“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” ― Elie Wiesel
THE subjugation of one human being by another is something which has eaten at me for as long as I can remember, and is the main reason why I am a socialist and a pacifist.
That abuse of power shows itself in so many ways in our ever expanding world and not least by the innate racism that exists in white Western society.
Here in the UK, UKIP and many Conservative politicians seem determined to make the current General Election campaign revolve around the issue of immigration and fear of foreigners.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has singled out Romanians, and immigrants from other former Warsaw Pact countries, as “scroungers” and “criminals” who are taking “British jobs from British people” and putting pressure on our NHS and housing supply.
It is the sort of racist scapegoating we have witnessed time and again in this country since end of World War 2.
Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others.
Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and during economic downturns.
You only need to look at the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s or the atrocities meted out today by Zionist Israel to Palestinians, to see the dire consequences if racism is left unchallenged.
But here I am not talking about the overt racism exhibited by Bibi Netanyahu or Nigel Farage, or even the so-called ‘institutional racism’ within some of our national institutions, such as the police. But I am looking at a deeper racism which exists within almost all of us born white and British.
It exists due to 800 years of our collective history as a colonial and Christian power, hell-bent on exporting our values, religion and control on other nations.
And it exists because our collective media does nothing to challenge it.
In 2001, I was working as chief investigative reporter on The Chronicle – a daily tabloid newspaper in Newcastle upon Tyne. On 11 September, I returned from a routine job in the town to watch in horror – on the newsroom TV – the atrocities of 9/11 unfold in front of our eyes, some 3,000 miles away in New York and Virginia.
The next day, the newspaper’s senior management determined that all employees should stand and observe two minutes silence for the innocent victims of the terror attack.
Not because I did not feel pain or sympathy for those victims, but because my company had never observed even one minute’s silence for the hundreds of thousands killed by Allied military action in Iraq in 1991, the one million murdered in Rwanda, or the thousands killed in Bosnia, just a few years earlier.
Instead I went to the newsroom toilet, sat in a cubicle and cried.
The newspaper’s reaction to 9/11 – and the wall to wall media coverage over the ensuing months – typified everything I had witnessed in my previous 16 years in journalism.
Now, almost 14 years later, nothing has changed.
If I take Bosnia, Iraq and Rwanda out of the equation, a few other examples may clarify what I mean:
- Three French skiers are lost in an avalanche in the Alps. The next day there are lengthy reports in most UK national newspapers. Each of the victims is named and in-depth family stories are written.
- A lone gunman goes berserk and kills children in a US high school. The next day it is front page news in almost every newspaper in the UK and Europe. In depth analysis of the gunman and tributes to each of the victims and their families ensues.
- A mad man kills hostages in an Australian restaurant. It is front pages news in every newspaper in the UK, USA and Europe. Extensive coverage about the killer and each of his victims finds itself across western media.
- An earthquake in Northern Pakistan kills thousands of inhabitants. Over the ensuing weeks there is barely a mention in any UK or western newspapers.
- Tens of thousands of innocent civilians are murdered by US and UK bombing in Afghanistan. But there are few reports of these atrocities in UK and western newspapers.
- Flooding in Bangladesh kills thousands of people. Over the following weeks there are just a few lines in UK broadsheet newspapers.
- Currently we are reading reports about 700 African migrants who drowned when a boat they were in capsized off the Libyan coast. There has been plenty of news about how the accident happened and who is to “blame”, but no attempt by any British newspaper to name the migrants or find out a little about who they were and the grieving families they leave behind.
You don’t need a microscope to see the differences in the reaction and news reporting. It has nothing to do with distance from our shores. It is all to do with white western values.
So our news media – even enlightened newspapers like the Independent and The Guardian – value the life and story of an English speaking suited, white, Western person quite differently to that of an African black or Urdu speaking Asian person.
We give ‘ours’ names, identities and lives, but the ‘others’ just nationality, religion and race. It is so much easier to avoid reporting the lives and deaths of these people if we don’t identify them as human beings the same as us.
This innate racism runs deep and has been entrenched more deeply with the Islamophobia which has perpetuated within Western society since 2001.
