Bim Afolami – a great disappointment

(English) Bim Afolami

I had such high hopes of Bim. He is bright , personable and engaging. Quite an ambassador. Today, 23 June 2020, on the BBC he revealed a rather shallow side of his nature. Asked about  the tearing down of statues he commented that  if we tore down statues of  all racist imperialist politicians there would be none left in UK. He smiled and thought he had made a witty point, not a huge gaff.

Let me show where this all came from. In  elite social contexts in England  such as Pall Mall Clubs and similar, English  upper class gents make this sort of comment over dinner. However they are careful NOT to make it in public. By pretending that everyone was like that they are  subtly admitting their sympathies. Yet they know full well that  English history is variegated and for every imperialist there would be those who opposed it. There were those who supported the slave  trade and those who opposed it.  This means that  we have a choice over whom we celebrate.

In his desperate attempt to blend in with the British elite he has lost touch with reality. For example no one has told him that  being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts is worthless now, stop bragging about it. It is embarrassing. All that is required is to pay membership. A long time ago it was an honour.

It used to be the case that  Oxford and Cambridge  undergraduates were  supremely aware of the shallowness of received wisdom and that for every pro there was a con. One would never take any point of view at face value. His uncritical worship of Churchill is embarrassing even for Churchill supporters.

What did Bim learn at Oxford? Where is his scepticism? Or did he believe everything he was told? 

Club house comments are full of wit and are sometimes outrageous and not meant for public digestion. History, especially our history in Britain, is a field of contestation. We reinvent our history to suit our present circumstance. For Bim to talk as if history is a given  we have to accept is simply embarassing. His comments will appall his Conservative Party friends and supporters. Is he saying all British politicians and all Conservatives in their hearts  are racist imperialists to a man and woman? How does that sell the party to the next generation and how does that sell Britain to the world? A Conservative Party that is seeking to re-image itself does not need that sort of help!

At Club table the witty response will be: ‘Who was his history tutor at Oxford? He has a lot to answer for’.

Bim you’re trying too hard to join the British elite …relax and be yourself.