Tag Archives: racism

Buffoonery, Racism or Both?

Leigh Griffiths is either a buffoon or a racist.

Having put himself in a position to be filmed in a pub singing what appeared to be a racist song about a former Hearts player, there might be an argument to say that he is actually a bit of both.

If we assume that he understood and believed in what he appeared to be singing, we should then ask the uncomfortable question, ‘What possible reason could he have had for acting this way?’

Would he have been acting in a manner consistent with the rest of his beliefs and attitudes, that refugees ought to be hated, ridiculed and verbally abused; or would he have failed to make any sort of rational judgement at all, and allowed some loose, and spontaneously aroused, tribal feelings to interrupt the logical linkages between his actions and his beliefs?

If the former, we may need to face up to the fact that, despite wishing to believe that players representing Celtic FC would behave with dignity, and respect the values on which the club was founded, there is a racist element within that could damage the power of the club’s original message, and the integrity of its community work today.

If the latter, we may be able to put it down to the idiocy, irresponsibility and immaturity of a young man whose alertness to moral boundaries and social consequences has diminished as his fame and fortune have increased, if it was ever that sharp to begin with. Regrettably, this is what too much money, high praise and a lot of recognition can do to some individuals.

Either way, behaviour of this sort is totally unacceptable.

It also reinforces the fear that the various forms of bigotry we encounter in football are so tightly connected to tribal feelings that they may never disappear, despite the many initiatives designed to achieve that goal, and especially when a professional footballer, with allegiances to more than one tribe, appears to be the unthinking leader of an unsavoury pack.

Whilst immediate punitive action should be taken to make Griffiths re-examine his apparently racist attitudes and think twice about how he conducts himself in public, hopefully his general buffoonery will not be his professional undoing.

It would be a disaster to think that his immaturity would lead him to the same place as other highly regarded professional footballers who became distracted for various reasons, and either disappeared from the game too early, or simply failed to fulfil their true potential.

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Some Thoughts on ‘Minority Reporter’

I have just finished reading Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s new book, ‘Minority Reporter: Modern Scotland’s bad attitude towards her own Irish’.

As part of a discussion about the football subculture that gave us the Famine Song, one of the central claims made in this book is that rather than confront difficult truths about the existence of anti-Irish racism in Scotland, we would rather describe certain behaviours as ‘sectarian’, and deal with the implications of that instead. Or in the worst case, dismiss it altogether as harmless banter.

The key point is that in many cases what we are actually witnessing is intra-cultural racism rather than sectarianism. It is racism towards our own fellow Scots, who just happen to be proud of their Irish heritage; but it is almost as if we preferred to think of ourselves as living in a society blemished by religious prejudice, than to think of ourselves as a nation that cannot bring itself to embrace the different ethnicities that shape its culture.

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain argues that the sectarian framework in Scotland is essentially a useful tool, with its utility consisting in the fact that it enables us to avoid confronting the true description of some of the behaviours we have become accustomed to characterising as ‘sectarian’.

I find a great deal of merit in these ideas, because although I am not completely certain where to draw the line between racism and sectarianism in every case, they contain a reminder that we need to be more authentic in our judgements and not be so fixated on the sectarian framework that we miss what is actually occurring in front of us. We have become blind to the true nature of the problem and therefore its solution.

Another important point to take from this book is that despite hints of negativity towards Scotland, I think the author is nonetheless promoting a positive and powerful message that we would all do well to take on board. If the Scottish Government is serious about realising its ambition of being ‘one country, many cultures’, it needs to play a key role in shifting the agenda away from the sectarian framework where appropriate, and locating this particular debate in its correct space.

In doing so, we will have an opportunity as a nation to look within, but from a more authentic stand point; it will be an opportunity for every one of us to become part of a more confident culture that provides the space for all Scots to self-define, whatever their background, whatever their political preferences, whatever their religion and whatever their heritage happens to be.

Well worth a read!

