Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Racialism Revisited

That's what it used to be called when I was a student. Racialism. There were lots of marches and T-shirts against racialism. I don't know why racialism was replaced by racism.

Very often I hear a sentence that begins with "I'm not racist, but" and then it ends with some sentence about how the Zargians are all really clumsy, and are really bad at cooking.

Well, of course, by definition, anyone who starts a sentence with "I'm not racist, but" - - is racist.

And, actually, so is everyone else. I think we've evolved to be deeply suspicious of anyone whom we perceive to be different from us, and probably for good reason, because that lot from the cave down the valley would club you to death and nick your women as soon as look at you.

I was brought up in an almost all-white society. At the school I went to - about 400 pupils - there was just one girl of Afro-Caribbean descent, and two Asian girls, and I still remember all their names.

There were, however, some Jewish girls in the school. Everyone else was white, and Christian. Except for me: Jewish Communist father: white, nominally-but-not- really Christian mother. "You're a half-breed" said the Communist cheerily and frequently: he still does.

These days we're all so concerned about being called racist that it's hard to tease out what are actually racial characteristics, and what's genuinely offensive. Do all Jews, for example, have big noses? Well, probably not. Though I have. But I don't think I have that other supposedly Jewish obsession with making and keeping money - - but hey, I know Jewish people who have.

I remember once some white boy in my class pointing out that an Asian boy smelled of curry - - and, do you know what, he did. Because if you eat curry a lot that's what happens, no matter what your country of origin. I pointed out to the white boy that he himself smelled of chips. He was rather surprised.

I think that the key thing is to know where your prejudices lie, and to be prepared to take them out and look at them. I know, for example, that I am prejudiced against Asian male doctors, because I have encountered many Asian male doctors and medical students who have treated me with tremendous lack of respect. In a recent medical exam that I worked on, the two candidates of the day whom I considered to be the worst were Asian male doctors, pandering to all my prejudices: but then, the best of the day was also an Asian male doctor.

I think we should accept that there's a grain of truth in all the racial stereotypes, rather than pretending that we think we're all the same - - because we don't think that, really, at bottom, even though we might wish that we did.

And then, when we meet a new Zargian from the planet Zarg, and he isn't clumsy at all, we should be prepared to reconsider our prejudices in the light of that. And then, if he cooks a meal and it's delicious, we can reconsider that prejudice, too.

The key to overcoming racism is to meet more people from different races, as individuals: it's a big anonymous group from a different race from ours that really scares us. That takes us straight back to when we were Prehistoric Man. We haven't changed much at all, really.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting post and well put. I agree with you re: the political correctness bit. I also totally agree that it's human nature to be wary of 'outsiders' and feel more comfortable with your own 'tribe'. I've always thought that. It's not racist, it exists in every country. I lived in Japan for a year and the 'sameness' of the people and the pride (probs the wrong word) but the security they feel as 'one race' especially compared with the 'gaijin' (foreigners) is interesting. They like foreigners though! But it's a 'belonging' thing. You could live in Japan your whole life as a Westerner but you would never 'belong' or be properly 'integrated', as such.

I am also a total mongrel. Gay, partly Asian and partly Jewish. My father was born and raised in India and moved to the UK as a teenager. My mother - who is adopted - her real father was from the Eastern European Jewry. So I consider myself a total mongrel. I don't generally 'look' Asian (you've seen pics of me on my password-protected posts) but my brother is darker skinned (and has black hair, darker features) and was occasionally called 'Paki' at school.

I'm proud to not be an English blue-blood, especially as I was born in Wales! Due to my dad's job I had a bit of a 'traditional' upbringing - 5 years at boarding school - which drummed a few English gent features into me, but deep down I am definitely a mongrel!

Anyway, a very interesting subject for sure!

11:04 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Some of my best friends are Zargians. :)

11:28 pm  
Blogger David said...

The best way to deal with this in my mind is to look at people not colour,I hated my next door neighbours when I lived in the UK. They accused me of been racist, because they were from Pakistan, what they failed to see was that they were just not nice people, it wasn't about colour it was about attitude. The more experience you have of different cultures the more understanding & tolerance you gain.

1:03 am  
Blogger Michael said...

Sometimes I wonder if we've really moved on from the racialist times of Jack Smethurst and Love They Neighbour. We don't show stuff like that on telly anymore, but I'm fascinated/horrified at how quickly my kids absorb stereotypes from their peers at school, despite all the multicultural awareness teaching they get. I also find that the racism awareness they get fosters a sense of victimhood - my son's best friend says their form teacher is racist and hates Asians because she told him off last week.

1:43 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

I think we need to move beyond allowing Zargians (or at least those who somehow manage to persuade us to take the time to watch them) demonstrate that they do not conform to stereotypes, and put real effort into acting as though we do not hold beliefs based on those stereotypes at all. It's harder to change the beliefs, but behaviour should be simple enough, really.

6:54 pm  

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