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Calling racists racist is ‘racist’, say racists
It was a different time then, blah blah blah.
A couple of weeks ago there was a media furore over comments made by Ross Greer, a Scottish MP. He said that Winston Churchill was a white supremacist, which caused much anger among a certain demographic (I’ll leave you to guess which one).
The trouble is that it’s true. Churchill was terribly racist, and, yes, antisemitic (we all contain multitudes). We don’t need to dig that deep in the archives to find evidence of this, but there are British people who will claim that these inconvenient facts are an insult to Churchill, or even that they are lies.
There’s no doubt that Churchill was the right person to get Britain through WWII. He was a bold strategist, and fearless leader; perhaps more importantly he was charismatic and relatable. He was voted the greatest Briton of all time in a 2002 poll, and more than 70 years after the end of the war, he is still idolised. But he was also a racist and bigot, something the British want to ignore at all costs. Our insistence in ignoring this well-known facet of Churchill’s personality reminds me of the Fawlty Towers sketch in which a group of German tourists stay at the hotel, and Basil Fawlty, having suffered a bump on the head, loudly and persistently says to his staff in front of the guests, that they must not mention the war.
Whatever you do, don’t mention the racism!
We treat it like a dreadful breach of etiquette to bring up Churchill’s unsavoury side. We don’t want to accept that that word applies to one of our heroes. There are white people that consider being called racist worse than actually being racist. And if you think they’re mad about Churchill being labelled racist, wait until someone says it about them. How very dare you, using such an awful slur against them! The thing is, they often are being kinda racist, they just don’t like anyone pointing it out.
It’s not just that they don’t want to be called racist, it’s that they want to be allowed to be racist with no consequences. “You can’t say anything anymore, it’s Political Correctness Gone Mad”, they say. Supporters of Tommy Robinson and other Internet Racists object to their heroes being called out as the racists they are, because they don’t want to be called racist via their association with them. They know that Robinson et al are a bunch of fascists, racists and thugs, but they don’t see a problem with that, and they don’t see why anyone else should. They want racism to be socially acceptable, but while it isn’t, they don’t want anyone to think that they might be racist. Not them, they are just standing up for good, old-fashioned British values.
Because racism and Islamophobia only become bad when they’re labelled far-Right, apparently.
‘Old-fashioned’ is the relevant term here, as they seem to want to take Britain back to a bygone age, where everyone drank ginger pop and had rickets. And when there weren’t none of them foreigners coming over here. Much like Trump’s MAGA fans, these totally-not-racist people want to Make Britain White Again.
The problem we have now is that we don’t seem able to tell these people that yes, they are racist, and no, it’s not acceptable. Those who want to be racist, without being called racist, frame it as if we are simply calling them names when we point out their bigotry. It puts us on the back foot because they have turned a legitimate accusation round on us, so that we look like the bad guys. In our attempts to be civil, we excuse their behaviour because we know that they will accuse us of insulting them. It is pretty bad to be called racist — and that’s because racism is bad.
We shouldn’t need to explain this, but we seem to really struggle with it. We try to avoid making a fuss, and think it’s just “polite” to excuse racism in order not to cause offence. Each time we pander to racists, we make racism a little bit more acceptable. And that’s what they want.
In 2010, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was attacked in the press for comments he made when he thought the mic was off after a public meeting. He called a difficult voter a “bigoted woman” and was heavily criticised for saying this terrible thing about a good, upstanding citizen. But she was a bigoted woman. I’m impressed he was as patient with her as he was, and I can understand his need to let off steam after the grilling he got.
However, it was politically unacceptable for Brown to support his comments, and the press supported this citizen and her awful views. It should have been OK for Brown to stand by his words, but this is where we are now. We feel we mustn’t upset bigots, because they have the sympathy of the press and the many other bigots rallying around them. Many people empathised with her and shared her beliefs. But just because a large number of people believe something, that doesn’t mean they are right. Unfortunately, appeals to populism are common these days, and no politician wants to risk their career by doing the right thing.
Instead of protecting the delicate feelings of racists, and downplaying the significance of their racism to keep the peace, we must call them what they are and make that description carry the weight it deserves. We need to make racism unacceptable again, and refuse to accommodate racists’ demands for legitimacy. It’s shocking that our media and politicians promote the notion that being accused of racism is worse than actual racism, and that all the racist things that bigots want to say aren’t really racism at all, but “common sense” and “telling it like it is”.
Those with racist views try to convince us it’s not ‘real’ racism, that other people are racist but not them – whatever belief of theirs we criticise, they frame it as bullying or discrimination against them. We must be brave enough to tell them that yes, they are racist, and no, we won’t make excuses for them. Ordinary people who hold racist views like to be told they are the “silent majority” so they don’t have to change their opinions or behaviour. Our complacency has given them a comfortable place from which to air those sentiments that we were too lax to condemn. With support from the press and the far-Right, the public now think it’s their god-given right to be bigots, and to exercise that right at every opportunity.
We’re in a weird place where those against racism are seen as troublemakers upsetting the status quo, but we cannot allow concerns over politeness stop us from doing the right thing. We sleepwalked into a right-wing existence, with things we never imagined possible ten years ago happening right now. It was easy to get here, but it’s probably going to be a fight to get out. If we’re going to do this properly, we cannot mince our words. Let’s tell racists they’re racist, and refuse to apologise for calling them out.