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Some Thoughts on Paolo Di Canio

Paolo Di Canio’s recent appointment as manager of Sunderland Football Club is widely regarded as being a controversial one, largely because of certain provocative gestures he made whilst playing for Lazio, and an interview a few years back in which he is reported to have said that he was ‘a fascist, but not a racist’.

That Di Canio wholly subscribes to an extremist political movement that is defined by sustained episodes of violent racial discrimination is completely unfounded, and something he has denounced on several occasions; that his comments have been misunderstood and twisted to fit the sensationalist agendas of the press and its slavering audience is a much more likely assumption to make.

The appointment was sufficient for former Labour MP David Milliband to resign his position on the Sunderland Board, given Di Canio’s ‘past political statements’, and for many sports writers and commentators to have a field day in condemning both him and the club for his presumed affiliation with a movement that is said to promote hatred, killing, persecution and intolerance.

But without a full and complete statement of his position, it is difficult to understand exactly what Di Canio thinks and why he declared himself a fascist who wasn’t a racist, when in the minds of many people the two notions are vile and inextricably linked.

It may be that our understanding of fascism is just too limited, too politically distorted, and too riddled with cultural assumptions that we are simply unable to appreciate what may be the subtleties of Di Canio’s unique and personal view.

Perhaps Di Canio was simply referring to his sympathies with certain cultural, political and economic aspects of fascism, as an Italian movement from a period in history that valued collectivism over individualism; personal discipline, hard work and obedience, over laziness, revolt and anarchy; and strong, healthy individuals who lived and worked for the common cause of bettering the Italian nation.

Whilst it may have been an authoritarian and nationalistic movement, it does not necessarily follow that being sympathetic to some of the aforementioned values in their own right entails supporting violence, persecution and racial hatred. Maybe that’s where Di Canio sits.

The problem is we will never get an explanation of Di Canio’s true position now as a result of the media fuelled furore surrounding his move to Sunderland and our tendency to jump to unwarranted rag style conclusions.

Given how we have come to understand fascism in this country, and given the style of news we like to indulge in here, it is highly unlikely that he will speak again on the matter, especially not to the British press gang sniffing around for their next big story. He is here to manage a struggling football club and I am sure he will do that with distinction.

(As an aside, consider the position of an individual who declares that he is a supporter of the Labour Party in Britain. Nothing wrong with that, given the core socialist views that define this party; however, it was under a Labour Government that Britain entered into an illegal war with Iraq.

Does supporting Labour then automatically mean someone who agrees with invading other countries without mandate, and engaging in deplorable acts of murder in the name of fake national interests? Perhaps David Milliband could help answer that question, as he takes his principled leave from the Stadium of Light.)

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‘Offensive Behaviour’, One Year Later

By the end of this week, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act (Scotland) 2012 will have been in force for one year:


One year on, I don’t think we are any closer to fully understanding how to apply this legislation properly. It was a hastily written piece of work, popularly referred to in the media as the ‘anti-bigotry law’, or the ‘anti-sectarian law’.

It hinges on a definition of ‘offensive’ which seems to imply that certain forms of behaviour at football matches are illegal if they cause a certain type of response in others. It has largely been about singing certain songs, or versions of these songs, that provoke an angry reaction because of their inflammatory, racist or sectarian content.

When trying to decide whether a piece of behaviour is offensive, an obvious question to ask is, ‘offensive to whom?’ and the most likely answer is, ‘to any individual belonging to a religious, social or cultural group that feels annoyed, angered, upset or intimidated by that behaviour’.

But relying on a shared emotional response as the criterion by which we judge certain displays of behaviour as offensive is tricky. It not only renders our definition too subjective, it also puts too much weight on a bundle of loosely structured emotions whose inherent volatility ought to mark them out as unreliable markers of definitional consistency in the first place.

The problem is exacerbated by the recognition that the types of emotional response in question are typically learned – but in an entirely damaging sense through involuntary exposure to a negative form of breeding from a young age and into adult life. It is from that perspective that much of what is regarded as offensive tends to be judged by the man in the street.

