Sunday, January 21, 2007

Alf Garnett is not the only racist

‘Is this racism?’ This is a question that has been oft-repeated over the past week. It is asked because in the questioner’s mind, there is only one kind of racism: Alf Garnett’s. That is, blatant, up front, no holds barred racism. But as most people on the receiving end know, Alf Garnett is not the only racist in the land.

So let us now, with thanks to Celebrity Big Brother, introduce a second prototype of racism: Jade Goody’s. This is not about the individual as much as it is about what it represents within our culture which is obsessed with language and symbolism. That is, this is not racism as the racist individual – Alf Garnett – but racism as culture.

The racism that has been shown on the TV screens for the last week or so is the racism that is present in British society today. It is a generalised, less-directed, more cultural form of racism that views others as unclean, threatening and different in a dislikeable sort of way. But this view towards difference is not unfamiliar to many. I have been surprised how the scenes from the TV programme have brought back childhood memories of racism amongst friends. It has certainly touched a raw nerve.

The worrying aspect is that Jade Goody is 25 years old, she was 15 when New Labour came in to power. As such, she is a product of New Labour’s Britain. So are the other two who joined in the racist bullying with her. And I cannot think of any time since the launch of the MacPherson report that racism has been so extensively discussed in British society. And so the detour through Ouseley and Cantle has led us to where we are today, back at square one. (The commentators who have come out to defend racism or apologise through idiocy are the same commentators such as Rod Liddle and Carol Sarler who have made much of the cultural difference argument in these past few years.)

So as Tony Blair examines his legacy over a decade of policy, one thing he can consider is the lack of progress in anti-racism that has been shown up so clearly this week.