Are you in the race?

How racist are you? Once upon a time I would have claimed not to be racist at all. That was before I had my experience. Several years ago I was coming down a narrow staircase in the London Tube, and a West Indian was coming up. Naturally I moved to the side to give him clear passage. And I went on my way, feeling good about my liberal self. It was only later that I realised that my self satisfaction was racist in itself. I would not have felt it had he been a white person. I learn’t that one can be scrupulous in behaviour and yet retain questionable, but built in, attitudes.

It is of course an ugly quality. I recall walking around Covent Garden with a rather beautiful black lady friend. (change ‘black’ to whatever is the non racist description which is currently acceptable) There I was: clearly an English gentleman but with such a person on my arm. I was really shocked at the plain hatred shown in the expressions of several passers by. It was some 20 years ago. Is it different now?

You may remember the incident of the Washington official who used the word ‘niggardly’ in a speech. His illiterate listeners kicked up so great a fuss at such a racist word that he (as I recall) had to resign.

Of course this is by no means confined to skin colour. It is fortunate for some murky people that they can use the word ‘zionist’ instead of the word ‘jew’. And this is complex because one may, or may not, oppose Zionism on straightforward grounds. It is hard to distinguish rational approaches to such problems from those which are, in fact, racial in their inspiration.

A study was carried out in which the investigators applied for several, advertised, professional jobs. The CVs submitted each gave the same information but in some instances the name of the applicant was clearly Asian. It turned out that those which had an Asian name received significantly fewer invitations to a first interview than those with Anglo Saxon names, despite their equal qualifications. I doubt if the selectors were even aware of their bias.

I am not calling for us to eradicate racism, or indeed our propensity to associate characteristics with identifiable groups. But I am suggesting that, as far as we can, we should identify any elements of racism which we harbour. They may be conscious, semi conscious or even, as we think more deeply, unconscious. We may not be able to change the world but we can change ourselves.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Quentin queries and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Are you in the race?

  1. Brian Hamill says:

    Dear Quentin, I would like to take issue with the last comment in your article – ‘We may not be able to change the world but we can change ourselves’. That is just not correct: we cannot change the attitudes which are hard-wired into our psyche, many of which are there for excellent evolutionary reasons. Suspicion of the unknown, and a white person instinctively finds a black person’ different’, as vice versa, is hard-wired into us all for very good reasons of personal security. It is what we do about this suspicion that matters. We need to recognise it, the reasons we have it, which could be evolutionary or experiential, and deal with it, not by dismissing it as evil but recognising its appropriateness or inappropiateness in context. Once upon a time in my youth in London in the 50s I would have shied away from such a contact through sheer lack of experience and familiarity. Now I walk towards it. That is the result of what God has attained in my life, and in particular through my recent work with Asylum Seekers and Refugees. So, in a word, we cannot change ourselves, but God can, if we give him the chance.

  2. ignatius says:

    Echoing Brian here,
    In my youth and with a strongly racist father I was pretty suspicious of practically anybody but, fast forward a few years of working in prison chaplaincy I find myself good friends with muslims, sikh’s, buddhists, Jehova’s witnesses etc. Also able to sit sit in a room with hardened criminals and chew the fat quite happily, That is partly down to experience but partly a matter of grace.
    I still remain to a degree instinctively racist and a bit cautious, unfortunately in my misspent youth the two persons who ever seriously threatened me, one with a knife, both happened to be black, the difference being that I am not proud of the tendency and recognise it as a personal issue; that is the best I can do.

  3. Nektaros says:

    Yes, I am against racism, but I am also against poverty and illness. I don’t need to go about waving a placard about anyone of these issues. It is generally accepted by all whatever colour one is from.

    I think white people in the West should stop guilt tripping because of their colour.