I think there is a general consensus among many people that the Act was introduced as a desperate measure to deal with an ugly spike in activity within the context of an embarrassing and shameful socio-cultural problem in Scotland. This ugly spike was still too raw in the public consciousness when the Bill was originally shaped, and that was a mistake.

It produced a situation in which the immediate response in some quarters to almost any form of behaviour, even loosely perceived to have a connection with a certain type of religious outlook or ethnicity, has been one of anger and outrage. The upshot is that too many different forms of behaviour have been popularly tarred with the same brush through a distortion in our understanding of what ought to count as offensive.

And from time to time it would appear that even those in positions of authority on match days have done little to prevent the view that what counts as offensive hinges on the misconception that if certain types of behaviour cause upset or anger, simply because they contain references to a particular race, religion or a political agenda, then they must be illegal.

In fairness, the Act itself does appear to recognise that being offensive isn’t simply about individuals feeling upset or angered that the group they belong to has been challenged, parodied or criticised; the key seems to be that the challenge must be made in a form that expresses or arouses hatred and is likely to lead to public disorder.

But surely expressing or arousing hatred cannot be sufficient either, when it is so easy for one group of individuals to feel hatred towards another, just because they are there and making a noise about everything that is important to them? It is all too subjective.

Clearly, there has to be more to it than that. I think it must also come down to whether belonging to a particular group has been challenged or criticised in a way that is contrary to that group’s integrity, or contrary to historical fact.

This would never constitute a definition in its own right, of course, but it would help sharpen up our understanding of what is permissible and what isn’t in a more objective context, provided we can be historically accurate in our assessment!

And whilst this would legally permit certain forms of behaviour to continue, and certain types of song to be sung at football matches, the appropriateness of doing so must nonetheless be assessed against the wishes and expectations of the club they represent – that should always be a key consideration.

It is fairly obvious to me that not every song or action that arouses anger, hatred or annoyance in ill-informed minds is in fact offensive. It is too easy to blame the wrong people here. Not everyone will think the same way about this, but perhaps it is the irrational response that ought to be criminalised in these cases, rather than the initial behaviour.

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Catholic Schools, Religious Discrimination and Racism

There has been another recent burst of interest in the problem of anti-Catholicism in Scottish society.

Opinions vary on how prevalent it is and whether it is in fact a significant problem or not. Some think it is, and believe they have evidence to that effect, whilst many others disagree.

Within the context of these discussions, the existence of state funded Catholic schools has come up again as an important talking point. Questions have been raised as to why they are funded by tax payers’ money at all, and how much of an effect they have on the enduring problem of sectarianism in Scotland.

In discussing these issues, I think it is instructive to look back for a moment, and compare the way in which Catholic schools figured in public debate at the beginning of the 1900’s, around the time of the Education Act (Scotland), and how they figure in similar debates today.

It is instructive in the sense that one of the deepest roots of today’s objections to their existence may be traceable to this earlier period, during which they took a slightly different outward form; a form that could perhaps throw some light on a question I struggled with in an earlier blog – whether sectarianism is a form of racism. The merit of understanding the answer to this question is that it would help shape the type of solutions we ought to be putting forward to eradicate this type of bigotry from society.

The common objection to the existence of Catholic schools today is that they contribute to the problem of sectarianism in Scottish society by breeding a subconscious segregation psychology at an early age based on religious differences, a situation that is made worse in the eyes of the objectors because these schools are funded by the Government.

According to 2010 figures, there were 373 state funded Catholic schools out of a total of 2,722 schools in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s position on Catholic schools is positive and supportive. The view is that they play an important part in our society and parents and pupils should have the choice to attend one if they want to. They also tend to have very high achievement records.

Despite such Government support, in his Cardinal Winning Education Lecture in 2008, Alex Salmond described the general attitude towards Catholic schools in Scotland today as one of grudging acceptance at best, and outright hostility at worst:


It is an attitude that was passionately expressed by Scottish Conservative MSP, John Lamont, during a parliamentary debate on the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Bill in 2011, in which he said that our education system was effectively the “state-sponsored conditioning of sectarian attitudes”.

