Until we stop ‘hunting for bigots’ and can start to have proper discussions of the institutional nature of racism and its relation to power, and especially the primary props of State power and inequities of capital, actions taken will be ineffective and in fact will contribute to oppression, in UK cities to the USA to Palestine and beyond.
The supposedly liberal outrage at inherent “racists” as if we have to find only those pure souls for The Labour Party without a ‘racist bone’ is ascientific and privileges the white liberally educated. Ultimately, it is itself racist.
We see few better illustrations of the centrist and right tendency to enable fascism by perpetuating oppression than the bull-in-a-china-shop approach to anti-Semitism of the supporters of the Labour Party organisations where the current Israel government has most influence.
If you want to find bigotry and prejudice, and you are capable of questioning yourself, you’ll find it within you and without you. It’s probably there in your perception of white van man, your views on benefits, your most laissez faire attitudes to redistribution of wealth, the demographics of your friends, and those implicit attitudes you’ve never bothered to uncover about the minorities you have least interest in finding out about.
What do we hope to find? The racism gene?! Education not witch-hunts and education for YOU (me) first of all.
The stakes are so high now. For example, many European countries might make it clear that someone expressing Nazi hate speech, as Katie Hopkins did, is a security risk and is not welcome. This would serve to heighten the contrasts between the inclusive, multicultural, fully internationalist vision of Corbyn -supported by the youth and popular in most of our cities- and the insular, ultimately fascistic, perspective of the right. The question is, are liberals who see themselves as progressive capable of finally fully recognising the twin threats of a runaway right wing media and a tendency in the current Conservative Party towards isolationism? If so, they would pull out of Labour marginals, recognising the crucial importance of a Labour government that can work with Europe as well as clamping down on the excesses of the Press.
We are still a long way away from sensible discussion about racism across the Labour Party. Racism in the modern sense as understood by those who take the most trouble to examine it as methodically as possible is not just the evolutionarily ingrained (and most probably adaptive before civilisation) distrust of people recognisable as “strangers” by appearance, and neither is it the bigotry of individuals (presumably acting from some nineteenth century notion of sinful free will). It is most certainly not an excuse for the categorization of individuals based on isolated statements or Facebook posts. It is trivial to demonstrate prejudice on such a basis in almost any adult, particularly public figures. Harvard University have tests that will show anyone at least some of the implicit prejudices that are prone to sway our opinions, often unconsciously: racist, sexist, and homophobic.
Modern racism has the distinguishing feature of virulence. That is, both in the sense of a hostility to ethic minorities unknown in the ancient world and in terms of pervasiveness and harmfulness. The isolation of left wing individuals does practically nothing to combat racism in The Labour Party, although it might make some of us feel better that ‘something is being done’ about racism. This is of course an illusion. You and I are far from immune from its influence. In fact, it is striking that the most high profile recent cases of suspensions involve long-time anti-racism campaigners, almost all women, and almost all from ethnic minorities. This should cause consternation and discomfort to anyone who wants to inoculate themselves from white supremacy.
Modern racism has its roots in, especially, Elizabethan England’s uneasy relationship with Spain, Spain’s own power battles, and the greed of Europeans who saw profit in free African labour. To make it all about individuals is superficial analysis, conservative commentary, and plays into the hands of reactionary forces.
Of course, this cannot be true. I meant to imply I don’t care where he is, as long as he doesn’t try to pin me.
Later, he said “If you think I am some king-”
I could have stopped him there. A clumsy knight on a small board, only a monopoly property, a collection of listed buildings, front line of one battle between rich and poor, connected and disenfranchised, and inside an entire swirling life of privileges and disappointments, of failing to live up to expectations, of making it and not making it, of opening letters to see your grades, the judgement upon you, the codes of conduct, Les regles de jeu, the crimson rising to the cheeks of the transgressor, the urgency of the moment behind the chip shop, the flat cap, the outsider looking in, the streets paved with gold, the relatively comfortable childhood home, coins in the fountain, Dickensian Christmas days, the peeling of an orange…
And beyond the window, a snowstorm.
If the desired outcome were an easier time, to keep me hence, for a little while, then wrong move. I burn brightly , too brightly some say, and my attention focuses on those who cause ripples within and around me. This is my meagre gift and curse: I feel as waves the ripples others ride. My board unbalanced, into the black water I go. Big fish, little fish swimming in the water. (Come back here man and give me my daughter).
In the Samuel Lewis Buildings on Liverpool Road, the neatly composed Scot, each movement quietly thoughtful, her posture well aligned, “We have been engaged in navel gazing.”
Omphalos. I am not supine on the New River, the tendrils of my flower
sleeping, the skin of the green algae
bathing, the early evening sunlight
splashing, coins on the glass table
dancing, discarded cans of lager
rattling, the clatter of the pieces
swimming, in my enamel coffin
I come up for air. The bishop bobs by, mocked by the great blue sky and the deep green sea.
“Yes, you are entirely correct. Homosexuality is not a sin.” she does not say. She hides behind her castle, welcoming, inclusive, and other decorous adjectives. Coward and dissembler.
