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4 unhelpful and inappropriate responses to racism

Racism in our society must be stamped out. But some of the actions by anti-racists have been misguided, argues Chris Goswami

Racial prejudice affects black-skinned people even more than brown-skinned people. As a second-generation Indian immigrant to the UK, I can see that.

Black people are arrested more often for not doing anything wrong, and employed less often when they have the same qualifications.

But what bothers me equally are the inept responses to racism we’re seeing right now. We must take racism very seriously, but the following token or misguided responses don't help our cause:

1. Defacing and destroying national monuments

Although these actions were not taken by the majority of anti-racist demonstrators, this has become a major topic in the news, so let's deal with it.

My guess is that if you examine the statues of famous men and women in almost any country you will find aspects of all of their lives, or comments they made, which are now judged unacceptable, but in their own time were not. We can't pull then all down. Moreover, tearing down monuments seems to come from a desire to impose a single narrative on this country – racial oppression – when in fact that narrative is just one of many narratives.

2. Jumping on a “WETOO” bandwagon

There has been a spate of brands rushing to prove that they care about racial injustice. This is best depicted in a satirical tweet I saw recently (note “elide” here means to ignore).

And who can blame them? Edelman, the public relations consultancy, has conducted poll which showed that 60% of Americans will now buy from or boycott a brand based on the brand’s response to the George Floyd killing. (Among black consumers that figure rises to 80%). Add to that the economic downturn, and some brands are falling over each other to show support for anti-racist demonstrations, any old way they can.

3. Organising politically correct but badly thought out training

There is now great anxiety about offending minorities, and ordinary white folks genuinely fear saying the wrong thing and being branded racist. Unfortunately, that has led to some absurd over corrections, not least the recent attempt by the BBC to ban the "don't mention the war" episode of Fawlty Towers.

I remember at a racial awareness training event for ministers, we were given a list of common English phrases including, 'black-sheep', 'black as thunder' and 'Black Friday'. We were asked to discuss racist connotations. My comment to the course-leader was that there were no racist connotations...until we came onto the course. These phrases are not offensive, but if you insist they are, by repeatedly proposing the idea (to people afraid of saying the wrong thing), eventually you will succeed, and they will become unacceptable. Then of course the extreme far right (yes, real racists) become fuelled because the language they know is being censored.

4. Refusing to see the racism in myself (whichever race I am from)

It’s easy to be a determined anti-racist when you live in a white bubble where everybody looks like you.

These days I too live in a middle-class white town, but it’s different from Blackburn, the town I grew up in. Blackburn is a working town in Lancashire which in the 1970s and 80s was largely white. Today, however, the town is approximately one-third Asian Muslim, and some areas have become exclusively Muslim. Unsurprisingly the shops have changed to adapt to Muslim consumers, many local pubs have closed from lack of business, and my old High School is now an Islamic College for girls. Many of the white friends I went to school with have moved to areas outside the town.

If the face of your town was transformed like Blackburn’s, how would you feel? Sometimes it’s easier to get angry about incidents to do with the police in America than holding ourselves to account.

How then should we respond?

Racial prejudice is part of the history of many Western nations. They competed to dominate populations around the world, and somehow that mindset can linger on. But let’s start not by fixing the world but by examining ourselves, and dealing with undiscovered racism within us – ask yourself the Blackburn question above.

Secondly, it’s right to own up to this country's colonnial past. We should express regret for the fact that most of us live in Western towns and cities that benefited (and may still benefit) from exploitation and enslaving of other nations. More importantly it’s right to try to repair damage done. That means finding peaceful ways to voice our opinions and ensuring that as far as we can, as nations and as individuals, we deliberately buy fairly-traded goods and clothes from developing nations. Wouldn’t it be something if 60% of us would buy from or boycott a brand based on the brand's treatment of workers and farmers in developing countries? There are more people in slavery and being trafficked today in 2020 than in any past century. Few seem to be demonstrating or pulling down statues for present-day victims of slavery.

And lastly, we need to see that there are other forms of discrimination besides race. Some years ago a young lad in our church youth-club called me an effing p**i (Pakistani descent – although I am ethnically Indian). I shrugged it off as his ignorant attempt to wind me up, but leaders in the church were outraged and kicked him out of our club forever. Now, what he said was unacceptable and needed to be dealt with, but it was no worse than if he had based his insult on, say, body weight, sexuality, or disability. If he had made one of those insults I doubt he would have been kicked out. I should have said so at the time and I regret that I failed to. There seems to be an assumption that racist insults are worse than other insults based on identity. In fact they are all unacceptable.

Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the publisher

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