Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Dark Days Indeed

I've often wanted to write about certain serious topics that come to mind from time to time but I've always given in to social pressure and despite this being MY blog and so I should be able to say what I like on it, I'm a bit of a coward in this respect. I don't exactly have hundreds of readers but would still hate to alienate anyone and as we all know, it's easy to give the wrong impression on the internet !

As well as being Fat Tuesday/Pancake Tuesday, it seems it's also International Women's Day. I only know this due to Twitter's trending feature as I glanced at it this morning and noticed IWD was up there, trending worldwide. Just below it was Jim Davidson, a UK comedian who was a regular on our tv screens in an age when joking about women and 'blacks' got a lot more laughs than it does today. He didn't help his sinking career by being a dickhead as well and he was perfect tabloid fodder a decade or so ago as his private life (ha !) was as 'colourful' as his stage act.

So why was he trending ? Well it seems he was being interviewed on BBC Radio 5Live and considering what (we think) we know about his personal life, attitudes and stage act, many tweeters couldn't believe the irony of him being featured with IWD. So many spoke their minds and were then retweeted that old "Nick Nick" found himself trending for the first time in his life.

And that brings me to my subject - racism. I admit I'm all over the place with this word as it seems to have more interpretations and implications than just about any other word we use today and for some reason, all are assumed to be wrong. Lets give it a spin........

Frenchmen smell of garlic.

Racist ? Well sure, as the statement pertains to a race, or at least a nation, for goodness sake.

Offensive ? Who decides ? As they do generally eat a lot of garlic, I'm sure a lot of French women find THEM offensive !

Black people can't swim very well.

Racist ? Again yes as I've specifically mentioned an entire race of people.

Offensive ? Hardly. It's a statement of fact.

You see racism isn't always wrong and I hate seeing articles where it is stated that it is. Maybe I'm just not interpreting the word correctly and I really mean to be saying that 'race' isn't wrong.....as in the above examples. Maybe the definition of racism has been changed to ONLY mean offence against races. And as it's hard to decide what offends, make it ALL offensive.

I donno anymore. It's a bit of a mine field and as with mine fields, I try and stay clear.

Jokes can be complex; I like play on words jokes, clever use of my language jokes and even ones I need to think about for a few seconds in order to 'get' the joke. Generally speaking, if it takes me more than a few seconds to understand, then it's never going to be funny to me ! And if you have to explain it to me, forget it. My embarrassment at having had to have it explained to me totally offsets any comedic effects. My rule.

From the days of 'an Englishman, an Irishman and a Jew walk into a pub' type jokes, we've been laughing at racist jokes for centuries. Of course how long something has been around for doesn't make it right or acceptable - take Chicken McNuggets for example !

My (unusual for me) problem is that I can't ever express my thoughts on racism succinctly and when I try and write about it, the mess in my head comes out as a mess in my writing. I laugh guiltily behind the settee at Catholic jokes. While back there I admit to laughing at jokes about race too, especially national stereotype ones. Even my own nationality. I mean if we can't laugh at ourselves, then we're in for a very stressful existence.

Some may say that's wrong. Garlic smelling, onion covered, beret wearing French readers may be peddling away now in droves. Bon voyage I say, although being British, I say it very badly and with one arm being twisted behind my back as it's using a foreign language.

The whole Politically Correct business is a joke in itself and I'm pretty sure that when people in power get on their high horses about something not being PC, they are just scared to say......"look it was all said/done tongue-in-cheek people, so have a non guilty laugh and move on". They'd probably say it better but that's what they'd mean. It seems these days the 'offender' has to grovel publicly and even sack himself or herself in order to stop the overcrowded bandwagon of double standards from flattening them completely.

The Richard Keys/Andy Gray fiasco being a case in point. Shakespeare had a very appropriate play title to sum up that particular non event.

I'm not really sure why I've written this post. Maybe I wanted to dip my toes into the murky waters of racial controversy - or maybe I just wanted to have an excuse to attach a YouTube video !

Being a Norn Iron child of the 50's and 60's, I grew up never having seen a "person of darker colouring" until I was 18, when I moved to Leicester to start at University. Having said that, we did have a black and white tv for longer than most so really, I shouldn't have been all that surprised when I did see one in real life !

An entertainment treat for us back in those simpler days was "The Black & White Minstrel Show" which is partly why my head is such a mess today when it comes to political correctness and racism. All I can say is that AT THE TIME, I loved the routines and how the songs went seamlessly from one to another without a pause. I may have known they were Negro songs from the American deep south but as a child and even a teenager, that was all I knew. They were white British singers trying to recreate American Negro singers and I never lost any sleep over them not just using Negro singers in the first place. For all I knew, they didn't exist.

Why did they paint their faces ? Come on, it was all part of the illusion they were trying to create. Racist ? Politically incorrect ? It seems so today for many people. But surely this could be seen as a positive case of racism (what now ???) as the great singing of these timeless songs, no matter if they were borne out of slavery and oppression, brought them, and the history behind them, to a much wider audience.

There are just so many double standards at work with racism and political correctness.

"Are You Being Served", "All In The Family", "Love Thy Neighbour" and even "On The Buses" would be on any list of non PC shows that we all enjoyed at one time. Or maybe not. I never did care for Reg Varney and his attitude to women did make me cringe even back then. And I never EVER understood how his sidekick bus driver could 'pull a bird' when he looked like a classic old letch who was well past his letch-by date anyway. Sorry Bob, but you did.