  4. tim says:

    Very sensible comments all round. But let me sound a warning. Our parish priest (who is psychoanalytically trained) allegedly says to his penitents (of whom I am not one) “Don’t be too hard on yourself” (to which one might be tempted to respond like Gilbert Harding at the US Customs “Sole object of visit”). Nevertheless it is a danger to be avoided. Standards vary by community. For example, in Italy (I am told, possibly falsely) it is normal to underdeclare one’s income to the authorities by 50% so that when they treble it for assessment purposes you have some hope of arguing it down to about what is actually due, And avoiding ‘racism’ is not enough., All forms of (genuine) prejudice must be avoided – in particular sexism, class, level of education. In all this one has the duty to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are real differences between the sexes (and even, be it whispered, between people of different genetic inheritance). The question, in every case, is how relevant these are.

  5. John Thomas says:

    Selectors/Asian: I think today, in many public authority employment situations, selectors would be biased TOWARDS selecting a non-Anglo-Saxon person, and quite openly so, and would be rather proud of it (and I speak from much experience in these kinds of organisations). But I fancy most of them would be Anlglo-Saxon themselves; Asian people, and Afro-Carribeans, are more sceptical (more fair?) about “positive discrimination”. But remember, racism is only considered to be something white people do towards non-white people; if non-white people do it towards white people, that is generally thought to be ok, by the powers-that-be (mostly peopled by white Anglo-Saxons) – regretable, but true.
    If you had been gettng out of the way of a woman, in the Tube, Quentin, would that have been sexist, unacceptable, or …? Yes, people of our age were brought up to respect the old ideas/values/behaviour petterns – but now, such things have been junked.

    • tim says:

      JT, I hope you’re wrong about that junking. I think rather that much of it is the need to demonstrate we are worthy as part of the in-group. When I was young (about 6) one did this by waving a Union Jack on Empire Day and singing rude songs about Herr Hitler. These days you must adopt the latest notions or be thought callous or ignorant.Those notions are distinct from care for the needy and most vulnerable, which should guide our actions. I will give way to a woman in a doorway – a rule is useful, and to say it’s patronising is ridiculous. Conversely, if a young woman gives up her seat to me (aged 80) in the tube, I will be happy to accept it.

      • John Thomas says:

        Tim – I hope I’m wrong, too. And now I’ve got to the age (67) when people give up seats for ME (but then, I’m not a woman). I suppose, before giving up one’s seat to a woman, one does a quick, silent, risk assessment: is she likely to be an extrene feminist who will harangue one, or should one go ahead. I once worked with an extreme feminist who roundly condemned our colleagues’ act of giving my newly-born daughter a pink babygro as a present (“Sexist S***!”).

  6. ignatius says:

    I agree with Nektarios and Tim (if I understand Tim’s drift correctly) I don’t go round either extolling or bewailing either my colour or any other skin shade, to do so would be rather odd. As to racism being only white against the rest one only has to observe the goings on in the playground of mixed race schools to see otherwise. In deliberate racism we see both a sin and a crime no matter from whom or towards whom.
    Also I don’t see the complete junking of customs either, though expressions of courtesy seem to vary a little more these days.

  7. John Candido says:

    Any attempt to minimise racism today would be a farce.

    What I mean by that is the false sense of security our modern democratic state provides, cannot be a springboard to thinking that contemporary society is a post-racist society.

    A nasty attitude to refugees is a prime example where some people take liberties from their common-sense by maligning refugees for fleeing their country of origin because their human rights were under severe pressure.

    It is the solemn task of governments of any persuasion to lead on issues that impact on racism by reinforcing the need to be fair, to look past differences in clothing, language, and skin colour, and embody values that are in the common good.

  8. Nektaros says:

    So what is racism? We could pull several definitions to answer the accusation groups make of racism. The broadest stroke would be the accusation that the West, especially the white West is racist.

    If the culture is mostly white people, then white people will identify with that. It is not racist. Are we going to say that in Africa or Asia most people are black or Asian and identify with that and most jobs are taken by them and not white. Is that racist? Obviously not.

