Friday, 3 December 2010

The Evolution of Racism

When one distinguishes between the 'left' and the 'right' in European circles we often attach labels such as 'pro-choice, pro-immigration, pro-gay rights and anti-racism' to name just a few that could be applied to the left to distinguish them from the right. By referring to the left as 'anti-racist' it inevitably implies that the right is, if not actively racist itself, not particularly against racism. Despite this, I don't really object to leftists or others referring to the left as 'anti-racist', as it is merely a label used for convenience, and nonetheless correctly describes the fact that anti-racism has undoubtedly been at the heart of left-wing movements in Europe, much more-so than the right. In the 21st Century however, the term racist has come to mean something very different and the ideology of anti-racism that we refer to of the left is something that I do not mind not being associated with.

That's certainly a sentence that could be taken out of context one day if I ever ran for office, so I better add some caveats. In the early 20th Century racism was not an important issue in Europe or specifically places like Britain, because for the most part Britain was racially homogenous. After the Second World War however, racism came to be associated with the Nazis and the Holocaust, as well as discrimination against the new tide of migrants that moved to Europe from non-white areas. The term racialism back then used to refer to the claim that races possessed unique characteristics, thus making some more superior than others. Despite what many young people and even mainstream members of the left might say, in the 21st Century no-one, left or right still in any significant number believes in that form of racism and it is silly to pretend otherwise. There is of course plenty of racism still in society, but this comes from all aspects of society and cuts across the political divide, and the view that one race is superior to another is a proposition rejected by both the left and the right.
There are however, two different views that can be ideologically divided between right and left on how to deal with issues of race. As I see it, the left got the questions about race in the 20th century correct, but the answers completely wrong. Racism is harmful to society for two reasons. First of all, in any form it's a pretty stupid view to adopt and should be offensive to everyone from an intellectual standpoint alone. Secondly it leads to division and most importantly discrimination. Discrimination in whatever guise is harmful but most importantly is equally harmful for whatever reason used to justify it. If a black man is the subject of racist taunts in the street he is just as much a victim as the gay person that he might abuse verbally later that day in a backlash. The issue of reverse racism/ affirmative action is often seen as a very petty issue for white members of societies to bring up, but to suggest this, is in itself a form of racism. To say that a black student should be more offended or upset over being refused a place at University because of his race, over a white student, is to suggest that the white student is made of stronger character thanks to his race, or more to the point that the black student is made of weaker character due to his. Affirmative action essentially asserts that the racists they are trying to correct were right. If in post-war America white University officials discriminated on the grounds of race, and the left's solution is not to ban that practice and open the market to a level playing field, but instead to legislate that blacks must be admitted due to their skin colour, is presumably confirming that blacks cannot make it fairly and therefore in a meritocracy it would be right to exclude them?

There is of course an obvious counter-argument to this objection based on pragmatism. It is uniquely hard to legislate bans on discrimination, as it is very hard to prove that it has taken place. Therefore a safe balance is to legislate for a statistically realistic quota, that may result in some whites being discriminated but would overcome the greater costs of many more blacks being discriminated, and I accept that argument completely. The American experience with minorities is very different from the European one as African-Americans have been in American society in one form or another since conception, whereas minorities were introduced very suddenly to European society in huge numbers. The first waves of post-war immigration took place only 30 years after the First World War, a time that was very far from tolerant and pluralistic to people from the third world and as such, I accept the pragmatic counter-argument in Europe's case that some form of reverse discrimination could be justified for good reason. Despite this there are too many other examples of where the left is genuinely racist now.

The left used to reject the 'authoritarianism' of the right and stand as firm supporters of free speech to take one example. When the right is not white however, they do not apply those same standards. It is becoming a cliché to point out that defecating on a Bible is regarded as 'art' and doing the same on a Qu'ran is considered hate speech. Once again 'whites' or more usually in this case Christians, are expected to be able to take criticism and behave maturely and responsibly. Muslims, or 'brown' and 'blacks' are not held to the same standard even if their behaviour is hurting fellow minorities. During the Danish Cartoons Crisis you were far more likely to hear a condemnation of the Danish Cartoonists for being racist, Islamophobic and all the rest of it, than the fascists in the street calling for their death. At what point did it become acceptable for grown men to take to the streets and incite murder over criticism of their religion as small as a cartoon. When the press and elites in society excuse and justify this behaviour from certain groups it creates a culture of victimisation and alienation within that group. If poor behaviour is excused and covered up by the 'race card' then it places a cloak over addressing genuine problems which as a result, persist. Free speech is just one issue of many where the left applies utterly different standards to those with white skin and those with darker skin. There are also increasingly worrying trends where anti-gay rhetoric and backward views on women are being excused for being part of their 'culture'. Searchlight are one of the few left-wing campaigners who oppose the EDL and BNP who have announced that they will be turning to the extremists on the Muslim side as well (http://hurryupharry.org/2010/11/18/searchlight-v-islamists-a-very-significant-development/). They are a very rare exception. 

A lot of left-wing ideology used to be about the brotherhood of man, and how arbitrary classifications of race and nationality got in the way of the important differences of class inequality. Now however, the left revels in race and how it divides people. Apparently an MP or a Parliament can only represent the society it comes from if they share the skin colour of some of their constituents. This seems to imply that in a multi-racial constituency, the different racial groups will continually be in opposition and conflict when it comes to political matters simply because they have a different skin colour. By this logic, if Labour and the Conservatives were to both put up black candidates and the only other candidate was a white man from the BNP, then white voters should vote for the BNP member in order to be represented. This is clearly ridiculous as the colour of one's skin is irrelevant and it is the ideas and character of individuals that is important. Again the left gets the questions right and the answers wrong. If black politicians are being discriminated against, that isn't a bad thing because whites are not capable enough by themselves and we need extra black politicians to placate this problem, it is a bad thing because discrimination under any circumstances is a bad thing. The solution is to remove that discrimination and create a level playing field, not to promote those who are unqualified because of their skin colour and harshly discriminate those are qualified for being white. 

The difference as I see it between myself and the 'anti-racist' left is that while we both dismiss the silly claims that one race is genetically superior to another, I apply the same standards and expectations to minorities as I do to majorities. I see minorities as just as capable of running for office, jobs and positions in education and just as capable of behaving responsibly in society and adhering to non-negotiable values such as freedom of speech. In other words I treat them equally. I do accept that there is a still a lot of racism and discrimination in society and I do think there is a role for government to play in this area, but putting the racism on the other foot is just making that resentment and hostility worse. 

No comments:

Post a Comment