Performing Anti-Racism

Jude Wanga

On 20 July, Marcus Rashford tweeted that he had heard the Spectator was ‘planning to run a story on me tomorrow about how I have benefitted commercially in the last 18 months’. He made it clear that he had not in fact made any money from his campaigns to provide children with food, books and shelter. The article never appeared in the Spectator. On 5 August, the comedian Dannie Grufferty revealed she was the source of the bogus story, and had spent months fooling the magazine into almost running it.

Grufferty’s confession – assuming it isn’t itself a laborious hoax – is certainly intriguing and eye-opening as it tells a tale of a publication’s obsession with the ‘culture wars’ leading it to be apparently duped by such snippets of gossip as ‘Kevin De Bruyne wants to front a pro-EU campaign’. Yet reading it leaves you with a sense of discomfort, especially if you are black. As funny as it may be that the Spectator’s editors, fact checkers and lawyers were strung along for weeks, it’s inescapable that the story exists only because Rashford was put up as a Trojan horse. This should make everyone feel uneasy. There’s a reason the Spectator didn’t bite on the badger story or the Andy Murray story. There’s a reason the De Bruyne story wasn’t the one it was most interested in.

Though Grufferty dances around the point, she never explicitly states the obvious: the story doesn’t work without Rashford because the Spectator’s ‘Wokeyleaks’ initiative, along with the wider ‘war on woke’ of which it is part, is premised on cutting black people to size. It’s about making black people hypervisible to an increasingly irrational and angry mob, who view racial equality and progress as a hindrance and affront. Grufferty seems to know this but doesn’t question the ethics of offering Rashford up to be smeared, without his knowledge or consent, for the sake of embarrassing the Spectator.

This isn’t to say there’s no merit in trying to expose the bigoted practices of mainstream publications, but what was gained from this? What new knowledge was revealed? Who, really, was surprised that a made-up takedown of a black footballer would get an enthusiastic response from a publication that once ran a piece called ‘In Defence of the Wehrmacht’?

Grufferty’s exposé – though she never quite calls it that, instead presenting the whole thing as an off-the-cuff joke that got out of hand – appeals to a niche audience who like to be seen to disavow the Spectator and the ideology it represents, but don’t want to challenge their own complicity in it. It’s for those who claim to support BLM but won’t engage with the reasons that defunding the police is a demand.

There is a horrible tendency among white liberals to perform anti-racism in a way that invariably ends up with one or more members of a minority being used. Sometimes people are so blinded by their desire to show their good intentions that they are oblivious to the actual bad consequences of their actions.

By her own account, Grufferty never stopped to consider whether appearing to confirm the Spectator’s bigoted suspicions of Rashford was a good thing to do, or whether bringing Rashford’s mother into the lies was justified. Grufferty didn’t pause to think that her ‘frankly ludicrous claims’ might escalate to the point of Rashford needing to issue a public statement, taking time away from his life to refute something that only exists because of Grufferty’s whims. This is white privilege in a nutshell.

The only person who comes out of all this with their reputation intact is the one person we can be sure this exposé was not about helping, protecting or defending, but without whom the story could not exist: Marcus Rashford.


  • 20 August 2021 at 1:57pm
    Joe Morison says:
    Grufferty’s actions were repulsive not least because many people will have heard the rumour but not its refutation, and for others the response will be ‘no smoke without fire’.

  • 20 August 2021 at 4:50pm
    autismvox says:
    Thank for this, especially that "Sometimes people are so blinded by their desire to show their good intentions that they are oblivious to the actual bad consequences of their actions"; it speaks to many things that have come up in my years as an Asian American academic in Classics.

  • 23 August 2021 at 12:40pm
    Howard Medwell says:
    Generally justified criticism, and solidarity as always to Rashford and his mother, but what exactly does Jude mean by talking about a “horrible tendency among white liberals to perform anti racism…” etc. Are all white people who oppose racism, “white liberals”? Can white people only “perform” anti-racism? Is the message to us, “keep out of it and let the racists get on with it”… which is what most white people have generally done…

    • 24 August 2021 at 9:55am
      Rowena Hiscox says: @ Howard Medwell
      I don't think he's arguing that white liberals shouldn't take part in anti-racist campaigns; just that they should stop using other people as weapons in the culture wars.

      Not that there's any chance of that happening. Politics at present operates on two assumptions. Firstly, that nothing can ever be dismissed as unimportant; secondly, that nothing is ever important in itself, but only in so far as it can be made to fit a narrative or advance a cause. So, for instance, Simone Biles can't be merely a very successful athlete currently going through a difficult patch. Depending on which side you're on, she must be either an icon of all that is best about humanity, courageously Taking A Stand for the importance of mental health; or the symbol of a generation of self-absorbed wimps who flake out the moment something makes them 'feel uncomfortable'.

      Where this article gets it wrong is in assuming that The Spectator wanted to take down Rashford out of a wish to keep black people subservient. Perhaps that played a part, but on the right nowadays, appeals to racism are mostly just a way of getting the white working class on their side. At present they would love to make a villain out of Rashford because he's been adopted by the other side; if the Twitter left ever decides to cancel him for whatever reason, they would be just as happy to make a hero-victim out of him.

      NB my references to 'the right' and 'the left' above shouldn't be taken as absolving the centre from blame. It's just that, right now, centrists are too obsessed with their own heroic victimhood to make hero-victims out of other people.

    • 28 August 2021 at 1:40pm
      Kel Pero says: @ Rowena Hiscox
      Beautifully put all-'round.