    An employer is not interested if you are black or Asian or white, the employer is interested in, does that person have the requsite skills or qualifications to do the job. It is not racist.
    For an employer to only take whites when the best qualified person interviewed was black or Asian,
    then that could be perceived as racist.

    The politicisation of race leads to wrong definitions of racism. this has been happening not only in strictly race hate groups, but is sex groups and LGBT groups of which the latest tally is there are 72 different sexual definitions which is utterly unworkable. Not to agree with a LGBT person claiming to be part of that group and should be addressed according to their preference. If not, you are racist or phobic of that definition, which is utterly ridiculous.

    Strictly on racism, the politicisation of race being used as a weapon for the group, as with sex groups they belong to is clearly wrong and does not stand up to any analysis. It is neither racist not phobic.

  9. G.D says:

    ” I’m not racist, just prejudiced against anyone who doesn’t suit me at any particular time. Black white young old men with beards ladies with beards … all the same to me, if they do my bidding it’s fine, if they don’t i don’t like them”. …….. All said tongue in cheek of course …. “And if i can convince enough people of a certain persuasion – Indians because i don’t like their smelly food, Muslim’s because of their clothing, protestants just because – then i can get them to resent me, and all people like me. Then if i extend that to other groups, make it wide spread, i can divide small communities, incite hatred within them. Much easier to control them then; and impose my wants and the wants of them that support me.”

    And racism becomes a (false flag) reality. Simply because of self serving insecure power mad bigots that need an enemy to secure their positions – from leaders of local football clubs to despot rulers of a country; and the insecure selfishness of people that follow them and do their bidding.

    It’s the causes of the psychotic attitudes that cause racism, we need to bring into the light.
    It’s not the ‘false flag’ racism – we are all bigots in as much as we want others to be ‘subservient to my wants’; of whatever group or none.

    “ANYONE ‘against what i want’ is to be treated with equal disdain and hatred; they are traitors, the enemy; it furthers ‘the cause’ and consolidates my power. ANYONE that serves me in this way, even if they belong to the hated enemy, is acceptable, usable.”

    It’s not racist attitudes we need to name & concentrate on, that is a ‘false flag’, it incites and increases the problem. To name the devil and see it for what it is, that’s what we need to ‘broadcast’.

  10. tim says:

    “Racism” (sensibly so called) is a special instance of irrational prejudice. “sexism’ may be as bad. Let’s all agree we should avoid all irrational prejudice, particularly where it causes injustice.

  11. John Nolan says:

    In order to be offended by ‘racism’, one needs to feel inferior in the first place. No Englishman is offended by a ‘racist’ remark, since he doesn’t give a damn about what Johnny Foreigner thinks of him, and knows that to be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life.

    A few years ago a footballer was convicted of calling an opponent ‘a f****** black c***. Now, to me, the first and last words are offensive, whereas the second is merely descriptive. Yet it was the use of the second which damned him.

    Political correctness would condemn me, an Irishman, for telling an Irish joke. In the topsy-turvy world we live in, you can be racist against your own race. Madness.

  12. Iona says:

    In my experience, it is precisely the Irish who tell Irish jokes.

    The better you get to know someone as an individual, the less important does his/her race become. S/he becomes “the person with whom I had that interesting discussion last week”, or “the person who always greets me with a smile at the check-out desk”. The fact that we register a person’s skin colour (subliminally if not consciously) within a fraction of a second does not have to imply racial prejudice.
    Though I do also wonder whether this almost instant registering of skin colour is truly innate. My grand-daughters (age 6 amd 3) who attend school/nursery which are very ethnically mixed – both staff and fellow-pupils – seem to be entirely unconscious of skin colour. And there is almost no reference to skin colour in the Bible, – somewhere I think the Ethiopians are referred to as a “tall, bronzed race”, and somewhere in the Song of Songs there is the phrase “black but comely”. Presumably the geographical area was so racially mixed that they were all entirely used to one another.

