On March 29 2021, Kehinde Andrews, academic and self-described Black radical, and Jeremy Black, eminent historian, came to Intelligence Squared to debate the question 'Is the West fundamentally racist?'
The West, Andrews will contend, prides itself on being founded on the three great revolutions of science, industry and politics. But the cornerstones of the West, he will argue, are in fact genocide, slavery and colonialism. And the European Enlightenment, which underlies every part of modern thought, was from its outset profoundly racist. Colonial oppression, he will say, is not just part of our history: it still operates today, with America at the helm, perpetuating global inequality through business, government and institutions like the UN, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.
Wrong, says eminent historian Jeremy Black. All that is a complete misrepresentation of the historical and present-day facts, Black will counter in this timely event. It’s simply not accurate, he will say, to deny the importance of science, industry and politics in the formation of Western culture – or indeed the benefits we still derive from them. All our modern ideas of freedom, equality, individual rights and universal values can be traced back to the Enlightenment, he will claim. Yes, racism still exists in modern societies but it is disingeunous to argue that it defines life in the 21st century as fundamentally as it did during the time of slavery and direct colonisation. ‘Western values’ don’t belong just to white people – they are the tools for all of humanity to build a better world.