The problem with being accused of racism is surely one of point of view. Let us take what I would argue is an analogous act of aggression. As far as I understand it (please correct me if I am wrong), bullying is defined in labour legislation as depending on the perception of the victim not the oppressor. If someone simply feels they have been bullied, this is enough justification in itself for an investigation of some kind to need to be carried out – whether the alleged oppressor intended to bully or not, this does not affect the significance of the event.
With this in mind, then, let us analyse the subject of racism. He or she who finds themselves accused of such an unhappy state of mind is – by definition – unaware of their own attitude. Indeed, to a certain degree we may all be fairly accused of being racists because – to a certain degree – it is arguably part of an instinctive human behaviour to fear whatever is different to what we perceive ourselves to be. But part of the process of civilising such instincts – part of what the essence of civilisation should lead to – is a growing awareness of how one’s own upbringing and inheritance can, via the prism that is one’s own perception of what one represents, affect a measured – that is to say, both civilised and civilising – view of the rest of the world.
On the subject of that wonderful film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, I wrote this post almost three years ago to the day. I think the following sequence of paragraphs I wrote then are relevant to what is happening in English football at the moment:
Tom reminded us yesterday that:
It’s a lot more important that people feel comfortable being brown than it is people feeling comfortable being racist.
I am reminded of a story told about Hemingway who, sitting with a friend one day at a table in a bar, was observed tolerating, without so much as batting an eyelid, the racist rantings of a white man sat at the table across the way. The story describes how shocked his friend was at Hemingway’s apparent lack of sensitivity in bringing the man to book.
Later, when the man had left the bar, Hemingway explained to his friend that the man had a white father and a black mother and had never come to terms with the shame his upbringing had inculcated in him as a consequence of what he perceived as the tragedy, the cruelty, even the rank unfairness, of his mixed parentage.
A parentage which our multicultural society of today allows us to see and feel as both enriching and wise, but which that unhappy man’s experience only led him to despise.
What Benjamin Button teaches us and lays bare is that every generation passes on both its wisdoms and its cruelties to the next. For every baton of courage we manage to pass on, there is also – sadly – one of despair.
For every baton of intellectual achievement, there is one of baseless brutality.
Only our willingness to love difference truly and hold equality up as our standard bearer saves us from an ultimate despair which would otherwise surely overcome us.
So it is that the racist, as well as the bully I’m sure we have all experienced, manages with an incredible precision to occupy simultaneously two miserable and quite contradictory positions in society: that of victim and oppressor both.
Yet we should not allow the horrible things such people succeed in doing to provoke a similar hatred or reaction in ourselves – for just as surely as the cruelty they exhibit to others is a sign of a brutalising upbringing, so our response to their resulting brutality can only serve to define how uncivilising was ours.
There are two ways of dealing with racism and bullying: a) outright rejection and a terrible shunning or b) a generous engagement and a never-ending instinct to education.
I know which process I would prefer to be a part of. Have you considered which one most closely resembles your own?