In his efforts to draw a direct link between state funded Catholic schools with the problem of sectarianism in Scotland, John Lamont remarked that the resulting “segregation of our young people has brought them up to believe that the two communities should be kept separate”:


Prior to the 1872 Education Act, Catholic Schools were mainly set up and paid for by Irish immigrant communities in Scotland. It was a means of teaching Roman Catholic values and instilling a strong sense of moral discipline to those born into these impoverished communities, who may otherwise have missed out on formal education altogether.

After 1872 Catholic Schools were encouraged to integrate into the wider state system. Many decided not to do so out of concern that the values being taught would be of the wrong influence. However, the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act removed this concern by making provisions to fund Catholic State Schools in Scotland. To many sections of Scottish society, this was a controversial move.

Reflecting on the type of objections to Catholic schools around this time suggests that the concern in the early 1900’s was not the fashionably moral one we come across today of claiming that their existence leads to sectarian conditioning in children – the implication being that the existence of Catholic schools aggravates and perpetuates the problem.

Rather it was that their existence was viewed as an unwanted solution to the problem of Irish Catholic immigrants in Scotland – the implication being that Irish Catholics, with allegiance to Papal authority in Rome, were believed to be a menace to Scottish Protestantism and hence a threat to Scottish culture and to the Scottish identity. There was therefore a racist undertone to the debate.

At a meeting of the Scottish Protestant Congress on the 9th October 1923, whose purpose was to discuss the ‘Burden of Roman Catholic Schools’ and the ‘Effects of Irish Immigration’, and which was reported in the following day’s Scotsman newspaper, The Rev. Dr Mackintosh Mackay spoke of the financial burden of Catholic schools on the people of Scotland and the “progress of Romanism” as a direct consequence.

It was deemed “unfair that the education of the land should be crippled in order to maintain the education of children of an alien population”. It was reported that he could not understand the psychology of Scottish members of Parliament in passing the Bill leading to the 1918 Education Act.

At the same meeting, the Rev. Duncan Cameron spoke about ‘Protestantism’ being synonymous with ‘Scottish people’, whereas those who were coming in were faithful and loyal servants of Rome. He was concerned about Scottish people having to give up the ideals and traditions of their fathers and insisted that ‘the Scottish race had a great mission…the safeguarding of Protestantism’.

Therefore, there would appear to have been a strong link between anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudice at this time. The concerns about the financial burden of Catholic schools on the state were almost inseparable from concerns about the threat of Irish immigrants and their children posing a threat to Scottish Protestantism and hence the identity of the Scottish race.

How much of this early twentieth century influence still lingers in the Scottish psyche today is an interesting question and it is not altogether easy to answer. But what it clearly highlights is that the problems of religious bigotry and racism are sometimes so closely interlinked that the one cannot be properly understood without reference to the other.

Perhaps the debate about the continued existence of Catholic schools today is entirely innocent. Perhaps it is simply about the financial burden on limited Government funds in a time of economic austerity and the (tenuous) link between Catholic schools and sectarianism.

Or perhaps these are just some of the objections that tend to be given in a time of greater political correctness – and possibly without conscious intent – to mask the deep rooted cultural attitude of rejecting that which is not perceived to be of traditional Scottish stock and everything that entails.

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On Whether Sectarianism is a Form of Racism

The question of whether sectarianism is a form of racism is an important one.

Not only does it have a bearing on how we ought to understand instances of sectarian behaviour and how such instances should be dealt with from a legal point of view; it also has a bearing on the most appropriate way of managing sectarianism out of our society.

At the 2012 Festival of Politics at the Scottish Parliament, Professor Richard Finlay of Strathclyde University put forward the view that sectarianism in Scotland should indeed be regarded as a form of racism. Whilst I am not completely convinced that this is correct in all cases, I do agree that there are benefits in this position.