    • G.D says:

      Exactly, Iona. Well said!!
      I would say the ‘instant recognition’ is there, though.
      Ask a young child the colour of her friend and they could tell you – simply, innocently, recognising the truth, without ‘prejudice’.

      Until some ‘adult’ (or social expectation) tells them they must.

      It’s the same for most adults – class, political preference, religion, colour, ageism, disability … and any other ‘social stigma’ that ‘marginalises’ a whole group of people in someone’s thoughts.

      Name a factor of a group, an attitude or belief, (be it right wrong or neutral is another issue) and you are accused of ‘prejudice’. How clever a tool that can be for ‘selective prejudices’ to be instilled in a nation/group.
      The purpose … To divide, blame, produce an enemy, instil fear, instil hatred; and be at liberty to use force to ‘protect’ against ‘them’.
      ‘Racism’ is used as a ‘false flag’. Instilled subliminally. By ‘whoever’ wishes to use it.

      (Connecting with Quentin’s last post …. Selective false prejudices, including those legalised in ‘law’, are very real; and used to ‘hide’ truth, and distract from living real virtues).

      • G.D says:

        ‘tim says: March 9, 2018 at 10:27 am. …..’

        Which is real Racism and i agree wholeheartedly.

  13. John Nolan says:

    I defy anyone, however liberal he purports to be, not to feel a twinge of racial antagonism when he sees the mugshots on TV of yet another Pakistani gang convicted of preying on vulnerable white teenage girls.

    Or deny that there is a racial motive to these offences – these men would not treat girls from their own ethnic background in such a way.

    We have been hearing a lot about FGM lately; is the lack of a single successful prosecution due in part to an exaggerated respect for other ‘cultures’, however barbarous their customs?

    We were not always so tolerant. In nineteenth century India the British suppressed suttee, and the 16th century Spanish conquerors of Mexico did not feel remotely inclined to tolerate the Aztec religion, with its mass human sacrifice.

    • G.D says:

      John, the gangs of perpetrators are at fault, and i despise their actions.
      But it’s only a portion of the race. Not all (not even the majority?) of Pakistanis agree with what they are doing. Any that do are just as evil of course.

      I can honestly say my ire is not extended to the race; only the actions of people that commit the crimes. … As for all evils.
      Otherwise i’d have (a twinge of?) racial hatred for all Nation States (including my place of birth) as atrocities are committed by some people in all of them.

      As for colonisation … umm … mostly suppression of other peoples for plunder and power. Legal piracy!
      And many many atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples, which still goes on today. Sometimes enshrined in law by the invading colony. And is legalised racism. (Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, Amazonian Tribes).
      (Past Irish and Scottish and Welsh history?).

      For people to educate each other about certain abhorrent practices is a necessity, and all well and good.
      For instance, your mention of FGM (female genital mutilation. But not circumcision?) also child marriage, in certain cultures – including some states of USA where it is ‘legal’ for girls under 17/18 to marry old men – that are being highlighted and fought against by people within the nations and others outside, without ‘invasion’ or force. Even when some protesters do get violent it’s not a concerted ‘racial’ attack or suppression of a whole culture.
      And it is having an effect for the better. Slower, maybe, but surer; and doesn’t increase racial hatreds; the opposite even?

      We now have a connected ‘global community’ and the sharing of ‘other ways of living’ are seen by all, oppression and mutilations of all kinds are becoming obvious to the younger generations, and some of the older. Most want to be free of them. Including free from the ‘big brother’ society being imposed by the western governments. That’s the only ‘colonisation’ needed today to educate for the better.

      I believe the balance will be tipped eventually … sooner or later, even if the oppression gets worse first … and consolidated by communal co-operation not ‘invasions’ overt or covert.
      I believe people are waking up to a better way of living. More in tune with the Gospel message; though most wouldn’t name it as such.