The white mass murderer, Norwegian, Anders Brevik is reported simply as a ‘madman killer’ – despite the fact he was a zealot Christian with a white supremacist agenda.
In contrast any killing carried out by a person of even dubious Muslim faith is reported as the act of an Islamist Extremist!
Sorry for the pun, but it is clear black and white racism.
But we have 800 years to overcome.
Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Portugal have been colonialists since the so-called Holy Crusades to Jerusalem in the 13th century, the colonial exploitation of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries, to the dissection of Africa, South America and Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Our imperialist ancestors conquered peaceful countries, imposed western values and Christianity upon them, murdered millions and took millions more into slavery.
And over the past 100 years we have been joined by our ‘allies’ the USA, which since the end of World War 2 has bombed: China 1945-46, Korea 1950-53, China 1950-53, Guatemala 1954, Indonesia 1958, Cuba 1959-60, Guatemala 1960, Belgian Congo 1964, Guatemala 1964, Dominican Republic 1965-66, Peru 1965, Laos 1964-73, Vietnam 1961-73, Cambodia 1969-70, Guatemala 1967-69, Lebanon 1982-84, Grenada 1983-84, Libya 1986, El Salvador 1981-92, Nicaragua 1981-90, Iran 1987-88, Libya 1989, Panama 1989-90, Iraq 1991, Kuwait 1991, Somalia 1992-94, Bosnia 1995, Iran 1998, Sudan 1998, Afghanistan 1998, Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003, Libya 2011 and Syria 2014.
Our nations have sown war and hatred all over the world – now there is a heavy harvest.
As a white English father I despair for the future for my children and the children of Palestine, Africa, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen and anywhere that is deemed by a Western government to be a target.
At the core of any working definition of racism is the unspoken ingredient of fear.
People around the world all belong to the same human race; they share the same tendencies to fear, domination, and subjugation.
We need to let everyone know, we are the same, no matter what language we speak, whatever the colour of our skin or the religion we follow.
Maybe, I am lucky.
I live in Wolverhampton in the English West Midlands. It is a city which basks in multi-culturism. It was the bed of much Afro Caribbean immigration in the 1950s. This was followed by immigration from Pakistan and India in the 1960s and 1970s.
Now decades later, those with black, brown and coffee coloured skin mix, work, play and even marry those with white skin.
Currently there are 22,000 Sikhs, 11,000 Muslims and 7,000 Hindis in Wolverhampton. But there is no racial or religious tension.
Within a mile of my house there is a Hindi temple, a Buddhist temple, two Sikh temples, a central Mosque and at least seven Christian churches of various denominations.
Most of those with Asian or African ancestry are now third or even fourth generation immigrants and speak English as their first language, often with a thick Wolves’ accent, that Noddy Holder would recognise as his own.
But, I am not pretending it has always been like this.
I live in the parliamentary constituency which was once the seat of overt Conservative racist MP Enoch Powell (1950-74), and there has been a later history of National Front and BNP activity in the area.
But most of their racial fear, or as Powell put it: “the rivers of blood” of immigration, has now passed.
Now most inhabitants of our city realise that under the skin and religion, we are all the same… we are all human beings struggling to make a living and make sense of our lives.
Maybe Mr Farage needs to live in Wolverhampton for a year… he may even grow to like the amazing Asian restaurants and wonderful grocery shops which can be found in many side streets.
But to breakthrough this fear and innate racism we need to start regarding the inhabitants of Asian, African and even Eastern European countries in the same was we view Americans, French people or Italians.
I’ll make a start with five dear friends…
- Komal, 20, is a young trainee doctor, currently studying at medical college in northern Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
She is so much like my own daughter Rhia, who is also studying medicine in Edinburgh.
Like Rhia, Komal gets homesick for her parents, some 150 miles away, and suffers other problems that students in their first year away from home at university all have to endure: revision overload, boring weekends, moody room-mates, dodgy showers and equally dodgy food!
Komal is the most western of all my Asian friends both in her dress sense, her passion for nail varnish and make-up, and her wacky sense of humour.
Although Urdu and Punjabi are her first languages, she was taught English at a very early age and speaks it fluently.
Komal longs to visit her brother, who is at university in the UK and see more of the world.
