A couple of recent affairs currently in the news have revolved around two different kinds of racism and a few thoughts on how to respond to them. These are, of course, Trump’s recent racism against congress members and the accusations of anti-semitism in the “U”K Labour Party.
Donald Trump, as I’m sure you know, recently said of four Representatives who were also women of colour, that they should go back where they come from. All four of them are American citizens although one is originally from Somalia. He later confounded this unacceptable behaviour by tweeting that “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!” and a crowd chanted “send her back!” of Ilhan Omar at a public meeting, to which Trump was seen to nod, I presume in agreement. He stood there for fifteen seconds and didn’t condemn them. The Republican John McCain interrupted a speaker who described Barack Obama as a Muslim and took away her microphone to condemn that statement.
This just is racism. There’s no argument about the definition here, no ambiguity and it’s not really even an evaluative statement to call it that. In the past people have been proudly racist and scientifically racist, and they would agree with that epithet – it isn’t always used as a pejorative term, although clearly most people would see it as pejorative. Trump said later that he disagreed with the chant but of course “he would say that, wouldn’t he?” is the obvious response there whether one agrees with him or not. I’m not sure I agree with Omar in describing him as fascist because other words do just as well and don’t have the same history, although I’m open to that interpretation, but it would clearly just be a neutral, objective description of this behaviour as racist, and there isn’t really any arguing with that.
That leads me to wonder about the BBC, who are not calling it racist. The BBC is supposed to be an unbiassed, neutral institution, and it seems to me that not calling this racist is a form of bias. The coverage I’ve heard doesn’t paint it positively but they have not come out and stated unequivocally that it’s racist, and this makes me wonder. It also made me curious about how the BBC described apartheid in South Africa, segregation in the US and the behaviour of the Nazi party at the time. There is a risk inherent in exploring the last because comparison to the Nazis is clichéed and lays one open to criticism, but I can’t recall them describing apartheid South Africa as a racist régime. I think they should have. It isn’t okay to be silent about something like this, not just in the sense of not reporting it but also in the sense of not describing something accurately. It’s a little similar to false balance.
Furthermore, it’s even more depressing to note that only four Republicans censured Trump for his racism.
I want to turn now to “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!”. I am racist of course. That doesn’t mean I’m pro-racist so much as that I’m aware of racism in myself and the need to strive to reduce it. Racism is a bit like sin, as well as actually being a sin, in that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God is a healthy attitude for two reasons. It means one isn’t worse than anyone else, and it means that residual wrongdoing is more likely to continue to be addressed if one suspects oneself of being racist. The point at which one declares oneself as non-racist rather than anti-racist is the point at which one’s racism will never reduce. Many people see this as insulting but it isn’t so much an insult as a recognition that nobody’s perfect, and not in the sense of shrugging one’s shoulders and planning to continue negligently in the same way. It means nobody’s perfect and therefore everyone should work on improving their thoughts and behaviour to be fairer and more compassionate. It seems to me in particular that a white person claiming not to be racist is like a man claiming to be feminist.
I’m pretty sure I’ve covered this before but it probably bears repeating. There’s a fairly widespread concept of racism which asserts that non-whites can’t be racist because of structural issues with society, such as the plundering by white people of the rest of the world causing gross inequality during the imperial age and the ongoing practice of that policy by other means today. I’m not making that claim, but it’s clear that the issue of white racism is more important than most other forms of the prejudice, and as far as a white person is concerned racism is in any case universal, whether or not it’s because they’re white. The other issue would be about whether racism occurs among non-whites. I think it’s pretty clear that it does, although it very often seems to be against other ethnic minorities, at least in white majority countries. Looking at racism again in a non-evaluative sense, where racism could be seen as something which just exists as a phenomenon rather than something which is condemned, although obviously I do condemn it, it is, like most or all other forms of prejudice, an error of inductive inference. Inductive reasoning is the use of more than one example to draw a tentative conclusion. For instance, “all swans are white” generally worked in Europe and North America until the people living there learnt that there were black swans. It’s always logically possible that inductive reasoning will be proven false. It’s necessary to use inductive inference in order to function properly, so we continue to do it. The situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that there are false propositions about othered ethnicities which have no evidence supporting them, but we do generally draw inferences based on imperfect information, and that means we will always be racist unless we’re drastically neurologically compromised. I suspect, for example, that someone with advanced dementia or severe learning difficulties would not be racist because they’re simply not making persistent inferences at all. Hence we just are racist, and in particular white people in white-majority countries are extra racist on top of that due to structural and institutional racism. For instance, we might not expect someone in a position of authority to be black because of various social factors preventing them from reaching such a position, but that assumption is nonetheless racist, and also important to notice in oneself.
Moving on, just before eliciting the racist chanting, Trump accused Omar of being anti-semitic. I don’t know the details of the accusation, but it brings me to the second concern which is in and out of the news a lot: accusations of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. I do actually believe it’s possible that there is a particular form of anti-semitism among Labour Party members if they, for example, believe in the idea that there’s a Jewish conspiracy supporting global capitalism, and this is of course completely unacceptable. The reason I believe this is possible is that a very large number of people joined the Party in the last few years and it seems to me probable that at least a few of those would be conspiracy theorists of one kind or another. We don’t want conspiracy theories, racist or not, because they distract from deeper problems. But I don’t want to get into the issue of whether anti-Zionism is automatically anti-semitic or not because there’s a way of broadening the issue which is likely to make it more neutral. Anti-semitism is of course a form of racism. At the same time, governments often pursue policies which violate civil liberties, and Israel is one of these countries, as is Egypt, which I understand also restricts movement from the Gaza Strip into their territory. So there are two issues here: possible racism in political parties and support of oppressive policies and action by other countries which are considered allies of the United Kingdom. Consequently, I propose, and in fact I’m pretty serious about this and would like to pursue it as a possible more neutral response to accusations of anti-semitism.
There would seem to be no good reason not to undertake an independent investigation into racism and dealings with oppressive activities by allies of Britain in all major political parties in this country: the Lib Dems, the Tories, the SNP, the Greens, Sinn Féin, the DUP, anything you like. This would include anti-semitism in the Labour Party, and although Muslims are not an ethnicity, Islamophobia in Labour and the Tories, and, well, whatever counts as racist. It would avoid the tactic of appearing to accuse others of something just as a distraction from one’s own wrongdoing and it would in any case address serious issues across the political spectrum which need to be addressed regardless of anti-semitism. We shouldn’t just be concentrating on one kind of racism. Then there are the dealings HM Government has with in particular Sa`udi Arabia, a notorious violator of civil liberties and also highly anti-semitic. Pupils in Sa`udi schools are taught that the ‘Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion’ is a genuine Jewish document and the government officially believes in a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. If we’re going to condemn the Labour Party for being anti-semitic, even to that extent, does it not also make sense to condemn the Conservative Party for promoting trade agreements with an openly anti-semitic government like that of Sa`udi Arabia? It’s simple consistency.
That’s all I’ve got to say today really. That there should be a country-wide investigation into all forms of racism in all major British political parties and those in the Six Counties, and also into their dealings with oppressive régimes, including anti-semitic ones, and that the BBC should call a spade a spade and describe Trump and the Republican Party as racist, because it’s a matter of fact and not an example of bias or evaluation.