Sunday, 11 March 2007

Racism Row Rolls On

The racism row – mentioned in my post of 9 March - rolls on with confusion still around. Was Patrick Mercer racist or not?

Read his words (http://tinyurl.com/26ywc3)

Commentary in The Sunday Times and The Observer shows different sides (http://tinyurl.com/295x8w and http://tinyurl.com/28p8xd respectively.

Rod Liddle in the ST asks, “Can someone tell me what it was that Patrick Mercer MP said which was either racist or offensive? I’ve been mulling it over for 48 hours and I’m still clueless.

I too have spent much time thinking about this and I don’t think Patrick Mercer was being racist. I accept that being called a “black bastard” will often / most times be racist but, in the context of the quotes I have seen, I believe them to be NOT racist. I asked, in my post of 9 March, if a white person can ever say “black bastard” in a way which does not constitute racism.

Where I think Mercer has let himself down is in not stating that racism occurs in the Army and that this (racism) is totally unacceptable. Therefore, whilst the words used are themselves not racist in content or context his words may be taken as condoning or minimising racism.

Andrew Rawnsley (The Observer) doesn’t call Mercer a racist but accuses him of “fully saturated stupidity”.

The difficulty with the Mercer incident is, I believe, that it highlights a grey area at the fringes of racism where the words are not the real issue but the way they are uttered and their context are crucial. This is why there is a split. Those who doubt Mercer’s racism are, in all probability, not racist they simply see the greyness of the situation as falling outwith racism whereas the other side see them as falling just within racism.

Also because racism is such an emotive issue there will always be strong reaction – on both sides – to borderline cases. Unfortunately, I have seen little rational debate to clarify each side’s understanding. One side says “It’s not racist” and the other, “It is racist”.

Most examples of racism reported in the media are clear: there is no debate. The grey areas, however, have the potential to cause us problems, to polarise views and people. Time must be spent clarifying these areas so that people of good will can come together and not be split apart.

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