In spite of overwhelming backlash, the BBC defended their decision to air Enoch Powell’s inflammatory “Rivers of Blood” speech on Radio 4 on Saturday 14th April in order to mark its 50 year anniversary. The speech was originally delivered to Conservative party members in protest against the 1968 Race Relations bill which made it illegal to refuse to house or employ a person on the grounds of race or ethnicity.
The speech was extremely divisive and caused a political storm. Powell essentially argued that mass immigration (which at the time was the influx of Caribbeans, requested to support Britain during the Second World War) would lead to the inevitable collapse of British society for fear that “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”
So why shouldn’t it have been broadcasted?
Although the BBC has argued that the presentation of the speech would bring forward “a rigorous journalistic analysis of a historical political speech,” what we need to be aware of is the fact that we live in a period where race relations are extremely volatile. Politicians like Donald Trump and (arguably) Theresa May are already giving further credence to the undeniably nationalistic and imperialistic rhetorics that are currently spreading in the UK and around the world like wildfire.
We must also question what the BBC’s true motives are given the aforementioned social climate the speech is broadcasted in, especially given the fact that anyone who really wanted access to the speech could do so easily. The ease of access to Powell’s speech means that the BBC didn’t have to go through the trouble of broadcasting an extremely hateful speech for the sake of journalistic criticism, hence making it clear that the BBC are implicitly pushing forward a “certain” agenda. Whether intentionally or accidentally, through the broadcast (performed by actor Ian McDiarmid) the BBC are normalising tragically racist views and dismissing the countless arguments against the broadcast.
Furthermore, in light of the impending threat of deportation faced by over 57,000 Caribbean migrants of the Windrush Generation who devoted years of work to the UK, the broadcast of the “worst incitement to racial violence by a public figure in modern Britain” is not only distasteful but extremely calculated and dangerous.
The damage has already been done. What the BBC needs to do is bring the plight of Caribbeans like Glenda Caesar and Michael Braithwait facing deportation at the hands of the Home Office to the forefront of British media instead of cosigning the vile rhetorics of an overt racist.
Photo credit: The Telegraph