UK equalities minister Kemi Badenoch claimed “I don't care about colonialism” in WhatsApp conversations obtained by VICE World News.
In a series of messages and conversations reviewed in full by VICE World News, the rising star of the ruling Conservative Party, who has just been promoted to take on an expanded foreign affairs role, wrote that European powers “just made a different bunch of winners and losers” on the African continent.
The disclosure of the WhatsApps comes days after VICE World News revealed that Badenoch had mocked LGBTQ rights in a leaked audio recording from 2018, the same year some of the WhatsApp messages were written.
“I don’t care about colonialism because [I] know what we were doing before colonialism got there. They came in and just made a different bunch of winners and losers,” Badenoch wrote.
“There was never any concept of ‘rights,’ so [the] people who lost out were old elites not every day people,” she continued.
The British Empire and its European counterparts believed in the superiority of white people, and indigenous groups experienced extreme exclusion, displacement, and violence in order for the British to take control – and keep it. While there are debates around teaching this history in UK schools, the effects of colonialism continue today, and lives are still lost because of colonial-era laws.
UK opposition party Labour called Badenoch’s comments “crass, divisive and painfully inaccurate.”
A UK government spokesperson said: “The government does not comment on leaked private correspondence.”
The WhatsApp messages from Badenoch were sent privately or posted in a group chat called Conservative Friends of Nigeria. One of the founding members of the group was Funmi Adebayo, a former associate and Conservative supporter.
Adebayo said she provided the WhatsApp messages to VICE World News because she felt she had to “speak up” after Badenoch had a portfolio from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office added to her brief. The exact responsibilities of the minister’s new international role are still to be confirmed.
Adebayo was an investment banker when they first met Badenoch, and “looked up” to the newly-elected Conservative MP, one of the few black women in the UK’s ruling party.
In an interview with VICE World News, Adebayo called Badenoch’s comments on colonialism “dangerous and ignorant.”
“These messages show Kemi Badenoch’s deep lack of understanding – and ignorance – when it comes to the impact of British colonialism, especially on the Commonwealth nations,” Adebayo said.
In another message sent as part of the same conversation, Badenoch defended her beliefs around race, describing a “mini-identity crisis” that she had in her mid-twenties. She discusses how she learned more about her race from someone who, she believes, “would just be sacked for racism” today.
She said she had a colleague “who took no prisoners on this issue and he was very aggressive in challenging my view of what African achievement actually was.”
She continued: “The kind of chat I think is impossible to have today because he would just be sacked for racism. But he knew his stuff, and he didn’t back down and I found I knew a lot less about the country I lived in and grew up from than I thought.”
In the leaked messages, Badenoch also criticises a number of leading Black politicians in the UK, including those within her own party, as well as prominent Black academics and public figures.
Asked whether she considered Tory MP and government minister Sam Gyimah a potential leader of the party, Badenoch responded with the words, “Fuck no.”
“He has no friends or base in the party,” she continued. “Who is going to follow him.”
Gyimah, who quit the Conservative Party over UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans and later joined the Liberal Democrats, has been contacted for comment.
At one point, Badenoch boasted about almost making one of the world’s most celebrated race academics cry in front of an audience.
“I was on a panel with Kimberle Crenshaw who is like the [queen] of critical race [theory] at UCLA or Stanford,” she wrote.
“She was practically in tears by the end of it [because] she literally had never heard the arguments I was making and could not respond.”
“And then she started shouting that I had no right to be on [the] panel…because I hadn’t read her book 😂.”
VICE World News has contacted Kimberlé Crenshaw for comment.
After a prominent Black columnist working for a major UK newspaper questioned how Black Conservatives could stand by their party after the Windrush scandal – where UK authorities wrongly threatened people born in Caribbean countries with deportation or in some cases actually wrongly deported them – Badenoch responded, “Wow. She needs some schooling” and said she wants to “build an army” because she’s “tired of this shit”.
Badenoch added that it was “very hard” for her to speak up about the situation “without getting abusive”. She went on to ask the group, “If I helped you write an article, would you be happy to put your name to it?”
Badenoch also said that there are “too many inarticulate black [sic] people given front and centre stage.”
“Look [at] Diane Abbott,” she continued in the next message, “practically the only black woman you see discussing politics and how she disgraced her selves [sic] not knowing her brief. That kinda stuff is sooo bad for us.”
Labour MP Abbott, who at the time of Badenoch’s comments was shadow home secretary, has been contacted for comment.
Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour MP for Streatham, labelled Badenoch’s comments "crass, divisive and painfully inaccurate".
She continued: "For hundreds of years, the British Empire systematically underdeveloped and extracted resources from the global south. Blaming people for their own suffering and exploitation might be a tried and tested Tory tactic but it's not actually what happened."
Adebayo, who is now the CEO and founder of The Black Monologues – a Black-led production company – said they no longer associate with any political party. They said they were coming forward with the WhatsApp messages because, “I think it’s important that somebody who knows her, has spoken to her and understands the way she thinks actually exposes the fact that she is not equipped at all to take on this role [at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office].”
“Somebody with this level of ignorance, who doesn’t understand the history, shouldn’t be in a position to decide what’s in the best interests of these nations.”
Adebayo said that while Badenoch was at one point a mentor figure for her, she felt “deeply betrayed” by her comments on colonialism.
“I did not realise when I first engaged with her that she held these views,” she told VICE World News in a phone interview.
“As soon as it became clear that she genuinely didn’t care about colonialism, and that she genuinely didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, I just thought – this is very worrying and I cannot engage with her anymore. I was betrayed and I was deeply disappointed to hear that these were her views.”
“I think she's absolutely the wrong person to be sitting in this office that she has now been given. As great as it is to see a Black woman in her position of power, and as great as that is for representation, she is not equipped, she does not have the knowledge, she does not have the experience, nor does she have the empathy to be in such a role.”
“I hope that it is strongly understood that just because she is a Black woman, does not mean that she can be the spokesperson for all Black people.”
Responding to the minister’s leaked comments, a spokesperson from The Runnymede Trust – a UK-based race equality think tank – said: “One thing that has been made all the more apparent in the past year is that the lasting legacy of colonialism still carries trauma and pain for our ethnic minority communities. The expansion of empire came at considerable cost to, and caused great pain to, those who were colonised and that legacy deserves our full consideration. Britain still has work to do to reconcile a complex and difficult history in an appropriate and sensitive manner."