Wednesday, 27 February 2013

On Tolerance and Racism

I've tried for the longest time to get my head around the overt racism and race relations in the UK. I find that people will often say the most offensive things to me, mistakenly assuming that because I am South African I will be racist too. My opinion has always been that it is not that people in the UK have become less racist, more tolerant or accepting of others, but that they've learned to hide their views better.

In this article on institutional racism in the police force, Adam Elliott-Cooper seems to make a similar point.

"The ‘unlearning’ of racism and other forms of discrimination is still rather like a primary school teacher instructing a group of pre-adolescents not to swear. The teacher tells the children which words are unacceptable, and that they may be punished if they do not comply. Equality training generally focuses on learning which words relating to race, ethnicity, gender, physical ability or sexual orientation are/are not offensive to the apparently over-sensitive social group(s) to which they relate." - The Voice, "Anti-Racism Has Been Reduced To Politically Correct Exercise"

It seems to me that in light of this, campaigns such as the one to wipe out racism in sports are always going to miss the mark. Don't get me wrong, I think they are fantastic and necessary. However, the lesson people seem to be learning is to tolerate people of other races (or genders or other minorities) until they fall out of line, in which case they are open to abuse. And that abuse almost always takes the form of heightening and focusing on their race, gender or other assumed defining factors.

At the heart of this is the arrogance in thinking that whiteness is the norm, in casting people as "other" and assuming some fictional right to pass such judgements. Surely it is time to abandon the idea of tolerance?

I don't know what the answer is but I have observed something that was present in South Africa but seems to be missing in the UK. I don't know whether it is political correctness, but in my circles in South Africa, we celebrated each others cultures. I worked with Muslims, Hindis, Tamils, Jews, Catholics and Baptists as well as members of the ZCC and NGK. My colleagues spoke Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, English and Afrikaans. We absolutely learned and appreciated religious holidays, cultures, customs in births, deaths, marriages and naming of children. More than anything, this taught me respect and understanding, appreciation and consideration for others.

While I wish this were infinitely more eloquent, my rather long-winded point is that we learned acceptance and an appreciation of other people's race, religion, creed and culture. While that will never erase the power and class differentials in South Africa, while it can never come close to closing the gap created by Apartheid, it seems to me to be a far better starting point than tolerance and implicit transience of that tolerance.

© A Passion to Understand

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