Is it Racism….or do we have a chip on our shoulder!

What is Racism….The dictionary definition is:

“Discrimination and prejudice against people based on their race or ethnicity. Racism can be present in social actions, practices, or political systems that support the expression of prejudice or aversion in discriminatory practices.”

So why are we, as a nation, having so much difficulty in determining what it is and even greater difficulty in saying the R word. Very few people like to actually admit that they are racist and many end up in all kinds of contortions searching for other words to define their behaviour. Of course, the most common way of dealing with Racism is not to call it Racism and this conclusion protects the said individuals from examining the roots of their own behaviour.

I know that it is not always about slavery; but this time slavery is a significant factor. 400 years of slavery established the primary relationship between White Europeans and Black people, and State and Church needed to justify and rationalise their self-interest and greed. Let’s not mince words slavery was good business and was cheaper than indentured servitude or actually paying people for their labour; and coupled with the notion that these people were supposedly a lower class of beings and the fact that the colonisers were doing them a favour diminished any sympathy or responsibility for the seeds that they had sown. After all Europeans gave these people civilisation and the Christianity which they are still holding on to which significantly contributed to Black people’s present condition.

So why are people so incensed when they are accused of Racism! I would argue that there is an embarrassment that they have been suckered into believing some of the many stereotypes about Black people and Black culture. These stereotypes have been integrated, like invisible gas, into the western culture derived from that early relationship between Black & White that goes back 400 years. You know the kind of stereotypes that suggest that Black people are naturally skilled at sports and entertaining and conversely are shiftless and prone to aggression. All these supposed “qualities” manifest themselves in differing degrees and some appear to be complementary but in reality are not, and they steer some Black people into choices and expectations that are determined by White people & White culture.

Between the 70s & the 90s when some of us were pursuing Equality as opposed to Diversity and we had three Race Relations Acts,1965,1968 & 1976. As a society we were trying to get a handle on how we could come down hard on brazen examples of Race discrimination and there were guardian organisations like Race Equality Councils, Law Centres and Citizens Advice centres that were places where matters could be examined and resolved and there were some landmark cases during that time. There was a presumption that if someone felt that they had been discriminated because of their Race the first thing we would do was to respect their feelings and not try to negotiate them out of their interpretation of that experience. The belief was that the test of the evidence would determine how far that accusation was proven or not proven. The well-known definition was:

A Racist Incident is an incident that is perceived to be Racist by the victim or any other person”….and note that the “other person” was an important part of that definition and placed some responsibility on those who witnessed racism and had to make a choice as to whether they were going to let it go or report it. Yes… a witness can also be offended by racism but how often do they report it. Most times they leave it to the person who has been subjected to the Racism to not only endure the experience but to carry the burden of a reporting system that is sometimes less than sympathetic. The bottom line is that most White people and some Black people will support the general cause but would resist getting involved in the minutiae of challenging racism as a witness.

We then entered a social time when the raising of issues of Race and Racism were demonised as much as the issues themselves. The sympathies previously extended to those subjected to racism began to evaporate as many started to believe that the quality of life was so much better than where these “foreigners” came from and Racism was a small and inevitable price to pay. The advent of 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the asylum and refugees issue and Brexit all contributed to people who looked different being treated less favourably. Then inevitably the lack of sympathy converted to hostility and the well-worn phrase “political correctness gone mad’ was uttered up and down the land and even when it was not said entered the consciousness of those who may have protested against Racism without question back in the day but now remained silent. It got so bad that even those who had been subjected to Racism became more and more uncomfortable about declaring it fearing that it may attract attentions that would not favour them, and matters got to the point where Black people felt that complaining about Racism was a demonstration of their own weakness and they refused to play the so-called “Race card”.

So, we have now got to a point where Racism is something we try not to talk about and we have now found so many different ways to find other words for it and euphemistic terms such as “inappropriate behaviour”, “unacceptable behaviour”, “rude behaviour” and “It was simply a joke”  are trotted out to attempt to minimise the hurtful nature of the actions.

Clearly the recent remarks that a Tory party funder made when he told colleagues “That looking at Diane Abbott made you “want to hate all black women” and said the MP “should be shot”. created a discussion as to whether these remarks were racist. It took some considerable time before the powers that be were prepared to accept that these remarks were racist, and these admissions were made through gritted teeth. So what hope do many Black people experiencing racism regularly have when reporting incidents that they find racially offensive.

I have recently been doing some work supporting a Black family whose child had been subjected to Racism at a Hampshire secondary school and when he heard another pupil say to his Asian friend “You f….. p….. why don’t you go back where you come from” the teacher said I am sure she was only joking”. However, it took some time before the school accepted that it was a racist incident and the boy who reported it was punished for hurtful behaviour when reproaching the girl for her racist behaviour. The reality is that the majority of teachers in school have little knowledge as to how to identify a racist incident and many schools have poor systems to deal with it once identified. We need to remember that we live and operate in a culture where people in senior national positions, some who are Black & Brown, have a history of only challenging racism in a perfunctory sense or not at all, and sometimes they themselves become the perpetrators of Racism. This is not exactly what many of us had planned when challenging Racism in earlier years.

The real danger now is that what we tolerate now becomes the accepted pattern for how we are treated in the future and our children will be the ones who will reap the consequences.

Don John