Firstly, it helps us break away from the narrow understanding of sectarianism in Scotland as nothing more than religious bigotry rooted in certain working class communities. In addition to this, thinking about sectarianism as a form of racism helps deliver a more accurate account of the origins of sectarianism in Scottish society.

But more importantly, understanding sectarianism this way might help bring about a structural shift in our thinking, such that instances of sectarian behaviour begin to be perceived differently, with greater social stigma attaching to them than perhaps would have been the case under popular understanding of what the term denotes:


In Scotland, sectarianism tends to be popularly understood in terms of the bitterness and hatred between two Glasgow football teams, the divisiveness and triumphalism of parades and marching bands, and the controversial existence of faith schools.

These are some of the automatic associations many of us make. However as Professor Finlay notes, the problem runs much deeper than this, and cannot be disconnected from an underlying anti-Irish sentiment which has prevailed in Scottish society for generations, particularly from the 19th century onwards.

On the other hand, Patrick Yu, Director for the Northern Ireland Council of Ethnic Minorities, has previously been on record to argue that, in Northern Ireland at least, it would be unwise to conflate issues of sectarianism and racism. His belief is that doing so would draw the courts into the wrong types of dispute, for which separate provisions already exist in law.


So is it correct to argue that sectarianism is a form of racism? Does each country have its own distinctive brand of sectarianism, with only some instances meriting description as a form of racism? Could sectarianism be a form of racism in one country, but not in another? Would that even make sense?

Or would it be more accurate to argue that there are instances of sectarian behaviour that sit outside the scope of internationally recognised definitions of racial discrimination, and therefore should merit different legal and social treatment? It is a difficult one.

Whatever the case elsewhere, there are obvious connections between Scotland’s brand of sectarianism and the racial prejudice historically displayed towards those of Irish Catholic descent living and working in this country. It has just rolled on since then, in greater or lesser degrees over the years, and taking different forms at different times.

So whilst I see the reasons behind Professor Finlay’s thinking, I am still not entirely convinced that it would be correct to say that sectarianism is a form of racism. I completely agree with the idea that it would be socially expedient to think of sectarianism in this way, if doing so helped change the way we manage instances of offensive behaviour motivated by religious hatred.

But what I also think is this – and it is why I believe we should exercise caution in seeking a closer alignment of the two – treating sectarianism as a form of racism could force a fundamental redefinition of prominent world religions that would diminish the universal nature of their core beliefs by localising them to a people, a time and place.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, if sectarianism is in fact a form of racism, then arguably we are also holding the view that tolerating another person’s religion is the same thing as tolerating his race. We need to be careful how closely we want to tie these two concepts together –

Because not only would this seem to threaten the autonomy of religious belief with respect to race and ethnic origin; I think it could also make it very difficult to rationally debate and logically criticise belief systems promoted by other religions – as should be our right – without running the risk of making implicit criticisms and unintended negative judgements on issues of race and ethnicity.

And having built the good part of the argument on the premise that racism is inherently wrong in the first place, this could prove to be dangerous territory to wander back into.

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Confronting the Bigot Within

The underlying premise of most anti-racism initiatives appears to be that education in the virtue of tolerance is the key to eradicating it from our society. It is the most obvious place to start, but we need to go deeper.

There may be racist beliefs and attitudes within our subconscious mind that are responsible for more than the set of intentional actions and judgements that we would ordinarily hold up as prime examples of racist behaviour.

There seems to have been a recent rise in the number of high profile incidents of racism. It is interesting to note the ones involving professional footballers, who would otherwise insist – and I am sure they actually believe it – that holding racist attitudes and beliefs is wrong, and definitely not in their nature.

It is interesting in the sense that it throws some light on the possibility of individuals holding racist beliefs and attitudes without necessarily being aware of this being the case – to the extent that they would happily offer a strong rebuttal of what their behaviour would appear to suggest.

The same possibility holds in the case of other forms of bigotry. Keeping the discussion within the world of football, homophobia and sectarianism are other good examples of this.

