Wokeism Has No Sense of Humour: Why an Improper Remark May Consign a UK Politician to Oblivion
The James Gray case has shed light on the increasing influence of wokeism on British political and social life, say Dr. Ellis Cashmore and former MP Matthew Gordon Banks. Instead of promoting inclusiveness, wokeism is alienating people to the point where they are too cautious for fear of making errors, according to British observers.
UK Conservative lawmaker James Gray, 66, found himself between a rock and a hard place after mixing up Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and allegedly saying "they all look the same to me".
The incident took place on 8 September when Gray hosted a parliamentary reception to thank the St. John Ambulance staff and volunteers for containing the coronavirus pandemic. However, in the wake of the alleged racist remark, the 66-year-old was asked to temporarily step back from his charity activities "for the time being to reflect on the incident".
Gray admitted confusing Iraq-born Zahawi, who has a white beard and wears glasses, for clean-shaven Javid, who is of Pakistani descent, but denied that he had made a racist comment: "I said: 'I am sorry to confuse the two of you. You two look very alike'. I said 'I am sorry if I got you two mixed up'."
The UK Conservative Party rushed to shield Gray insisting that the remark was "misjudged", while an ally of Javid revealed that the latter was frequently mixed up with Zahawi and also with Cabinet minister Alok Sharma: "Saj and Nadhim have a long running joke about it. It's not even the worst. Saj is often mistaken for Alok," the ally told the Daily Mail.
Line Between Funny and Offensive Has Been Blurred
There is no longer a fine line between funny and offensive in the era of woke people and cancel culture, but just a very thin membrane that is always shifting, according to Dr. Ellis Cashmore, a visiting professor of sociology at Birmingham-based Aston University, a media analyst and independent commentator.
"Even the suspicion of an improper remark, whether there is evidence or not, is enough to consign someone to oblivion," the professor emphasises. "Today, every time there is a humorous remark directed at someone or something, the person uttering the remark is held to account."
The so-called political correctness movement originated in the 1980s, the academic notes, adding that it had some very positive effects, especially on the language people used in relation to women. "In the UK women were regularly referred to as 'birds'," he recalls. "This was not meant to be demeaning, but the effect was, of course, to denigrate or scoff."
However, presently political correctness has largely gone, being replaced by wokeness, Cashmore highlights, adding that this has taken language to the next level and put people on guard.
"People are cautious in the words they choose, especially in public spheres," he notes. "But also in their everyday interactions."
This situation is especially confusing for the people of the older generation, such as Tory member James Gray, according to Matthew Gordon Banks, a former UK Conservative MP.
Gray has been previously spotted making crude jokes: just weeks ago the 66-year old apologised for joking that "a bomb" should be planted in the office of Labour chair Anneliese Dodds. "Mr. Gray has been an MP since 1997 and is clearly never going to be a safe enough pair of hands to be given a Ministerial position," Banks notes.
"An awful lot of people, especially older, more mature generations, do not really understand the idea of wokeism, but I do believe that it is preventing people from frequently saying what they really think," the former MP suggests. "That is bad for politics and democracy."
Is Wokeism a Tool Against Conservatives?
It's not the first time that a member of the Conservative Party has been grilled for an alleged racist remark. Former British education minister Gavin Williamson was subjected to harsh criticism on 8 September for confusing two black sportsmen
– soccer player Marcus Rashford and rugby player Maro Itoje. Then-education secretary later apologised for the "genuine mistake".
When Boris Johnson’s care minister Helen Whately was asked whether Williamson's blunder was "racism or incompetence", she told LBC’s Nick Ferrari that she "doesn't know". On 15 September Williamson stepped down apparently not withstanding the growing pressure over his handling of education matters during the pandemic, according to BBC.
"Wokeism is not just a threat to Conservative politicians, I think it is a threat to all those in Party politics seeking elected office, and business people as well," says Matthew Gordon Banks. "We are in danger of going too far and too correct in how we expect people to behave."
Wokeness has been seeping into all areas of British society, admits Ellis Cashmore.
"Only this morning I was at my gym and there was a public announcement that the gym's national organisation welcomes everyone regardless of sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, ability ... and so on," he notes. "Since when do gyms have to make their ethos so visible? It's a gym! I hear that DC comics have decided, from now on, Superman is bisexual! Honestly."
There is nothing bad in inclusiveness and supporting people who have previously been marginalised in some way, the professor points out. However, society also has to "avoid alienating people to the point where they are too cautious and limit their interactions for fear of making errors", he underscores.
"In other words, I hope common-sense prevails - but, of course, what counts as 'common-sense' is also shifting," Cashmore says.
However, no one is guaranteed immunity from making allegedly racist mistakes: on the other side of the Atlantic, Nancy Pelosi, an outspoken supporter of Black Lives Matter and staunch political correctness advocate
, found herself in an embarrassing situation after mixing up two African American baseball players: Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, in her Twitter post.
After the mistake was noticed, Team Pelosi signalled that “a staffer inadvertently selected the wrong photo for the tweet". Remarkably, the US mainstream press largely saw no "racism" in Pelosi's blunder. However, a Black Lives Matter activist, Hawk Newsome, told
the New York Post that the House speaker's error was typical of Democrats who focus on symbolic gestures rather than on fulfilling election promises.