Friday, 9 March 2007

Racism – Explanation Needed

Patrick Mercer MP and former Army colonel – Conservative Front Bench spokesperson on Homeland Security - was sacked yesterday for racist comments. His comments are shown below:

"I had the good fortune to command a battalion that was racially very mixed. Towards the end, I had five company sergeant majors who were all black. They were without exception UK-born, Nottingham-born men who were English - as English as you and me. They prospered inside my regiment, but if you'd said to them: 'Have you ever been called a nigger?' they would have said: 'Yes.' But equally, a chap with red hair, for example, would also get a hard time - a far harder time than a black man, in fact.

"But that's the way it is in the army. If someone is slow on the assault course, you'd get people shouting: 'Come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard.'

"I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours. I remember one guy from St Anne's (Nottingham) who was constantly absent and who had a lot of girlfriends. When he came back one day I asked him why, and he would say: 'I was racially abused.' And we'd say: 'No you weren't, you were off with your girlfriends again.'

"In my experience, when you put on the uniform then all differences disappear. If you are a good soldier, you will do well. If you are a bad soldier, you will leave prematurely. There is a degree of colour-blindness among the vast majority of soldiers.

"I never came across a piece of nastiness inside the battalion that was based exclusively on racism."

(Guardian 9 March 2007 http://tinyurl.com/26ywc3)


The UK papers have been full of this subject today as have their online blogs. There has been considerable confusion on the blogs with many respondents querying if the comments were really racist and others stating that they were clearly so. Unfortunately no-one explained why each comment was or was not racist.

I can see very easily how “black bastard” can be used in a racist manner but I have a few simple questions, the answers to which will help me understand the boundaries to racism.

Can a white person ever use the phrase “black bastard” in a way which is not racist?

If “yes” then in what circumstances?

If “no” then consider the following scenario.

A group of soldiers, who live and work together and get on well together, are exercising. Each soldier fails at the same point. As each fails the others say,”come on you …… bastard”. ALL the soldiers laugh at this banter.

The “……” refers to a physical attribute which differentiates each from the others. In this scenario these attributes are: fat, thin, tall, wee, four-eyed and black”.

Now here, is it racist to say “come on you black bastard”?

If “no” then why is that?

If “yes” then is it equally wrong to say “come on you wee bastard”?

If saying “come on you black bastard” is worse than “come on you wee bastard”, why is that?

I need to make clear that I am not trying to deny the charges of racism against the MP but rather am trying to clarify in my mind when a comment becomes racist.

In the unlikely event that you wish to comment on this blog – given that only one person has commented in a week – then consider this. If you are a racism-denier then do NOT comment but if you can explain and help my thinking then please do comment.

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