Flat White

Keeping the masses in their place never works. Prejudice never stopped my father – and cancel culture will never stop me

6 September 2020

5:00 AM

6 September 2020

5:00 AM

I am the daughter of an East End barrow boy, born in Tower Hamlets in 1918 with the odds stacked against him from birth. 

I am the daughter of an East End barrow boy born into a Russian Orthodox Jewish family with little prospect of ever leaving the dreadful council flats. 

I am the daughter of an East End barrow boy who left school at aged 11 when his father died to support his mum and sister by working in their greengrocer’s shop. 

I am the daughter of an East End barrow boy who worked in a factory for 10 years as a machinist with the dream of becoming an actor on the West End stagethe big screen and even television. 

I am the daughter of an East End barrow boy who was acclaimed for his role in The Royal Shakespeare’s Company 1976 production of The Iceman Cometh as Hickey, when he took over from Ian Holm on opening night — holm had sadly suffered a breakdown that was never able to be spoken about for 50 years. The barrow boy became the acclaimed toast of the British theatrical scene but was overlooked for a BAFTA as mental illness was kept quiet back then. 

I am the daughter of an East End barrow boy who in 1985 auditioned for Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis and beat 600 American actors to win a leading part in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. 

I am the daughter of an East End barrow boy who never blamed anyone for his struggle in life and instead told me education was the key to discovering the reasons for most things in life. 

And so, when I read that Professors at Cambridge University are aiming to decolonise their English courses after claims there was “structural anti-blackness” at the 811-year old university I think of what my Dad would say. 

“Get over it and just get on with it. Stop nitpicking. There has always been discrimination,” would be his reply. 

The problem with cancel culture is that it is always seeking to cancel out someone else’s culture. 

But no one’s culture is perfect. No one’s. It does not matter what race or religion you are. 

The term ‘cancel culture is now part of the vernacular.  

It means the practice of cancelling support for public figures or companies after they have said or done something which the self-appointed cancel culture bosses decide is offensive. 

Essentially, it is a group of activists espousing Marxist doctrine to keep the masses down where they want them to belong, whatever the era. 

Cancel culture thrives on finding something to assert its relevance and dominance.  

The fans of Fawlty Towers, lovers of The Last Night at the Proms’ lyrics of a bygone era and Harry Potter fans have been singled out. 

Now, a letter has been sent out to students by the English faculty at the esteemed Cambridge University setting out a series of steps aimed at achieving a “truly decolonised degree”. 

So, students are being encouraged to study rapper Kanye West, black queer performance poetry and jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron. That is how Cambridge suggests progress will be made in its Quixotic quest for “decolonisation”. 

Apparently, according to the university, “a significant number of students are already writing on and therefore being supervised/taught on both writers of colour and issues of race, colonialism and empire.” 

This is not achieving a “truly decolonised degree”. 

This is instead simply pandering to the panic and worry of perhaps being sued by some activist group down the track and instead Cambridge has turned its back on lots of great literature for political reasons. 

Looking at things from the 1700s through the prism of 2020 is just ludicrous. 

Everyone really should instinctively know this already. 

Cambridge produced some of the world’s greatest literary figures such as Lord Byron, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Wordsworth, Sylvia Plath and Salman Rushdie. 

So where was the ‘cancel culture’ back in 1989 when Iran’s late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the execution of Rushdie because his novel “The Satanic Verses” was considered blasphemous? 

Where indeed? Where are the activists now 

Truth is most have probably never even heard of Rushdie.  

It was 30 years ago, the author is now 71 years old. 

But those of us who lived through that time have the reference point, the general knowledge, the intelligence of perspective. 

The Iranian state no longer supports the Fatwa, but it has never been rescinded and the price attached to it hovers around $4 million.  

It is only natural that the mere threat of potential litigation in the future has sent shivers down the spines of academia but suddenly throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not the way to achieve the aims of a 2020 politically motivated agenda. 

In June, the majority of students at Oxford University’s Oriel College voted in favour of removing its statue of the Cecil Rhodes following an outcry over his links with Britain’s colonial past. 

Rhodes was a British mining magnate and politician who served as Prime Minister of Cape Colony, now presentday South Africa, from 1890-1896.  

The Black Lives matter campaigns, following the death of George Floyd, have ignited the push for the removal of any reminders of anything to do with colonialism. 

Britain is indeed a democracy. Long may it remain one. But in the same way that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighterCecil Rhodes isn’t a complete demon. 

It is a fact conveniently forgotten when the hysteria gets whipped up on these issues. 

A Rhodes scholarship is one of the world’s most prestigious scholarships. 

There have been 8,000 students globally who have benefitted from one. There have been 142 Australian Rhodes scholars including three Australian Prime Ministers: Bob Hawke, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.  

There are generations of British working class who never had the opportunity to be able to go to university. 

But they are not marching in the streets wanting to cancel out those who did get the chance. 

Britain has always been a class-based society and always will be but we learn through history.  

It serves as a reminder. Tearing things down and erasing things does a disservice to everyone. 

I am the daughter of an East End barrow boy who died in 2003, his name was Alan Tilvern — one of Britain’s most respected actors of his generation easily Googled nowadays. 

His legacy is me. 

Part of this legacy is the gift he gave me of ensuring that the pen is always mightier than the sword. 

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