Tuesday 19 March 2013

Race you!

All people are equal. Let’s start with that. Some are kind and generous and go out of their way to help others. Others knuckle down and do dirty jobs to make a meagre living, looking out for their family and not complaining when life throws shit at them. Some rise up to win control and lead and inspire and become incredibly popular. Some aspire to the same ends but are despised for their honest efforts. And yet others cynically exploit the trusting nature of the Ordinary Joe to relieve them of the fruits of their labours. 

But we’re all equal and it’s wrong to differentiate based on first impressions. You are just as likely to become Prime Minister having grown up on a council estate as you are to rot in jail having started life with the silver spoon of aristocracy clamped between your gums. The skunk-smoking, face-tattooed teen with the attack dog could just as easily be a social worker. The man with a heavy accent offering to Tarmac your drive is quite possibly a charitable soul. (Never forgetting, of course, that charity begins at home.) 

But we are all equal and you must never judge a book by the cover. Mind you, if monkeys applied the same standards to their relationships with leopards there would be a lot fewer monkeys on the planet. 

Yes, you guessed. Over the weekend on That Twitter I engaged in earnest banter with somebody unlike myself. I actually conversed with a non-racist. There aren’t many of them about. In any case, the very term ‘racist’ is fraught with definitional difficulty. If we’re all the same race – the Human Race – is a racist somebody from outside that taxonomy; a non-human? Some might say so. 

But whatever your real beliefs about equality, our origins do dictate our physical appearance, our acceptance into the society of others and yes, in many enough ways to be an actual stereotype, our actual behaviour. You see, you CAN judge a book by its cover. We can and we do and we’re more often right than wrong. The doorstep conman is making a judgement about your gullibility based on your white, middle-class origins just as you are assessing from his swarthy, Eastern European mores how likely you are to be ripped off. But we're all equal, right? 

For anybody who thinks I’m a monster for my views on the parochial opportunism of human nature, see how much reactive rage and threat of action there’s been over the potential Cyprus banking raid compared to the passive grumbling and impotent acceptance when, say, a wedding party is bombed in the name of religion. We give you more sympathy when we can empathise; are you like us or not like us? Is this racism, or merely realism? 

We all judge. It’s human nature. When I judge somebody as likely to be an unreliable addition to our island culture, you in turn judge me because I’m white and I work and I quite literally call a spade a spade. But what makes your judgement of me more righteous than my judgement of them? And where do you turn when my judgement turns out to be accurate, while yours is borne of an odd, modern, turn-on-your-own sort of prejudice, fuelled by unsubstantiated notions of equality? 

And if you won’t take it from the likes of me please spend a few minutes on Banti’s far more considered and balanced essay:

1 comment:

  1. In Wisconsin, there is a move afoot to make white people who are part of a state government program to wear white wristbands to remind them of their privileged station.

    Of course, the point has been made that in Nazi Germany the Jews wore yellow stars to show who they were. Gays wore pink, gypsies wore brown and so on. I expect it reminded them all very well who they were, but you see it isn't racist by Wisconsin's scarily-named Department Of Public Instruction to want white people to wear white bands to symbolise who they are.

    For the left, this is merely a friendly reminder. For the nasty, evil rest of us it might smack of a form of racism and division. Sorry, what was that you said about us all being equal?