No sacred cows

Why is a BBC executive calling for the removal of middle-aged white men from television?

1 September 2018

9:00 AM

1 September 2018

9:00 AM

Cassian Harrison, the editor of BBC Four, told the Edinburgh International Television Festival last week that no one wants to watch white men explaining stuff on TV any more. ‘There’s a mode of programming that involves a presenter, usually white, middle-aged and male, standing on a hill and “telling you like it is”,’ he said. ‘We all recognise the era of that has passed.’

I’ve been puzzling over this. Why would one of the Beeb’s most senior executives, himself a white, middle-aged man, say something likely to antagonise such a large number of the people who pay his £170,000 salary, i.e. licence payers? After all, 87.2 per cent of the UK’s population is white and I imagine the same is true of the 26 million households that forked out £150.50 for a TV licence in the past year. So, when Cassian Harrison says ‘we all’ agree that time’s up for white men, I don’t think he’s speaking on behalf of all the licence payers. Nor is he speaking for viewers more generally. Let’s not forget that the most popular British television programme of last year, with 14 million viewers, was Blue Planet II, which involved a white male (David Attenborough) standing in front of a camera and explaining stuff.

I can think of three possible explanations for this bizarre statement, although I should stress that I’ve never met the editor of BBC Four so what follows is purely speculative. First of all, there’s the most charitable one, which is that he genuinely believes there aren’t enough black and brown faces on the BBC and for a variety of reasons he thinks there should be more. For instance, he might argue that Britain is a multi-ethnic society and the BBC’s on-screen talent should reflect that diversity, not least because talent is distributed randomly across different ethnic groups. Few people would argue with that. But it’s a bit of a leap to go from that to saying there should be no white men on the BBC when almost nine out of ten Britons are white and half of them are men. To be fair, Harrison didn’t exactly say that — maybe he really did just mean a moratorium on ‘middle-aged’ white men, leaving room for the 92-year-old Attenborough. But even so, that would still mean tens of millions of Britons are unrepresented.

A second possibility is that he was sending a signal to his current employers, as well as those who might employ him in the future, that he has fully embraced the left-wing identitarianism that is fast becoming the official ideology of the liberal establishment. According to this new progressive orthodoxy, white people — more specifically, able-bodied, straight white men who don’t think they are women in the wrong bodies — are ‘privileged’ and it’s high time they stepped aside and made way for those they’ve been ‘oppressing’ for thousands of years, such as women, people of colour, lesbians, gays, the differently abled, men who think they’re women in the wrong bodies, etc. Not that the panjandrums at the apex of the liberal establishment have any intention of checking their privilege, even though they tick all the ‘wrong’ boxes, but that’s a minor detail. The important thing is that if you want to convince these gatekeepers that you’re one of them, and a safe person to appoint to a highly paid public office, you have to demonstrate your fluency in the language of the identitarian left. It’s the equivalent of a 16th-century courtier hoping to impress Philip II of Spain by advertising his Catholic piety.

The third possibility is that Harrison was simply trying to get across that he’s a member of the media’s Brahmin class. An American journalist called Reihan Salam wrote a brilliant piece in the Atlantic a couple of weeks ago about why anti-white rhetoric has become so widespread among white liberal elites. His explanation is that, for white people, racial self-flagellation has become a high-status indicator. ‘It is almost as though we’re living through a strange sort of ethnogenesis, in which those who see themselves as (for lack of a better term) upper-whites are doing everything they can to disaffiliate themselves from those they’ve deemed lower-whites,’ he wrote. In this light, Harrison was advertising his status as an ‘upper-white’ by attacking his own racial group, something a ‘lower-white’ would never do. You know the type — the kind of knuckle-dragging troglodyte who voted ‘Leave’ in the EU referendum.

I wonder which explanation, if any, is correct? I hope to reach a conclusion by the time my next TV licence fee is due.

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