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.