She may live 4,000 miles away – close to where the US bombed the shit out of villages murdering thousands of similar young girls – but she could equally live next door.
Komal is a very dear friend, full of laughter and mischief, and in so many ways is the daughter I never had.
- Daniyal, 21, is an electrical engineer and lives in the Punjab region of north Pakistan.
He is an amazing and highly intelligent young man. As a devout Muslim he holds strong religious and political opinions about the state of the world. He says: “Religion is very important in my life. It is the primary criteria guiding judgements in all spheres of my life.”
And like many people, both in Asia and the UK, he holds the US to blame for its carpet bombing of Afghanistan and the rise of Islamic extremists.
He describes himself as an “Islamic Revolutionary Activist”.
But behind that serious façade, Daniyal revels in computer programing. He also loves reading about history and western novels and cites Harry Potter and Dan Brown among his favourites.
He may not drink beer (it’s against his religion) but in every other way he is much like many British 21 year-old guys.
- Hannah, 33, is a teacher of primary-aged children and a mother of two. She lives and works in a small town in Bhutan in the foothills of the Himalayas.
She is a bubbly person and is devoted to her husband and family. She is a Hindu – which is a minority religion in her native country (most are Buddhists) and admits she is not as active within her religious community as she would like to be. She loves western culture and politics and is currently following the UK general election via the internet.
“This Mr Farage does not seem to be a very nice fellow, and seems wrapped up in his own little white world,” she says, “But I like your Mr Miliband, he always seems cheerful and has a lovely smile.”
Hannah’s other big passion are Hollywood movies. “I like so many of your movies I can’t count, but I do love the Twilight Saga and the Hunger Games especially,” she says, “Anything with Will Smith or Robert Pattinson does it for me!”
She adds: “I have never tasted popcorn, so my wish is to visit the UK, go to a cinema, watch a great movie and eat popcorn!”
- I have been close friends with Monika and Gigi, who live in northern Romania for almost 25 years, since my mum and my aunt visited their local orphanages following the fall of the Communist dictatorship of Ceaușescu in 1989.
Monika is a laboratory technician and Gigi an engineer – both highly skilled within their professions. But they live on a meagre wage and still work an allotment on the outskirts of town, so they have enough vegetables to survive each winter.
They adore the UK and even have a room in their home with a huge Union Flag and a picture of our queen on the wall. They are the most loving and adorable family I have ever known and although they have the chance to move to the UK for a much better standard of living, they have stayed in their home country.
“Things are slowly improving here,” says Monika, “There is still a lot of poverty, but we see more choice and more prospects around us, particularly for our son’s generation.”
Yet these are the same people that Nigel Farage and his UKIP cronies demonise as “criminals” and “scroungers”!
- Another good friend is Shabbu, a 25 year-old dentist who lives and works in a small town in sub-tropical south east India.
Shabbu is a devout Urdu-speaking Muslim and wears a hijab, which she says make her feel secure at work and in everyday life. Her faith is the corner-stone to her life, but that doesn’t stop her having a quirky ‘Western’ sense-of-humour and a delight in Cadbury’s chocolate, photography, beautiful natural landscapes and breathtaking quotations. She still lives at home with her mum and dad and looks brightly to the future and the day when she will have a family of her own.
She is the same as most other twenty-something British women.
I will close with one of my favourite passages of text:
“Once upon a time they was two girls,” I say. “One girl had black skin, one girl had white.” Mae Mobley look up at me. She listening. “Little coloured girl say to little white girl, ‘How come your skin be so pale?’ White girl say, ‘I don’t know. How come your skin be so black? What you think that mean?’ “But neither one a them little girls knew. So little white girl say, ‘Well, let’s see. You got hair, I got hair.'”I gives Mae Mobley a little tousle on her head. “Little coloured girl say ‘I got a nose, you got a nose.'”I gives her little snout a tweak. She got to reach up and do the same to me. “Little white girl say, ‘I got toes, you got toes.’ And I do the little thing with her toes, but she can’t get to mine cause I got my white work shoes on. “‘So we’s the same. Just a different colour’, say that little coloured girl. The little white girl she agreed and they was friends. The End.”