Subconscious connections between many of our basic beliefs help form the bedrock of our judgements and perceptions. The problem is that many of the connections at this level are rarely formed intentionally. They emerge on their own accord through our upbringing into a particular way of life.

The way we perceive our environment and the judgements we make about the situations we find ourselves in may carry implicit commitments to beliefs we would not consciously recognise as our own. But that is the curious thing about some bigoted beliefs – first person authority is not always a given.

These are the toughest cases to tackle, because it requires some form of introspective acknowledgement that certain utterances and gestures may carry doxastic commitments that are irreconcilable with what you consider to be your everyday outlook on life. It is a hard thing to do.

The psychology of bigotry is complex. Getting inside the mind of a bigot is difficult, particularly in your own case. Access is ordinarily denied at the first point of entry. It is our subconscious gatekeeper’s job to stubbornly refuse this type of interpretation on our behalf and suggest a more respectable alternative.

And returning to high profile incidents associated with football for a moment, the challenge becomes even harder. The good efforts to tackle racism are often completely nullified by the use of expensive lawyers who are adept at creating that all important element of doubt, even in cases where there should have been none whatsoever.

Here we reach an almost insurmountable barrier. There is a possibility that unacknowledged bigoted beliefs may well be found within each and every one of us, which makes the challenge of eradicating racism from society hard enough.

It is made even more difficult by the fact that many high profile individuals appear to think nothing of appealing to ridiculously expensive mechanisms to guarantee the type of impunity the rest of us are denied – and the upshot of this is that racism, for very different reasons, is always likely to be a feature of our society, despite our best efforts to tackle it.

This doesn’t mean we should give up trying. It simply means that every single individual in our society – including those who have sufficient funds to opt out of our hard earned moral space – has an obligation to think about finding and confronting the bigot within.

Even though the very idea of doing that would feel unnecessary to those who can afford to ignore it, and contrary to everything the rest of us would want to believe about ourselves in the first place.

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Jumping on the ‘Bigot!’ Bandwagon

The popular misuse of a word can have a transformational effect on how we think about the situation in which it has been used.

This is particularly evident when we begin to use certain words with negative intent because we have been subconsciously prompted in that direction by those around us in the media, on social networking sites, in our homes and on the street.

It has become fairly routine in recent times to throw around words like ‘bigot’, ‘racist’ and ‘sectarian’, with the apparent goal of sensationally shaming those individuals in our society who continue to indulge in the types of behaviour the majority of us have long since departed from.

Gay rights charity Stonewall named Cardinal Keith O’Brien ‘Bigot of the Year’ at its annual awards, referring to his attack on the idea of gay marriage as a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right. Whilst many would feel that O’Brien’s views are offensive and out of touch with modern society, others may feel that it would be too quick and too simplistic to use the term ‘bigot’ in this context.

Whether it is correct to use the term ‘bigot’ in reference to Keith O’Brien or not, this example highlights one of the difficulties we sometimes have in not letting vogue words like ‘bigot’ lead us down blind alleyways. The risk is that we begin to use these terms far too freely, without proper regard for the subtleties of context, and subsequently read more into situations than actually exists.

Failure to recognise this means that we are less likely to recognise the flaws in our own self-approved moral judgements, or when poor decisions have been taken to prevent the feared consequences of the new perception that has emerged.

In the case of Scottish football, new legislation was passed earlier this year to tackle offensive behaviour at football matches – with the unintended consequence of also creating a great deal of confusion around the use of terms like ‘racist’ and ‘sectarian’ in connection with singing traditional folk songs and other innocent celebrations of a group’s cultural origins.

This week an image was circulated around social networking sites of Neil Lennon’s upturned Celtic FC tracksuit collar. It happened to be green, white and gold. It happened to cause a silly reaction among some individuals who were intent on interpreting it as ‘sectarian’; another completely random, incorrect and sensationalist application of the term.

The increasing unease in English football at the moment surrounds the problem of racism on the pitch and in the stands. Whilst this appears to be a genuine problem that needs to be dealt with, there is also the danger that innocent individuals will find themselves being vilified in the media for comments or gestures that may have had no such intent.

