resources will support you.
- Why I No Longer Talk to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Loge
- How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
- There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation by Paul Gilroy
- Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F. Saad
- Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch
- White Fragility, by Robin Diangelo
- The Good Immigrant: 21 Writers Explore What It Means To Be Black, Asian, And Minority Ethnic In Britain Today edited by Nikesh Shukla
- Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
- Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
- Black British, White British by Dilip Hiro
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Kill the Black One First by Michael Fuller
You can loan these books from your local library. If you would like to buy them, you could support black book shops and publishers such as Beacon Books in Finsbury Park, London and many more that are listed here.
- @blmuk – Official Black Lives Matter UK
- @runnymedetrust – UK’s leading independent race equality think tank.
- @galdemzine – Award winning publication to sharing perspectives from women and non-binary people of colour.
- @theblackcurriculum – Teaching Black British History to young people around the UK.
- @Everyday Racism UK – Stories of every day racism that Black people experience in the UK.
- @standuptoracismuk – Stand Up to Racism activism and campaigning.
- @ukblackpride – Celebrating LGBTQIA people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle-Eastern and Latin-American decent.