I ask myself; am I racist? My response is swift; “No, of course not. Of course not. Never.” It may sound like a case of; “the lady doth protest too much,” but honestly, I don’t believe I am racist. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else, simply because they are a different colour to me, or they speak with a different accent. Those people are different to me. It doesn’t make me more important than them.
But it doesn’t hurt, does it, to have these internal dialogues sometimes? I kind of got put on the spot recently; or rather something jumped out at me, and I put myself on the spot. I was watching television, Holby City, a sort of hospital melodrama series on BBC1. This was the situation. A very English lady was quite obviously, uncomfortable at being examined by two doctors. She was white, the doctors were both black. The tension, at first, seemed to come from the patient’s modesty. An elderly lady, confronted by two youngish men, invading her privacy.
The scene went something like this:
(Woman patient in bed in hospital. A black doctor either side of the bed. The doctors need to examine her.)
WOMAN -- I don’t want you to touch me.
DOCTOR 1. -- Did I hurt you?
WOMAN. -- I want to make a complaint….Oh, what would be the point? Your sort always stick together.
DOCTOR 2 -- Your sort! What do you mean by our sort?
DOCTOR 1 -- She means doctors. Doctors always stick together.
DOCTOR 2 She means blacks! Blacks always stick together. You are racist!
WOMAN (looks at doctor 1) I am not racist. (she is silent for a moment, thinking) What is so wrong about wanting to be with your own kind?
I felt discomforted. I knew that the writers of Holby City, were making a point. The woman patient obviously was racist. She didn’t want to be close to black people, she didn’t want them touching her, breathing on her. She didn’t want to mix with them. She didn’t like them. Clearly, she could never be educated into changing her views. In her view of the world that is simply how it is. Black people and white people should not mix. And that’s when I thought, well what is wrong with wanting to be with your own kind? I debated with myself and the internal debate got quite irritated with me.
It seems to me, that the female patient in the scenario, was pointing out the obvious difference between her white self and the two black doctors. It would be silly to say that there is no difference; quite obviously, there is. Okay, all three in the scene are human beings, but human beings of a different colour. The woman’s prejudice has a long history and it is racist -- I try to imagine a scenario in which the patient in the bed is black and finds it repulsive to be treated by two white doctors. It makes a peculiar kind of sense, but it doesn’t, and I think that is because I don’t have a reference point in history to locate it to. I just can’t imagine it happening.
It is about difference, I think, and being afraid of someone who isn’t like you. Take away the colour model -- the difference could be someone of a different sexuality as you, a different religion, or no religion. The fear manifests because the individual is afraid of changes happening, the status quo being upset.
Scholars, like Michel Foucault, talk about “the Other.”
“The Other or Constitutive Other (also the verb othering) is a key concept in continental philosophy; it opposes the Same. The Other refers, or attempts to refer, to that which is Other than the initial concept being considered. The Constitutive Other often denotes a person Other than one’s self; hence, the Other is identified as “different”; thus the spelling often is capitalised.
A person's definition of the 'Other' is part of what defines or even constitutes the self (in both a psychological and philosophical sense) and other phenomena and cultural units. It has been used in social science to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude 'Others' whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society. The concept of 'otherness' is also integral to the comprehending of a person, as people construct roles for themselves in relation to an 'other' as part of a process of reaction that is not necessarily related to stigmatisation or condemnation. Othering is imperative to national identities, where practices of admittance and segregation can form and sustain boundaries and national character. Othering helps distinguish between home and away, the uncertain or certain. It often involves the demonization and dehumanisation of groups, which further justifies attempts to civilize and exploit these 'inferior' others.
The region where I live in the U.K. has a lot of immigrants from Eastern Europe, particularly Polish people. I’ve overheard people grumble about them coming here; taking “our” jobs. Having access to our health service; “isn’t it shocking that there is even a Polish section in our small, town library?” They say that the Polish are miserable; they don’t smile, they don’t make eye contact with you.”
The “difference” has manifested itself; the people from Eastern Europe are the new “Other”.
Social Scientists talk about the “Folk Devil”, and “Moral Panics.” Folk Devils, like the Other, threaten the social order.
A moral panic is the intensity of feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order. According toStanley Cohen, author of Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972) and credited with coining the term, a moral panic occurs when "a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests." Those who start the panic when they fear a threat to prevailing social or cultural values are known by researchers as "moral entrepreneurs", while people who supposedly threaten the social order have been described as "folk devils."
“Moral panics are in essence controversies that involve arguments and social tension and in which disagreement is difficult because the matter at its center is taboo. The media have long operated as agents of moral indignation, even when they are not self-consciously engaged in crusading or muckraking. Simply reporting the facts can be enough to generate concern, anxiety or panic.”
Writing in the Independent newspaper, Tuesday 1st March 2011 Terence Blacker talks about Race. The article is actually about Racism in comedy, but I think it has pertinence here. Comedians feel the pressure of what it is “politically correct” to make jokes about.
“Have we ever been in such a muddle about the way race should be handled in our culture? One would think that comedy would lead the way in laughing at hypocrisy and confusion but, increasingly, it avoids the issue. There is a new nervousness about, as if laughing at prejudice is always in danger of being mistaken for laughing with it.
The problem is that these assumptions, sensible as they may be, strike at the heart of good comedy. Difference is funny; the clash of old and young, the past and the present, become meaningless if the writer is too nervous of offending the sensibilities of viewers, however unthinking those reactions may be. The result of this carefulness is to reduce the interesting, funny contrasts between different parts of our changing nation to a bland sameness. It is easier, less discomfiting, to look at what have in common.
We live in a society where difference is all around us, we should be celebrating those differences, not looking for reasons to be fearful.”
We have to pay attention to attitudes like the woman in the BBC hospital drama. Her distaste for black people, has its roots in the same ethos as Hitler and the Nazi party’s distaste for Jews. The Jew is the Nazi version of the Folk Devil. The Jew is the Other. The Holocaust, in all of its vile horror, is the manifestation of the Moral Panic at its most disgraceful and extreme. It is a shameful, disgusting event in history. Yet it happened; we don’t necessarily learn from history -- it could happen again. And the mood continues.
While on a skiing holiday in Austria, a friend took a taxi from the airport. Wanting to practice his German, my friend talked with the cab driver. This is in the year 2010, last year. The cab driver got onto the subject of the Jews. He talked about an International Jewish conspiracy to bring down the world banking systems. Jews were seeking world domination, infiltrating into governments and populations. Taking up positions in matters of culture; the Arts, television and film. Hmm…where have we heard that before?
You could almost write a little formula for demonization of a particular group. Gay people have felt the full force of it.
1.Set them apart, make jokes about them.
2.Start rumours about them.
3.They are dirty. They spread filthy diseases, which they pass on to unsuspecting straight people.
4. They congregate in exclusive groups.
5.Shout down anyone who tries to start a discussion, saying that the subject is taboo; be morally indignant and align the dissenter with the homosexuals. Jeer at him and suggest that he is one of them.
You only have to add that homosexuals are intending to become the majority, by proselytising their debauched practices to the young into the mix; start shouting, “what about the kids,” and you have the beginning of a moral panic. You certainly have homosexuals as the folk devil.
No, I’m not racist; neither am I homophobic. I may often be silly, cynical and make light of important subjects. I may be guilty of feeling uncomfortable when discussions get heated; so I’ll make a joke, try to lessen the tension. I can think of any number of people of my own ethnicity and sexuality, with whom I wouldn’t want to spend thirty seconds.