We are rapidly progressing to the point where the significance of every utterance will be debated and every gesture will be under scrutiny. And more often than not, those who point their finger are just as prone to the types of behaviour they want to publicly shame by jumping on the ‘Bigot!’ bandwagon.

There are times when society finds itself on this bandwagon without understanding how it got there. Sometimes it is simply about the misuse of language; other times it is a conveniently popular hook on which to justify the abuse of individuals whom we have grown to dislike for completely different reasons.

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Some Questions on Eradicating Racism

How do you eradicate racism?

How do you educate deeply engrained racist attitudes out of people?

How do you rationalise with individuals who see nothing wrong in the fact that the hatred they have of certain others is based on nothing else but their race or ethnic origin?

How do you explain to racist individuals, when they are firmly immersed in it, why their world view is morally repugnant and socially unacceptable? What type of occurrence would be strong enough to disrupt the logic that fixes their patterns of beliefs?

What type of emotional shock treatment would be required to undo the acceptance of race as a reason for discriminatory treatment or as an uncontrollable cause of hatred towards anyone of that race? What type of change would be needed to disconnect the two?

Why does it still seem impossible to imagine a situation in which racism has been completely eradicated through education? Why do well intended initiatives fail to bring about the right type of change in enough people?

Why does it seem easier to imagine a situation in which racism remains a fact of life, despite numerous programmes and projects to tackle it, than it does to imagine a situation in which our politics and economics are not designed to protect the preferences, pockets and privileges of our country’s minority?

Does the difficulty lie in the fact that the latter would be necessary to even think about the former not being the case? Does the fact that racism thrives in unequal societies like this one, with an arrogant pride in its historically self-approved right of way, mean that we will never be able to eradicate it?

Indeed, are we making the mistake of starting with the wrong set of beliefs and attitudes, simply because they appear more obviously abhorrent?

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(Not Very) Philosophical Occasions: Listening In On Generational Bigotry

This week I heard a story about a seven year old child at primary school who claimed that he didn’t speak British, but he could speak some Irish! He arrived at this conclusion because he didn’t like Rangers. He explained that they were a British team. But he supported Celtic. And they were an Irish team.

In the confused and highly impressionable mind of a child, this probably makes some kind of sense. To the rest of us, it is just plain nonsense. We recognise that it contains the seeds of hatred. Yet in fairness to the child, he is too young to really understand what he was talking about it. He couldn’t have meant anything by it.

Coincidentally, this week I also heard a story about a teenager. He was walking along the street with his Dad. He spotted a Celtic fan coming towards them. His Dad laughed as he continued his story – his son said to him, ‘Quick Dad, cross the road, there’s a Celtic fan coming.’

He had clearly inherited his attitudes from his Dad, who appeared to be quite proud of his son’s behaviour. It was regarded as a joke, a bit of banter. In fairness, it probably was.

A conversation I overheard on the train a few weeks ago, between a drunken elderly gentleman and a polite young man, went something like this:

‘Are you over here for a job?’

‘No, I am here to study…engineering.’

‘Right…so are you from Poland?’

‘No, Czech Republic…’

‘Aye, I knew you were some kind of foreigner.’

Although his behaviour is not defensible, to give the elderly gentleman the benefit of the doubt, he comes from a generation of people who would think there was nothing wrong with this conversation. He was just making conversation. If the polite young student was offended in anyway, it wasn’t intentional. He didn’t mean anything by it.

A common thread running through many such instances is that the individuals concerned seem to inherit their bigotry from other people around them and keep it going. The process begins at an impressionable age and the attitudes become more deeply entrenched as time goes on.

The younger the individual, the more inclined we would be to say that they didn’t really understand what they were talking about it. They tend to get away with it. As they become young adults, their bigotry is disguised as banter. It is a joke. They tend to get away with it.

Then as they mature into old age, their bigotry is explained away as a generation thing. It is just the way some older people are. They would have gotten away with it in their younger days when life was different. And they tend to get away with it today.

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