There is a quote attributed to journalism professor Jonathan Foster that feels increasingly pertinent while watching Young, Black and Right-Wing (Channel 4): “If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out of the fucking window and find out which is true.” We now live in a world of unprecedented misinformation, which puts programmes such as this in a more tricky position. It’s not enough to simply share a plethora of views with detached voyeurism and frame them all as equally valid; a TV documentary cannot hold that it is raining and dry at the same time.
The presenter Zeze Millz, to her credit, does hold some of the most dangerous rhetoric to account. She occasionally fires back with statistics and acknowledges when the points her subjects are making are racist. She also makes the show eminently watchable as a witty and expressive host with an ability to roll her eyes so hard you fear her retinas may detach. But in the slim one-hour run-time, we breeze through her own political beliefs and a variety of approaches to being young, rightwing and black without truly scrutinising any.
Millz maintains her charisma as she meets different kinds of young rightwing Britons. She classifies them as the “TikTok influencers”, the “GB News generation”, “Tory entrepreneurs” and “Christian Conservatives”, with each group represented by a person or two. Perhaps the funniest part of the show is hearing who the subjects hold to be their personal heroes, including Mary Whitehouse, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove. The sole black hero cited is particularly hilarious, with GB News commentator Dominique Samuels’ choice of Kanye West having aged spectacularly poorly since filming.
Arguments for being a Conservative are complex, but the programme tips a hat at the main incentives for voting Tory. The most level-headed comes from Joseph, the entrepreneur who is an old-school “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of fella. There is a pro-capitalism agenda that Millz clearly finds palatable and Joseph argues his Gordon Gekko-esque worldview well. He acknowledges the systemic racism working against budding black businesses, but believes it’s simply up to them to “work harder”. While that has insidious undertones, it is at least coherent. Less so is Samuels’ insistence that racism doesn’t exist in Britain and people are confusing it with class conflict (it’s unclear why that is better) and that sexually violent immigrants are eroding the fabric of society. Millz ends up in tears watching refugees land on English soil, surprised by how moved she is that they have made it across alive. But if you come to the programme with a modicum of sympathy for those fleeing war zones, watching that epiphany feels bizarre.
Even more puzzling is TikTok micro-influencer Hannah, with a jumble of hot takes that wouldn’t be out of place if heard while storming the Capitol. One minute she is in full “Marxism has destroyed the black family” mode, then she’s spouting that we need to put in place a social safety net to ensure women have their rapist’s babies. Perhaps most surprising is her defence of those who hurled racist abuse at her family, but this only proves that there is little point in searching for a core philosophy within scattershot “alt-right” talking points. Despite Millz’s raised eyebrows and occasional frustration, she still labels Hannah as “brave” and platforms her hateful nonsense.
What Millz does astutely convey is that black people are “not a monolith”, but sadly she doesn’t dig much deeper than that. Millz herself identifies as a “centrist” and is open to listening to other views, both with the rightwingers and over a respectful coffee with Labour MP Dawn Butler. The two discuss how Butler believes that Labour represents the interests of black people best, while conceding that they aren’t perfect and need to do better. Yet in the end, Millz concludes that it is admirable the rightwingers are unwavering in their beliefs. But even with limited space to say more, that conclusion doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Every person leaves this documentary closed to new perspectives. Surely the ability to change your mind in light of further information is the goal for any documentary or personal philosophy? Perhaps it’s worth acknowledging that admiring West, dehumanising refugees and insisting that “black people love nothing more than their own victimhood” aren’t views worth praising steadfast commitment to? Yet Young, Black and Right-Wing holds that when it’s raining outside, we should still value an insistence that it is dry.