Every action is power, every actor a metonym. I am a lighthouse. Batten down the hatches and lash yourself to the mast, we are steering hard to port.
Struggling toward the Light, we fought against Belief. Then came Death & His Riders savouring their own stench; We had No Choice but to embrace The Ones Who rode along unseen. His Bride, His Mother, She Who Would Not Be Harnessed & Seven stinking child demigods, each uttering but one Word, tumbling along with a Terrible Wind, quarrelling heartily, slashing at each other with every weapon imaginable, from long talons and razor sharp teeth to blades of light and the Fires of Time itself.
They cleaved themselves Again & Yet Again, onward in a Rain of Blood, first dividing in two, foolishly forgetting Time flows neither like water nor emanates like the air but burns in the eye and heart of every-thing. Thus they saw only a Red River, and they drank and belched, thinking they propelled The Master toward where I stood empty handed. Yet I was not alone. They had their millions but I had billions and billions, and the secret of Alchemy.
Picture a polished wooden floor, dark as mahogany, absent of furniture, in a large room with a bay window. You begin to look at the thick, imperfect glass, when a white door opens at the far side of the room. The man entering the room has a name. We’ll call him Michael. Michael closes the door and sees a large plain-looking box on the floor. He approaches it, noticing now an ever so faint humming sound. He puts his ear to the box. A quiet but harsh buzzing behind the hum, as if the box contains a billion furious generals. Straining to pick out more, he eventually discerns the unpatterned clashing of what could be swords on shields or tuneless cymbals.
Michael presses his ear to the box, a finger in the other ear. A barely audible succession of high pitched short shrieks. He pulls back instinctively. He sees for the first time that the sides of the box do not meet perfectly, and from thin spaces between uneven joins.. the faint glow of a smoky red light. There are now clear cries of distress from inside.
Michael decides this is a very dangerous box and he should sit on it to prevent any of its terrible contents from escaping. When he has been sitting on the box for a good hour, a small demon nonetheless wriggles free. It flies around his head mischievously, poking him with its tiny but sharp trident, evading his attempts to catch it or swat it away. After one fruitless lunge, he hears the demon deep inside his ear, loud and true.
“You are the box” it says. The terrors that Michael feared swarm around his head, mocking, hissing, howling at him. Hideously aged and scarred faces; bloodthirsty battalions of the disaffected, in black uniforms, scything down homely couples and drifters alike; a girl begging him desperately to rescue her. When the bullet strikes, her face disappears and for a frozen moment a miraculous crested wave of dark liquid hangs in the air, then time returns with a sickening splash upon the pavement. He sees a hungry man eating from a day old dog corpse with his bare hands. He sees wretches flayed alive on the orders of a holy man. He sees and he sees, countless images of death. And he hears every sound. Worst of all, his own face before him, screaming wildly, although he himself can only watch, his lips unparted.
The box was an illusion. All the evils of the world are unrestrained, dancing before him, and he cannot look away. His visions coalesce; they whirl about him and, then, they enter him through his ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. Soon, the man conquered,all is still, and there is no longer anything of note in the room.
A white door opens, and Gabriel enters the room. He sees a plain-looking box. As he walks across the polished wooden floor he can make out a faint hum…
It was the tail end of summer. I was wearing my half and half black & white acid wash T-shirt and black jeans. Walking the city, I eventually found myself looking at the ornate filigree of the Palace of Westminster and the looming tower of St Stephen, and, in a state of content acceptance, I crossed the road for Parliament Square. Fundamentally, acceptance of the terror of the world requires acceptance of self. I knew myself, black and white, capable of great love and great harm, a human animal with drives that can be destructive and a strong moral sense that can heal, and so I had discovered an equanimity deeper than any I had known before. I located the centre point of the green and sat, back upright, legs crossed, hands resting on my thighs, palms upturned but half closed. Simply comfortable. I saw the crowds of people going to and fro on all sides, past the Abbey, past Parliament, past the Thames, between the cars on the black tarmac running North to South and disappearing in a shimmering haze to the West. I saw everything and everyone coming apart, turning to ash. This is inevitable. The people were burning. The buildings, burning. The statues and cars, burning. I felt compassion as the crowds rushed here and there and, at the same time, saw that there would be a lasting peace for all.
I cultivated these sensations until I fell into a quiet doze. My oblivion may have lasted seconds or many minutes. Whatever, I was refreshed when I awoke. I got up and walked towards the bridge. As I crossed, a passing oriental monk in dark orange robes and sandals acknowledged me with a smile.
I was aware that this equanimity would not last. It was a glimpse, gathered on a warm sunny day when some problems had been resolved and there were few demands on me. The sun would fade, winter would come, and my peace would be disrupted. This benign resignation lasted a couple of weeks. It was physically healthy, no doubt, but I do not miss it. The remote view is only one perspective, lacking in the passion and anger that drives desire for justice and social change. Physics cannot be conquered, but each state is just one thread from the past to the present, and this was no better than any other. Morally, it may even be unforgiveable. Did I see the violence of Cromwell, the cruelty of Christian ancestors, swords hacking flesh, bullets shattering bone, rivers carrying corpses, hospitals bombed, mass graves filled with the skulls of dissidents? I did not. My vision was no more complete than a newly bought colouring book. We have equations that describe, well enough, the evolution of the universe, and to trust in the holiness of my vision would be no less a folly than to mistake an equation for history, or even to love a flag.