See, it's a mine field I tells ya.

Ok before this mess turns into a quagmire (oh God not Quagmire from Family Guy !!!), I'll stop the flow and show the vid.

Entertaining ? Offensive ? Entertainingly offensive ? Feel free to comment. All I know is that when we finally got a colour tv, the show lost something and that in itself is a mine field to explore.

But not right now. I'm off to therapy !


rhymeswithplague said...

I hardly know what to say, and should probably say nothing, but I find it rather comforting, in an odd sort of way, the all the guys are [faux] black and all the girls are white in your "Black and White Minstrel Show" from yesteryear. Something like this would NEVER, repeat, NEVER have happened in the good old U.S. of A. of the time because it was just so, well, interracial. However, if all the girls had worn blackface (and arms and legs and chests) it would probably have been okay with the bigoted viewers.

Ruth said...

"Black people can't swim very well.
Racist ? Again yes as I've specifically mentioned an entire race of people.
Offensive ? Hardly. It's a statement of fact."

What????!! I'm afraid I found it offensive. So I checked out the 'statement of fact'.



Facts need thorough verification and are sometimes disproved. People can be offended before they know whether or not something is fact.

There are often exceptions to a rule so I think much racism is rooted in, sometimes unfounded, generalisation. In general, I dislike generalistations and often find them offensive.

In UK law, I think, a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.
So I could report someone of a race crime (e.g. racial harassment) if they were to say or do something racist to someone else (not necessarily me).

But what would I know - I'm a Jewish woman but if you hold that against me that would be sexist racism.

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

'It seems these days the 'offender' has to grovel publicly and even sack himself or herself in order to stop the overcrowded bandwagon of double standards from flattening them completely'

Exactly so, Silverback. Political correctness (as I'm sure you've heard me say, and in person, too) is the biggest social evil of our day, and it's exactly why it's so difficult to quantify racism, in my opinion. Just discussing the definition of racism is a minefield, as you point out.

I do agree, by the way, that not all 'racism' is offensive, any more than all 'prejudice' is wrong. Just tell me: is it wrong to have made a pre-judgement that wild rats are likely to carry disease? No, because it's a fact. Humans have evolved with numerous survival strategies, and the ability to learn from the past and extrapolate is a very valuable one. What is wrong, is when we try to make a judgement covering a whole race or social group from the behaviour of some of its members - but we should perhaps remember that to avoid doing so requires that we partially over-ride a strong evolutionary drive - and also that it works both ways, with whites increasingly becoming the target of racism, and this going largely unchallenged.

Bottom line - we should strive to keep pre-judgement where it belongs and only use it when are certain that it is valid. For example: you will likely become ill if you eat at a (for example) Norn Iron restaurant where the cockroaches scurry between the diner's legs as they eat, but our prejudice should be reserved for all cockroach-infested restaurants, not all Norn Iron restaurants, many of which, I believe, are excellent.

In evolutionary terms, however, it can be safer for the species to assume first and find out later, so we need to engage the intellect.

Perhaps this is where the problem lies?

Daphne said...

Well, I was brought up in a very (for the times) racially aware family and I'm half Jewish as you know - - and yet we all loved the Black and White Minstrel Show! Was it offensive? In those more innocent days, we certainly didn't intend our enjoyment of it to be.
I think we're all racist in some way - it's a natural suspicion of "difference" and only getting to know people from different backgrounds will help to overcome it - - or, in some cases, to reinforce it! Phewwww - - as you say, it's a tricky thing to write about!

rhymeswithplague said...

It has become practically an article of faith among certain people in the U.S.A. that while whites are undoubtedly racist concerning blacks, it is impossible for blacks to be racist concerning whites. The reason given is that racism by definition means the suppression of, oppression of, or denial of rights to persons of a minority group by persons of the majority group. Therefore, members of the minority group cannot possibly be racist in their views, speech, or behavior.

This seems to me to be a very inadequate and flawed definition of racism, which clearly operates in both directions.

Anonymous said...

It is never a good feeling to be in the midst of a more racially diverse or gender-opposite or nationally-affiliated crowd and being mistreated in any way. End of.

People who think it can't happen to them are wrong. Everyone may a minority at some time in their lives. I am one in my field of work, where I work. I am one when I travel to another country. I am one, perhaps, when my car breaks down in a different area of town and need to go looking for help. Or, hey, if I went to uni at this point in my life, probably then, too.

Jan said...

Black people can't swim very well.

Racist ? Again yes as I've specifically mentioned an entire race of people.

Offensive ? Hardly. It's a statement of fact.

In what way is this a fact? Because you think it is? Because that guy in the olympics was not a good swimmer? What is the evidence that black people can't swim?

To me these things are what make the first statement racist and offensive, or maybe it's a joke that I don't get!

One of the problems with anything that causes offence is that it is subjective, a statement that offends me may not offend you, and the person who offended me may not have intended to do so.

As you say, a mine field. . . . .

rhymeswithplague said...

Here is something more people should realize:

It is always wrong to say "I apologize if I offended you"...it is much better to say "I apologize that I offended you"....this approach recognizes that whether something is offensive is decided by the offended, not by the offender. It also sounds more like a real apology.

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