Two kinds of people in this world… racists and people who are open, frank, and honest

The ‘race debate’ in Australia has been set back several years.  It was already in trouble and the ugly side of unleashed its fury during the Hey, Hey ‘controversy’.  I use ‘controversy’ liberally there because ‘Blackface is racist’ was only a controversial comment to red necks.

There’s a fundamental problem of conception in Australia and Britain, and it’s a problem with many fathers.

As with most things, the problem seems to have begun in the U.S. where the American PoC set the tone of the debate: American blacks were — entirely reasonably — interested in the problems and situations they faced.  Liberating themselves was more important — entirely reasonably — than setting up a conceptual framework which could be exported to other countries.  When that model was exported to other countries, instead of adapting itself into an appropriate framework, it charged ahead and became quite rigid.  The systemic issues which were pushing indigenous Australians into cultural extinction, which were excluding Muslims from mainstream discussion, and which were privileging British migrants were not only functionally different to those in the U.S.: they were also conceptually different.  We required vastly different tools to combat our problems.

Instead, the debate has gone entirely the other way.  People who hold racist views feel vilified when others correctly identify those racist views and call on the power structures to protect their self identity.  That’s what happened this week in Australia: describing racists as ‘racists’ was declared to be more disrespectful than being a racist.

This isn’t just some fringe crazy business either.  In Britain, Simon Woolley (himself Black British) claimed:

This often blunt instrument [the word ‘Racist’] becomes even more problematic when we consider that to be labelled a racist is only marginally better than being called a paedophile or murderer.  — The Guardian.

And it gets a bit silly from there:

The problem occurs when we conflate the individual with a rude, misguided, or ignorant comment. Ron Atkinson, for example, had one of the best track records of any British football manager for promoting black players, and yet in racially insulting a player as a “lazy, thick n-r“, many people labelled him as something his track record suggests he wasn’t.  — Ibid.

It’s a weird comment to make.  Timothy McVeigh had a 37-year streak of not blowing up buildings and yet was executed as a terrorist and murderer.  Neil Armstrong had a 39-year track record of not being the first man on the moon…

Anyway, it all gets a bit weird.  A person who expresses racist comments is a racist.  That’s how this works.  You could be a former racist by recognising that what you did was racist and treat the underlying causes for the comment but you can’t say that you’re not a racist because you had several years of not making racist comments before that.

The limitations of language are not only unfair to those individuals such as Ron Atkinson, but also for black and Asian people who from time to time would like to challenge a comment, an incident or an institution but feel the term racism is far too provocative.  — Ibid.

Because, of course, the important thing to remember in race relations is not to provoke the white people.  You have no idea what we might do.  We might fly into a rage and refuse to invite you to dinner.  This is the tone of the debate now: don’t upset the red necks.  People have to adjust to the red necks in order to be heard.  If you don’t adjust, you’re being ‘PC’ or you’re a member of the ‘intelligentsia’.  I never, ever thought that those terms would ever be pejorative.  Melanie Phillips sure showed me.

I’m particularly bitter about that, by the way.  This is her comment about the non-racists’ attitude towards history:

They have also served to falsify the history of both Britain and Australia in the minds of countless thousands of young people, who are taught propaganda based on a false or distorted story of national oppression and shame.  — The Australian.

Here’s her comment about Palestinians:

To repeat for the nth time: Israel was never the Palestinians’ ‘homeland’. It was never taken from them ‘by force’. On the contrary, they tried to take the Jews’ homeland from them by force – and are still trying. It was the Jews alone for whom historically ‘Palestine’ was ever their national homeland. — Spectator.

The sheer ludicrousness of the statement shocks the senses.  Does she need a copy of the Pentateuch?  People were there, Hebrews invade.  Oh, maybe she’s not talking about ancient history.  Maybe she’s ignoring the extremely long history of Arabs owning the land after the Romans caused the recent diaspora?  Who knows?  Either way, it’s insanely ignorant.

But back to the subject at hand.

The extremely strange part of Woolley’s article is this:

It’s said that the Inuit people have more than 50 words to describe snow. In one of the most contentious debates taking place in modern Britain, though, we have only one crude term to describe a whole range of individual and institutional practices and prejudices: “racism”.  — The Guardian.

Do you know why the Inuit people have so many words for snow?  Because they’re surrounded by the stuff.  Absolutely surrounded.  If they didn’t have several dozen words, their conversation would become extremely dull.  Okay, it’s not as simple as all of this: apparently, they have several different ways of speaking about snow (rather than different words), but let’s run with the theory.

Does Woolley really believe that we’re so swamped in racism that the only way to get a conversation is to become more nuanced in our ability to describe racism?  Is this how we stop ourselves from upsetting the red necks: by gently skirting around the issue of how they’re benefiting from a system which distinguishes people on the basis of their perceived attributes?

I’m reminded of the Emperor’s New Clothes: everybody has to pretend that the Emperor isn’t naked because they’re worried about how they’ll be perceived and how they might upset the guy with power.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

One thought on “Two kinds of people in this world… racists and people who are open, frank, and honest”

  1. I can’t think of anything to add to this except “well said”.

    I’d be interested to see you go into more detail on how the US-based conceptual framework fails to address the situation in Australia, and what kind of conceptual framework you think would be more adequate.

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