October 14, 2022 Abdul Haqq

Trick or Treat? Tokenism vs. Meritocracy

Glossary of terms

Second fiddle: one that plays a supporting or subservient role.[1]

House Negro: a black person who rejects their cultural identity to please the white man.[2]

U-turn (noun): the turning of a vehicle in a U-shaped course so as to face in the opposite direction. Also: a change of plan, especially a reversal of political policy.

The former chancellor continued to be under the spotlight following his somewhat delusional mini-budget plan announcement to Parliament on 23rd September.  Cutting short his visit to Washington was an ominous sign of what was to follow. His termination was inevitable and while traveling home, he would have hopefully reflected on why he has been dealt with so unceremoniously. Unsurprisingly, KamiKwasi (as opposed to Kamikaze) Kwarteng has been the scape-G.O.A.T for the current crisis with previous aspersions already cast in his direction by Liz (cannot) Truss:

Liz Truss has been accused of throwing chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng “under a bus” by saying the decision to cut income tax for the richest was made by him and not Cabinet.

Nadine Dorries…criticised her remarks made on the first day of the Tory conference in Birmingham:

“…there is a balance and throwing your chancellor under a bus on the first day of conference really isn’t it…”” [3]

Kwarteng’s appointment as chancellor could be considered a token move following Truss’ defeat of Rishi Sunak for the number one position. As significant as it may have been – he was the first black chancellor this country has seen[4] – the role was always going to be a secondary one, used either to placate the post holder with assurances of eventual succession to the ultimate role as PM (remember Tony Blair and Gordon Brown?[5]) or, as on this occasion, assuaging the wounds of opponents who supported black or brown rivals in Kemi Badenoch and Rishi Sunak. Playing second fiddle continues to be a role assigned to many black people irrespective of their academic or professional pedigree and hearkens back to their positions vis-à-vis Whiteness:

“…slave fiddlers were very popular on plantations as it was a novelty to play at the slave master’s functions and parties… Primarily, in Southern America, slave masters would buy the fiddle and give slaves teaching lessons to ensure the aesthetics of their musical entertainment for holidays and private parties.” [6] 

Perhaps Kwarteng, following his short term and ill-fated plight as chancellor can learn a lesson from the distant past:

“The tragic story of Solomon Northup, popularly known as the main character in the novel and movie, 12 Years a Slave (2013), was a fiddler. He was a freed man that tried to pursue his musical career, but was then kidnapped back into slavery.” [7]

Kwarteng’s career is in tatters but at least he is now free of his secondary, subservient and token role to Truss. He also has the opportunity to observe the continuing demise of his ‘great friend’ from the backbenches, as she no longer has any token member (of colour) to apportion blame:

“…Kwarteng, humiliated by one of the biggest rejections from the very free markets he wanted to embrace, is as well-placed as any former cabinet minister now sat on the backbenches, should he want to exact any sort of revenge on the Prime Minister.” [8]


Black people are usually the first to die in the movie

“Horror is no genre for black people, or so the popular opinion goes.

You know the deal—if there’s a black character in a slasher movie, or any other scary flick involving multiple people dying in horrific ways, he or she is destined to be the first casualty. Because that’s the apparent birth right of a horror film’s “Token Minority,” that one person of color who’s there to make the respective movie less vanilla.” [9]

Anyone witnessing the events of the past 6-8 weeks can be excused for finding it difficult to differentiate between a disaster movie and the apparent nightmare that constitutes British politics.  From the late Queen Elizabeth II’s demise after meeting Liz Truss to the swiftest exit of a new chancellor, everything else in between has been nothing short of catastrophic. Kwarteng should have carefully reviewed the lay of the land and considered whether it was conducive for his career to align himself with the new PM. Clearly, he did not and only has himself to blame for his subsequent fate. Suspended Labour MP, Rupa Huq’s words are likely to echo in Kwarteng’s ears now that he has time to reflect on his rollercoaster (Kamikaze) ride as chancellor in view of his 2nd fiddle playing:

“Rupa Huq, a lawmaker who represents an area of west London, was accused of racism by Conservatives after the Guido Fawkes website published a recording of her saying about Britain’s first Black finance minister that “superficially” he is a black man”.” [10]

It will be interesting to see whether the effect of Kwarteng’s downfall will catalyse what the above mentioned website’s namesake failed to achieve in 1605 (without the gunpowder,) and while this is unlikely, he has almost certainly validated yet another age old stereotype, still depicted in 21st century media, and illustrated so ardently in the following verse:

“Many intelligent Black men seemed
To look uncivilized when on the screen
Like, I guess I figure you to play some jigaboo
On the plantation, what else can a nigga do?”

While Kwarteng is not alone in his tokenism, he has been the most senior, visible and vocal. Other black colleagues have, albeit not so Cleverly, been quick to reiterate their support for the PM and they would be well advised to err on the side of caution. House Negroism is a precarious status to maintain in view of its subordinate nature and the fact that it can be revoked arbitrarily. One only has to look at the revolving door of former cabinet ministers as evidence for this, especially those of colour.  Unfortunately, these same members continue to suffer from a psychosis of whiteness and are therefore unlikely to awaken from such post-colonial slumber.

Conclusion: Too many chiefs, not enough Indians

Truss has since replaced Kwarteng with seasoned minister, Jeremy Hunt; however, she and the Conservative party continue to ignore the elephant in the room; there are more qualified candidates for both her and the chancellor’s positions. Rishi Sunak received more support from MPs than Truss to become PM, but she assumed the role as a result of subsequent party members’ votes – notwithstanding the fact they apparently know little or nothing about the characteristics required for the candidacy of PM. Her position must now surely be untenable. Only time will tell whether her delusions of grandeur will dissipate, with a return to more sober and common sense politics. Liz Truss is certainly not the Woman King, nor does she possess the political acumen or dignity required to continue as Prime Minister.



[1] Merriam-Webster: ‘ Definition of Second Fiddle’, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/second%20fiddle

[2] Urban Dictionary: ‘Definition of House Negro,’ https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=house%20negro

[3] Blewett, S: ‘Nadine Dorries accuses Liz Truss of  ‘throwing Kwarteng under bus’ over tax cuts,’ The Independent, 3rd October 2022: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nadine-dorries-liz-truss-bus-kwasi-kwarteng-b2190915.html

[4] Casalicchio, E: ‘Britain has its first black chancellor – but don’t make a thing of it,’ Politico, 6th September 2022: https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-first-black-chancellor-kwasi-kwarteng/

[5] Institut Montaigne: ‘Kinship to Daggers Drawn: Tony Blair and Gordon Brown,’ 5th July 2022: https://www.institutmontaigne.org/en/analysis/kinship-daggers-drawn-tony-blair-and-gordon-brown

[6] Black Music Scholar: ‘The Outstanding, yet Oppressed Fiddler: The Importance of the Fiddle in African Folk Music,’ https://blackmusicscholar.com/the-outstanding-yet-oppressed-fiddler/ accessed 14th October 2022

[7] Ibid

[8] Picheta, R; Wilkinson, P & Sangal, A: ‘British PM Liz Truss fires finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng,’ CNN, 14th October 2022: https://edition.cnn.com/webview/uk/live-news/truss-kwarteng-press-conference-intl-gbr/index.html

[9] Barone, M: ‘Fact Check: Do Black Characters Always Die First in Horror Movies?’ Complex, 31st October 2013: https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2013/10/black-characters-horror-movies/

[10] Reuters: “UK’s Labour suspends lawmaker for saying Kwarteng ‘superficially’ Black,’ 27th September 2022:  https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uks-labour-suspends-lawmaker-saying-kwarteng-superficially-black-2022-09-27/

[11] Public Enemy: “Burn Hollywood, Burn,” Fear of a Black Planet Album: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=public+enemy+burn+hollywood+burn+lyrics&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8 accessed 14th October 2022

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