Tuesday 10 July 2012

Order in court, order racist order...

Sad to say, we're re-running a very old story  in court this week..

Let's cut to the chase: if a white person uses the word 'black' of a person,  then we could say that the field or the scene is already set, before anyone has got there. That's to say, because of the long history of slavery and racism, 'black' and 'white' are not equal terms or, that they're not in the same position in the league. To say that is not me saying that black and white people are not equal, cannot be equal, should not be equal. By no means. I'm saying that past history has created a hierarchy. How much easier, kinder and nicer things would be if that hierarchy didn't exist. Thankfully, in the modern world, there are places where that hierarchy is less visible or less significant than it has been, in terms of people's personal relationships in love, work and leisure. Or, crucially,  that the hierarchy is forever being challenged

However, what these racist episodes show, is that right in the midst of these apparently improving situations, someone throws into the conversation the word 'black' attached to a string of other abuse. The only function this has - intended or not - is that it draws attention to, and draws on the hierarchy. To be clear, this is not to say that the hierarchy is always the same, or that it isn't challenged and resisted. But because society goes on and on in many ways creating and/or tolerating racism and racist practices, the hierarchy lives on. So when a white person, 'racialises' the abuse, racialises the conversation (ie by bringing blackness into it), it is always for the sole purpose of reminding him- or herself plus whoever they are speaking to that they (the white person) thinks they are higher than black;  as if they are saying without saying it, "At the end of the day, you are defined by your birth, you are defined by your skin colour, and this makes you lower than me." Why else use the word 'black'? As we've been hearing, men aren't short of other abuse, much of it positioning men as superior to women, or at the very least that women aren't entitled to make choices about what to do with their bodies and it's men who have the power to decide that. Or, if you draw attention to a person's appearance, no matter how hurtful and unpleasant that might be, it's probably less connected to a long history of hierarchy - a hierarchy in the racist cases which has  falsely and cruelly claimed that one set of bodily characteristics and culture ('white') justified enslaving, exploiting, murdering and discriminating against another set ('black').

The reason why we keep going round and round the houses on this one, is that far too rarely does the conversation about racism in the world get beyond the very important matters of mistreatment, discrimination, injustice, exploitation, slavery. So, when some people use a 'racist slur' or some such they often say things like: 'But I'm not a racist', or 'It was a joke' or 'I didn't intend it to be a racist insult' or some such. What lies behind that, is that they often seem to think that they weren't meaning to be horrible to all black people or even (incredibly!) to the black person in question. But this is beside the point. It really doesn't matter very much what the white person saying 'black' intended because the moment the word pops out, the white person is saying it from within this league table that was made (and is still being made) before the word was said. And of course, saying the word in this abusive, insulting context serves to strengthen the hierarchy when what we should be doing is challenging, resisting and trying to overcome it.