Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'm not being racist but.........................

This is a favourite phrase up and down Britain when someone wants to say something vaguely racist, while hoping not to offend.

Typical examples could include "I'm not being racist but don't you think there are too many Poles here now" or "I'm not being racist but I wouldn't fancy flying Air India".

It is as if people have evolved their conversation style into one suitable for a politically correct climate, whilst in actual fact carrying on much as before.It is hopelessly misguided to think all racism disappeared in England just because we got rid of a few biggoted comedians off BBC1 that were popular in the 1970s.

I have always been of the opinion that a bit of race or nationality related banter is far healthier than pretending race doesn't exist. This may partly stem from the fact that for one year I went to a boarding school that included Germans, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Kuwaitis and a very large contingent of Hong Kong Chinese in addition to some more homegrown boarders. At around 16 years of age there is little room for politeness and political correctness. Occasionally offensive comments were made but in the main it was good natured and I felt I actually learned more about different nationalities and races than I would have if the atmosphere had been more constrained.

The UK (and for that matter the US) seem very constrained in their references to race these days. A friend of mine actually once renamed the family cat from "blackie" to something else in response to a black in-law visiting. All went well until the grandmother of the family loudly told "blackie" off for misbehaving. There was embarrassed silence all round and bafflement from the visitor why the cat was being called something different in his honour.

Good race relations come out of mutual respect and tolerance, rather than silence and insincere politeness.

I feel inclined to give Michael Richards (or Kramer out of Seinfeld) the benefit of the doubt for his much reported outburst in Los Angeles. He didn't use language you'd want to hear at a wedding party but in a raucous comedy club, I think he can be forgiven one outburst on what sounded a difficult night. Such words are not to be encouraged but should be forgiven particularly where the underlying character of the man is known to be good.

I think when we are told never to mention race, the potential for an explosive outburst of frustration increases. Laughter is a great uniter and far more so than pious political correctness.

I was occasional called "white this" and "white that" by fellow international pupils at boarding school and it hasn't left me scarred. Look to a man's actions, not just his words. Seinfeld was never the home of Nazis, although maybe the odd "Soup Nazi".......

PS Maybe I'm a little biased because Seinfeld is one of my very favourite comedies of all time :-)

This post had to be reposted due to an inappropriate comment being made. I did not have comment moderation set up which I now do. While I am fully in favour of free speech there is no need for offensive language.

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