MARY HARRINGTON: All take the knee to The New Woke Puritans!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the American phrase ‘take the knee’, which since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer seems to have replaced ‘kneel’ in common usage here in Britain.

Why the awkward phrasing? Maybe it’s that Americans have long hated the idea of anyone set above anyone else. Ever since they binned the British Crown in 1776 to form their own republic, in fact.

For to kneel conjures visions of forelock-tugging peasants in front of kings. Perish the thought!

Instead, like the American graduate student who last week led a drive to remove an ‘unwelcoming’ portrait of the Queen from a common room in Magdalen College, Oxford, because it ‘represents recent colonial history’, we must reject all history, tradition and hierarchy in pursuit of equality.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the American phrase ‘take the knee’, which since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer seems to have replaced ‘kneel’ in common usage here in Britain. (Above, Met Police kneel in solidarity during a BLM protest in London)

So ‘taking the knee’ is a gesture that happens among equals. It’s not passive. It’s a choice. Right?

But the supposedly voluntary business of ‘taking’ the knee is not what it seems.

It’s become routine among public figures: witness the England football team before their match against Croatia today. But while it’s supposed to show how kind and inclusive someone is, more often it’s a cover for egotism.

Chief among these opt-in egotists of self-abasement must be our own Royal emoter-in-chief, Prince Harry. When he bemoaned his own ‘white privilege’ to millions of Oprah viewers, it looked like admirable self-criticism. But there was more – he was burnishing his credentials as the People’s Prince.

Or what about another high-profile figure who has been putting the ‘self’ into self-flagellation: National Geographic editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg, who drew fire last week for cringeingly adding ‘white, privileged, with much to learn’ to her email signature. 

She may be keen to tell everyone this, but we don’t see many signs of her stepping back from that privilege in favour of someone more marginalised in the victim hierarchy.

The supposedly voluntary business of ‘taking’ the knee is not what it seems. It’s become routine among public figures. (Above, Labour’s Angela Rayner takes the knee)

Above, England footballer Jack Grealish takes the knee. And witness the England football team before their match against Croatia today. While it's supposed to show how kind and inclusive someone is, more often it's a cover for egotism

Above, England footballer Jack Grealish takes the knee. And witness the England football team before their match against Croatia today. While it’s supposed to show how kind and inclusive someone is, more often it’s a cover for egotism

Rather, these ostentatiously humble types offer to admonish themselves, like Goldberg, in ways that are free of personal cost. The corporate version of this is a noisy adoption of superficial diversity measures while ignoring anything that would actually cost money.

For example, a friend of mine, a new mother, told me recently that her policeman husband had hit a brick wall when asking for flexible working so he could support her. 

But, at the same time, our police forces are only too happy to sign up to the diversity agenda by self-flagellating over failures to recruit enough minority ethnic coppers, or displaying rainbow merchandise in support of Pride month.harr

And when you dig deeper, the new order isn’t even about making us all equal. Quite the opposite. Because the new American-style culture of punishment isn’t really about learning, as they say, to ‘do better’ – it’s about power.

This is because the rules aren’t clear-cut – and that’s deliberate.

In March, Alexi McCammond, a Black American journalist who had been hired as the new editor of Teen Vogue, caused a furore following the discovery of ‘historic tweets’ she wrote when herself a teenager in 2011 that are now considered offensive. McCammond abased herself with a grovelling apology for her ‘hurtful and inexcusable language’ – but forgiveness was not forthcoming and she was forced to resign.

Another high-profile case involving ‘historic tweets’ saw cricketer Ollie Robinson suspended from the England team last week on the first day of a Test series because of posts made when he was 18.

In a statement, Robinson, now 27, admitted he’d been ‘thoughtless and irresponsible’, adding that he now understood his actions had been ‘inexcusable’. He insisted he had ‘matured as a person and fully regret the tweets’.

Such grovelling is standard stuff for the cancelled, but Robinson’s self-flagellation is unlikely to see him forgiven and reinstated soon.

Meanwhile others, those who are more favoured by the new elect get off much more lightly.

Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling has seen her books burned by trans activists for daring to suggest that biological sex is real. Yet the ‘anti-racist’ US firebrand Ibram X Kendi told a Zoom audience in February that he found it ‘horrifying’ when his daughter announced ‘she wanted to be a boy’.

By any consistent measure, Kendi’s statement was transphobic. But he wasn’t cancelled, or even asked to apologise.

Chief among these opt-in egotists of self-abasement must be our own Royal emoter-in-chief, Prince Harry. When he bemoaned his own 'white privilege' to millions of Oprah viewers, it looked like admirable self-criticism. But there was more – he was burnishing his credentials as the People's Prince

Chief among these opt-in egotists of self-abasement must be our own Royal emoter-in-chief, Prince Harry. When he bemoaned his own ‘white privilege’ to millions of Oprah viewers, it looked like admirable self-criticism. But there was more – he was burnishing his credentials as the People’s Prince

Or look at Howard Beckett, the Unite union’s assistant general secretary, who was recently suspended from Labour for saying Home Secretary Priti Patel (who was born in London) should be deported. 

We can expect that Beckett – who is a candidate for the Unite leadership – will be on the naughty step just long enough for something else to hit the headlines. Then his friends in the Labour Party will memory-hole the racism and he’ll be back.

It’s tempting to imagine things will change if we only point out the inconsistency. But it isn’t a bug – it’s a feature.

Our new priesthood is open about the fact that in their world, we’re not all equal before the law. Instead, pursuing ‘equity’ – equality of outcome – means some groups must be favoured over others.

Recently, US President Joe Biden sought to enshrine this in policy, singling out particular ethnic groups for priority access to Covid relief funds. The rule was thrown out in a court challenge.

But from the President down, America has abandoned equality for all in favour of a new and ever-shifting hierarchy. And it’s spreading to Britain.

After the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, a librarian at King’s College London sent an email bulletin to staff that included a photo of the Duke opening its Maughan Library in 2002. But, following complaints from an anti-racism group at the university, apologised for having done so because of his ‘history of racist and sexist comments’.

In March, Alexi McCammond (above), a Black American journalist who had been hired as the new editor of Teen Vogue, caused a furore following the discovery of 'historic tweets' she wrote when herself a teenager in 2011 that are now considered offensive. McCammond abased herself with a grovelling apology for her 'hurtful and inexcusable language' – but forgiveness was not forthcoming and she was forced to resign

In March, Alexi McCammond (above), a Black American journalist who had been hired as the new editor of Teen Vogue, caused a furore following the discovery of ‘historic tweets’ she wrote when herself a teenager in 2011 that are now considered offensive. McCammond abased herself with a grovelling apology for her ‘hurtful and inexcusable language’ – but forgiveness was not forthcoming and she was forced to resign

And this all creates jobs for a multiplying new priesthood, who get to decide who and what is worthy. The kind of people that Stonewall employs to vet the HR policies of businesses, Government departments and universities at a minimum £2,500 a go.

The same people, funnily enough, who are loudest in calling for us all to embrace the new faith.

And because it’s not about morals but power, it doesn’t matter how hard we flagellate ourselves when we’re reminded of something apparently inexcusable that we did or said in the past. Because under the new woke Puritanism, there’s no God, any more than there’s a Queen. So there’s no salvation either, no matter how hard you repent.

In the new hierarchy, you’re only a deserving victim – or a worthy ally – as long as you play ball. The moment you put a foot out of line, the punishment beating is ferocious. 

Nor does it matter how hard we work to obey whatever rules are current, because new, future taboos and -isms can be created at the drop of a hat, then used to punish past sins that weren’t sins at the time.

If you have the wrong opinions, forget it. Just look at Priti Patel.

So the safest course of action is to signal your submission to the new priesthood by taking that knee publicly. Because every time a scapegoat such as Ollie Robinson gets sacrificed, it’s a reminder that if you don’t take that knee voluntarily, you’ll be made to kneel.

Mary Harrington is a columnist for the UnHerd website.



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