The greatest advantage of this state of encompassing benevolent pity is perhaps that it allows greater charity towards the words and actions of others. Bear in mind, however, that I am starting from an illusory state. It is not Amor Fati, the embrace of each moment of one’s life. It is a detachment, an overview from almost nowhere. Furthermore, of how much use is it? The world is complex, not all actions are benign (and certainly not all actors) and charity can dull the reactions. Here then is the conundrum. The most charitable are just as blind as the meaner vessels of hate. The higher mind and the narrow mind intersect.
It is true that the world doesn’t have enough charity, in the sense of which I speak of it. Yet charity is also a luxury. If I will exercise charity it will be towards those who are in most need of it. The powerless. The blithe, polite, and comfortable who carelessly reinforce ‘the order of things’ in a world short on justice are not just. Power and its preservation are often unconscious.
The sadness I have is that they who require the most charitable interpretation of their actions are not always able to reciprocate, and – oppressed and fighting for rights and acceptance, in great want of charity towards myself – I do not have the resources to fight them too.
Interpreting with charity is not simply a matter of intention. This is another sense in which my visionary state was an illusion. Goodheartedness is meaningless without acuity. A simple example should suffice: If I were to say “I will be leaving the house in five to ten minutes but I will phone you from the train station.”, a socially perceptive interpretation might be that no assumptions should be made about which train I am getting until I call from the station. The second piece of information overrides the first, pointing to it as a form of polite reassurance, probably an underestimate. Especially if you already know that it generally takes a little longer for me to leave the house than I estimate. In that most polite (and deferent) of societies, that of Japan, to be told that you will have to wait ten minutes can be meaningless. They do not wish to tell you that you will have to wait longer. Of course, one should be careful to be neither too polite nor vague. The world is hard enough to navigate. Good intentions can thus backfire.
In an unjust world, who deserves charity? A Marxist might develop their thought along class lines, and there is something in this. Yet social class is a fine grained thing, in practice, and class alone is insufficient to encompass the nuances of the injustices of the world.
It is sadly often the case that certain people cannot negotiate through the minefield of social interactions. There are just too many mistakes, too much history, perhaps cultural differences, and not enough resources of charity between them. This is just one reason the people en masse fail to align their interests in bringing about revolutionary change.
I think I would wish to be mindful of my compassionate revelation, to accept my mistakes, to forgive everyone, even as there are some who must be overcome or diminished. We are frequently unjust to one another, but being the most charitable in our reaction is not always for the best if we do not have the advantage. If we have the advantage, then perhaps altruism demands the greatest charity in order to redress the balance. That rather depends on one’s ego not being dependent on having the advantage, and that is much rarer than almost everyone thinks.
In the twenty-first century, as society becomes ever more complex, so conservatism, born of a normalising instinct that evolved in small groups, goes into overdrive. Compliance becomes an acceptable goal. Then, Assimilation.
The political “centre”, a self-reinforcing coterie of sheltered and often awkward socially liberal elites, attempt to accommodate everything that has given them their advantages. This includes the very worst of capitalism.
The attempt to encompass all they know, to reconcile the oppressive with their socially liberal attitudes, they interpret as “realistic”. After all, living with these tensions is especially real to them.
Interventionism, being a political “reality” (or, behind the screen, a continuation from colonialism) is justified with falsehoods, from fabricated evidence to the rhetorical appropriation of Socialist principles. The centrists even begin to pander to the racism of the voters they have lost to the right, always convinced that triangulation keeps them on course between two sirens. As suits, they can look to the right and feel ethical, or to the left and feel “in touch with the public.”
They defend, or ignore, the indefensible. They justify atrocities as “pragmatism”. They have the contempt of the left for their lack of principles, their hypocrisy, their authoritarianism, and – ever more- their silence. The public hates them for their hypocrisy and their failures. They must fail after not too long, because the containment of capitalistic excess through appeasement is not achievable: They flatter themselves that they have influence through their alliances with the powerful and unscrupulous. It is they who are corrupted.
The lesser lights, at least, are aware that the centrist faction is both reactionary and at the mercy of bullies. They say to themselves that they are flexible, cognisant of political complexity, when in fact the constant turning of their heads ensures they allow the plight of the vulnerable to worsen in the long term.
“If only we still had power” they say, unaware that their self-interest and lack of integrity can justify anything and will always lead to rejection.
“I believe I did the right thing.” The narcissist’s excuse. As if faith and self-justification were morally relevant.
And for the pleasers, who will always find themselves in the centre with sore necks: deep down, they don’t want too much to change. To be a part of the heady club prevents them facing their awkwardness. The cowardice behind their complicity is hidden from them. They fit in, after a fashion. They even have a little power.
I see them as a grotesque magnification of tensions that of course we have to face on the left. How much are we ourselves prepared to let go of? Where and when we do need to step aside?