      (Apart from extreme despotic regimes, i guess. And only then to free the oppressed and then withdraw; not re-oppress them under the control of ‘big brother’s’ colony; no matter how subtly and covertly that is done. That’s where [racial and general] hatred is increased.).

      • John Nolan says:

        G.D.

        It is perfectly legal in this country for a girl under 17 to marry an old man, should she wish to do so.

        ‘Colonialism’ is a loaded term when used in a left-wing context. Yet throughout human history there has been mass movement of peoples, and more powerful civilizations have usually overcome less powerful ones. It is absurd to see this in terms of moral absolutes. Britain benefited from incorporation in the Roman Empire, not least in that it introduced Christianity.

        Also, Britannia had already been invaded and settled by Celtic tribes from central Europe. There is no such thing as a ‘global community’ (thank God) although given modern communications the world has shrunk and become more economically interdependent, which is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, the 20th century saw the dissolution of multi-racial states and empires, from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1918 to the fragmentation of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The disparate and unwieldy EU will not last much longer.

        FGM was once euphemistically referred to as female circumcision. Research the details on the internet (if you have a strong stomach) and it will be abundantly clear that there is no comparison.

        ‘I think people are waking up to a better way of living.’ There is no evidence that this is the case. The facile optimism and belief in progress evinced by the young Tennyson in ‘Locksley Hall’ perished in the muddy trenches of the Great War.

      • G.D says:

        John,
        Colonialism is a loaded term in any context.
        Just because ‘it has been’ the ‘norm’ doesn’t make it’s suppression of others acceptable. Educating and benefiting each other can be done without imposing power over.
        Thanks be to God it (colonialism) is falling into ‘disrepair’.
        The smaller the community, the more likely the chance of extending any surplus benefits to other communities in need. Without over powering them. A ‘good neighbour’ scheme on a larger scale?

        The ‘global community’ i mention is not one of a political nature (i’m not politically affiliated or driven; unless it True Anarchy!) nor one of the present economic structure of profit and greed. They’ve had their day and are no longer sustainable. Unless the ruling ‘elite’ can continue to rule over the mass populations through force; which is also a possibility for a good few years i guess.

        It’s more an awareness of the (spiritual?) drive for a better way of relating. A work, and a learning curve, of living a life of Charity, for all, in progress. i believe many are waking up to it; ‘realising’ they can make a difference. (In any small ways they can – the proverbial ‘straw’).
        When enough people do so, the balance will tip towards …… Whatever is produced from the ashes …
        ( If the A.I. doesn’t get it’s foot in the door of ‘progress’ first – just jesting; i hope!).

        Much ‘sacrifice’ and destruction caused by the insecure power mad rulers, and their sycophants, that want to perpetuate the present status quo, maybe first! I should say ‘more destruction’ from them.

        i BELIEVE (not ‘think’) this ‘trans global community’ is in motion because of the vast quantity of internet communities that advocate it, and physical group manifestations all over the world, and my ‘neighbours’ who speak of such things with a passion. All are seeking ‘better more sustainable and charitable’ ways of ‘being’; and that it needs to be for the benefit of the whole world.

        It may well be a misguided Utopian dream that is never allowed to manifest … but as Tennyson said …
        ‘Yet I doubt not thro’ the ages one increasing purpose runs,
        And the thoughts of men are widen’d with the process of the suns.’
        Hope’s spring is Eternal. I hope!

  14. ignatius says:

    “…I defy anyone, however liberal he purports to be, not to feel a twinge of racial antagonism when he sees the mugshots on TV of yet another Pakistani gang convicted of preying on vulnerable white teenage girls….”

    I completely agree with John Nolan regarding the effect of this. If I were a local Pakistani or Indian I would be appalled by and very angered about the behaviour of these men who were so clearly responsible for the local spikes in racially aggravated behaviour at the time of their prosecution. There is little point in assuming these things do not fan our embers of discrimination…they certainly do mine.

