Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More on racism

Perhaps I should point out that I wasn’t trying to be preachy in the Demographic Delusion post below. My aim, as in the Ancestry post, was to write about something that’s hopefully surprising because we don’t often think about it, but which is, when we do think about it, quite obvious. I’m interested in the gap between Platonic thinking and reality. But Platonic thinking - discussing ideal categories and concepts - is just what we do, it’s natural to us, it’s often useful and we have to make a conscious intellectual effort to avoid it when it isn’t useful.

And talking of gaps, there’s a giant one between Nick Griffin (a real bigot) and someone who just starts a sentence beginning “Of course 95% of them are fine but…” because he’s thinking Platonically.

Whenever the issue of racism pops up, it is very easy to get all humourlessly high horsey about trivia which is, in the greater scheme of things, irrelevant. Witness the hysteria over Anton Du Beke and Bruce Forsyth recently – both crucified by the usual liberal pontificators.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been cursed with a sense of perspective here. In no particular order, here are three ways in which Britain has improved out of recognition since I was a kid: there’s much less dog turd on the pavements; there’s much less litter on the streets (I remember kicking through crisp packets like they were Autumn leaves); and overall we’re much, much less racist. (Football tells you the story here. After he scored his famous goal against Brazil, John Barnes was booed by England fans for being black. These days we’re so comfortable with our non-racism that we can happily boo Ashley Cole for a whole list of valid reasons (greed, arrogance, getting thrown out of nightclubs while his wife is off doing charity mountain-climbing etc) and we all know that his colour isn’t on it.)

As it happens, I am pretty sensitive to the language. I do cringe a bit when people of my parents’ generation say “coloured” when they ought to say “black” etc. But I don’t get all soapbox about it, or confuse it with real racism. And what’s so funny about peace, love and pragmatism? Broadly, the same lot who pronounced after agonised soul-searching that, yes, for the sake of our democracy and the integrity of the BBC’s charter (oh, such a cornerstone of the British constitution, the BBC charter) Nick Griffin should be allowed on the rubbish political debate programme Question Time, also crucified Brucie for defending Anton. To which you just want to say: oh get off it, lads. We’re not perfect, we never will be, but cut us some slack, we’re all just doing the best we can. Man.


martpol said...

There's a difference in those two examples, though.

In one, the BBC reflects the full range of political life by: mostly allowing only proper, mainstream parties their say; occasionally giving that right to minor parties like the Greens; and once allowing an extremist party with a good deal of support to air its views. Which it does, to general derision and strident criticism. (I think the BBC charter would be better off not having to reflect such a wide range of views, by the way; but I sympathise with the executives charged with following the charter as it exists now.)

In the other example, an entertainer on a hyper-successful family entertainment show uses language which would be offensive to a lot of its viewers. Given that there was no opportunity for live, on-air criticism of this, there seems to be a duty for other high-profile figures who want to comment on the matter to say that this is categorically wrong; thus reflecting the vast majority of right-thinking people in our decreasingly racist country.

Of course, the world did not end because Bruce Forsyth didn't do so - because, as you say, it's essentially a trivial matter. But that doesn't stop what he said being idiotic.

Brit said...

I reckon Brucie was mostly hounded for being from his generation. Banging on Brucie just trivialises real racism.

Gaw said...

The Strictly thing just made me think what stupid twats there are in the entertainment business. God knows why we take seriously the opinions of entertainers just because of who they are.

worm said...

I thought Brucie was hounded for his racism because everybody wanted to see if they could beat the record number of complaints to ofcom?

Thats all these complaints are isn't it? The legacy of Diana's mountain of rotting flowers, endlessly added to by people who had been told of the big pile of flowers and wanted to see how big it could get, people desparate to validate their lives by being 'part of it'

Then they did it to Jade Goody a few years later, and now it's become society's version of 'The Bundle' that we used to do on weedy boys at school.

Either way, as Brit says, it actually seems to trivialise real racism

martpol said...

But although such events themselves are trivial, their impact may not be. Of course Bruce Forsyth is of his generation, but - being a huge celebrity and having primetime attention - he isn't like anyone else of that generation. When he wonders aloud why people get het up about the word Paki, millions of people nod their heads and repeat the view. It perpetuates the kind of low-level acceptance of racism which may be less damaging than 'real' racism but nonetheless holds us half a step back from a truly tolerant society.

Brit said...

You vill be tolerant!

martpol said...

Absolutely. I'd round up all those who aren't and teach 'em a thing or two, let me tell you.