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Taking the knee changes nothing

England players taking the knee before their game against Croatia on Sunday. Carl Recine/Pool/Getty Images

“Taking the knee is not for me,” says Matthew Syed in The Sunday Times. “I wouldn’t boo” the footballers who do it, of course, but when Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha said it does nothing for anti-racism, and might actually undermine it, “I found myself nodding”. The problem is that millions of fans mistake kneeling for real action. They might tweet virtuous hashtags and enact the “liturgy of anti-racism”, but they aren’t the “engines of progress” they imagine. Research by consultants Mind Gym recently found the $19bn spent each year on corporate “diversity training” might actually be “increasing prejudice” and fuelling a “new polarisation” at the companies that do it. Another study showed companies that made public statements supporting Black Lives Matter employed 20% fewer black people. They’d made a “superficial gesture” and stopped there. 

The complex question of how to improve the lives of millions has morphed into a “pseudo-debate” about whether or not 11 millionaires should kneel at a footie game. It’s more than just the symbolism, say Nigal Biggar and Doug Stokes in The Daily Telegraph. When the left dismisses the “culture wars” as a right-wing fantasy, it ignores the scale of the “assault on our values” in universities and beyond, and misses its true significance. Progressives attacking the West forget they’re only free to do so because the US and UK haven’t succumbed to the growing tide of illiberalism led by Russia and China. Anti-western westerners are “sawing off the very branch on which they so comfortably sit”.  

I wouldn’t worry quite so much, says Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times. In the UK at least, wokeism is “wobbling”. Take two recent, revealing blunders. A few weeks ago Cambridge published, then retracted, a roster of unpardonable “micro-aggressions”, including “raising an eyebrow” if the recipient of this “shockingly disrespectful gesture” were from an ethnic minority. After a barrage of complaints from academics (standing up for the “eternal right of Cambridge dons” to raise an eyebrow during supervisions), the university said the list had been published “in error” and took it down. Last week the NHS launched an A-Z glossary of woke terms for staffers. Alongside the usual “linguistic obscurantism”, it included spelling mistakes such as “Islamaphobia” and “White Supresmacy”. The list was binned after criticism from, among others, Tory MP Neil O’Brien, who said this “alphabet of woke” was “highly divisive” and should not be being “pushed by HR managers in the NHS as a sort of gospel”.

I don’t get why “second-rate Conservative politicians” keep feeling the need to wade in, says Nick Cohen in The Observer. Tories used to understand that culture wars were fought “as much within the liberal left” as between left and right. Why don’t they just sit back and enjoy the electoral boost as “intolerant leftists” drive their natural allies away? They should remember Russian general Mikhail Kutuzov. When Napoleon marched on Moscow in 1812, Kutuzov ordered his forces to sit back and let Napoleon’s army slowly destroy itself. In Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Kutuzov scorns those wanting to take the fight to Napoleon in the field. “Patience and time are my warriors, my champions,” he says. “We can only lose by taking the offensive.”