  15. Nektarios says:

    I don’t get it.
    In your argument if a Pakistani or Indian can be appalled or angered by by their compatriots behaviour it is OK, but if ourselves we are somehow stoking the the fire of racism?

    Our thoughts on the matter should be directed to our MP and Government.

    Solutions to racism is in part, first, not to react to the weaponising of the word racism which they do with great regularity.
    The same goes for trigger words other groups use to incite others.

  16. John Nolan says:

    G.D.

    Unfortunately misguided Utopian dreams, which take no account of human nature, have catastrophic results when men try to put them into practice. Wishful thinking gets you nowhere. So, by all means dream of insubstantial things and convince yourself that everything is getting better, rather than look what is happening in (say) Syria and draw some obvious, if unwelcome, conclusions.

    Sleep well in the land of the fairies!

    NB I don’t mean homosexuals.

  17. tim says:

    Excellent discussion from all sides.
    I favour JN’s views.
    Tennyson also wrote “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay”. (This was not however to oppose Brexit) It is fair to say that adopting Western notions about trade has done more for the welfare of the peope of China than any of Pope Francis’s environmentalism.

  18. John Nolan says:

    Tennyson in 1835 also thought railway trains ran in grooves!

  19. Alasdair says:

    Quentin. There are some giveaways in your introduction “Are you in the race?” which suggest that you struggle with racism and indeed with the very notion of race eg “There I was: clearly an English gentleman –“.
    I would accept that one should be able to identify a gentleman – manners, form of address, mode of dress etc etc. Such admirable people can be clearly recognised among the citizens of all nations and races.
    As for identifying an Englishman – there I think most people would struggle.
    If you mean English in the sense of race, then some extremely detailed DNA analysis would be required to distinguish englishness from other north-west-european-ness let alone other UK-ness.
    If you mean English in the sense of nationality, then I don’t think such a definition actually exists. Does anybody possess any legal document stating that they are English? Certainly not a UK passport which even I as a non-Englishman am in proud possession of.
    For the purposes of representing one of the 4 UK nations in sport, including England – the means by which one proves one’s affiliation to one or the other is very fluid and open to dispute.
    I can only suppose that in the incident you describe, in addition to your gentlemanly bearing, you were wearing a blazer sporting the famous 3-lions motif.

    • Quentin says:

      Alasdair, you are of course quite right. In fact I am not an English gentleman. I am the head of a French family. My Englishness comes from my mother whose family was pre Conquest. She was snooty about my father whom she saw as parvenu since his family could not be documented before the 14th century,

      • Alasdair says:

        On the other hand I would say that if you have UK nationality, have strong links to the soil of England, and choose to identify yourself as English then you are fully English and justifiably proud to be so. That definition obviously includes very many people whose appearance is not classically English – and, as far as I know, might even include your charming companion at Covent Garden.
        The issue for the other UK nationals is when UK nationality and English “nationality” are conflated in some people’s minds.
        Interestingly the Italian media is usually very careful not to fall into that trap, and they frequently use the word “regnounitese” (“United Kingdom-ese”) when subject matter being reported demands eg a speech by the PM at Westminster.

  20. John Nolan says:

    Interesting observation, Alasdair. But Scotsmen and Welshmen have no difficulty identifying themselves as such, without the necessity for DNA analysis. Why not Englishmen?

    I knew a splendid Regular Army major who declared: ‘My father was Scottish, my mother Irish and I was born in India, which makes me as English as one can possibly be.’

    • Alasdair says:

      No I don’t agree. I’ve never been able to recognise my “compatriots” in a crowd, unless they’re sporting some iconic item or other. Even at a DNA level Scottishness or Welshness have no unique markers which enable them to be differentiated from Englishness. Also remember that many people who self-identify as Scottish or Welsh are not north-west-european in origin, my wife included.
      Your professional soldier friend hit the nail on the head though – well done to him!

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