Seeing things in black and white
There's a certain amount of fear and loathing in the UK media at the moment about the young underclass...and mainly the black underclass. There have been 17 young people killed in knife attacks in London this year, which the government says is actually normal, but the media are now making a big deal out of each attack, and a massive deal if the kid who died was white, particularly if he was white, middle class and connected to showbusiness, because then they can say 'he had such a glittering future ahead of him', which is harder to say if they were working class or black.
There has been a racial subtext to some of the media coverage. Here, for example, is a video by a BNP guy who's a member of the London assembly, calling the killing of Ben Kinsella (a white boy) by four black boys a 'race crime'. He says if he was elected MP, he would 'eradicate' this sort of attack in 'one swift move'. How, by introducing apartheid?
Race is the great unmentionable in our multicultural society. We are, as animals, evolutionarily disposed to distrust outsiders. And, at some stupid primitive level, we tend to distrust outsiders with different colour skins.
And then, the white racist mentality goes, we are particularly suspicious of people who have come to our society from less developed countries, and who seem unable to follow the rules of our society, who seem incapable of adapting to a more civilized existence, in which violence is outlawed and people are expected to control their behaviour and be polite to strangers.
The racist white person looks at the societies where immigrants came from, and looks with fear and loathing at the values of those societies, at Zimbabwe, for example, where mobs go from house to house beating up anyone who doesn't vote for Mugabe.
The white racist might then conclude 'black people come from a continent where highly socially complex societies have not developed after millions of years. Their societies remain smaller, more tribal, more prone to violence, corruption and instability. This may be a product of the climate and environment, which is not so conducive to socially complex societies. But still, the indigeneous humans grew out of that environment and learnt their values and typical ways of behaving from it, so perhaps have difficulty adapting to societies with other climates, and other value systems. Whether this is genetic or cultural, their difficulty at evolving stable and more socially complex societies is clear. And when they come to our society, they often struggle to adapt
to the tough behavioural demands of it, and end up violent or mentally ill.'
What does one say in reply to this racist statement? Obviously it's an inhumane statement, because there is a clear subtext of racial determinism to it. An educated black person may read it, and feel deeply offended and hurt, because the white racist is saying, just because of the colour of their skin, that they are, basically, primitive, wild, savage, incapable of socially integrating. It disregards every black person who's ever made different choices, who's chosen not to follow that path, who's chosen to work hard and improve their situation, against the odds. It disregards human choice and free will, in other words, because it's racially determinist.
That educated black person might say 'first of all, crime and instability happen in poor white neighbourhoods too. Look at the gang wars in Liverpool, for example, or Glasgow. Are Scousers and Scots also genetically incapable of adapting to civilization? The fact that knife crime and gang crime is also a big problem in these communities clearly suggests that these issues are more connected to cultural and socio-economic factors that to anything racially or genetically determined.'
'As to instability in Africa...democracy in Zimbabwe is very young...only 28 years old. Up to that time, the country was ruled (and exploited, some might say) by the British Empire, which kept the country in a state of infantile development, not giving it the opportunity to develop its own social institutions at its own rate. Instead, it imposed the nation state upon tribes who were perhaps not ready to progress to that form of social organization. Violence and instability happen all over the world. The worst violence we saw last century happened in...western Europe. Nothing committed in Zimbabwe compares to the atrocities of Nazi Germany, despite all their white civilization.'
The educated black person might continue: 'Yes, some young black people have difficulty integrating into society. So do some white people. So do some Asians. So do some middle class people. If it's not the working class fighting in the streets, its the middle class starving themselves to death or developing emotional disorders. It's the same thing - emotional difficulty in adapting to civilization. Everyone gets it. It just expresses itself in different forms.'
To which the white racist might reply: 'Yes, but the depressed middle class person doesn't stab anyone else. It's a victimless condition.'
'But they might very well kill themselves. Which is still a loss to society and a waste of human life. Anyway, the difficulties some young people have in integrating is made far, far more difficult by the belief that society is somehow automatically against them because of the colour of their skin, so that nothing they can do will change this negative attitude to them, this primitive suspicion of them, so they will always be second class citizens. If that's the case, then they might as well go off the rails, because what it waiting for them in the future?'
'So it's about changing beliefs?'
'Yeah, it's about changing beliefs. The young black person's belief that nothing good will ever happen to them, that they are second class citizens, that everyone is judging them and putting them down and not giving them respect. Take Alexandra, the young black Londoner who was on Big Brother. Look how brittle she is, how quick to take offence, how quick to fly off the handle. It's because she has very low self-esteem and thinks any criticism of her is a deep personal insult which must be revenged. Look how quickly she gets extremely offensive and aggressive, to the pointof actually threatening to shoot someone, despite the fact that, paradoxically, she says she feels there's 'a lack of courtesy and respect in the house':
So young people like Alexandra need to learn to respect and value themselves, even when or if others put them down. At the moment, on the street, it seems like a more medieval view of honour - if someone disrespects you, that is a blot on your honour until you revenge yourself somehow, by disrespecting or attacking them. This is how, for example, the Spanish aristocracy thought in the Renaissance, which is why they were constantly duelling and stabbing each other.
And this sort of extra-judicial violence had to be banned as civilization progressed. You had to move to a higher value system, where people can say 'just because that person insulted me, it doesn't really hurt me unless I think their judgment is valid or important. True strength lies in controlling myself rather than revenging myself. If I get angry and revenge myself, that is implying that their judgement of me is somehow important, or even accurate. I am a warrior if I remain in control of myself, not if I lose it.'
'OK fine, that's how the young person thinks. But what about the rest of society. Must we just wait while our young people struggle to adapt and kill themselves in the process?'
'No, white racist society has to change its beliefs as well.'
'Why, we did nothing wrong?'
'Your beliefs, your primitive suspicion of and prejudice against other ethnicities are a barrier to their successful integration into society, as much as their anger and resentment.'
'So how do I change my beliefs?'
'Learn to value human beings as individuals. How would you feel if someone, when they looked at you, saw you as just a white man, or just a middle class person, or just an Englishman or whatever? If they automatically judged you, before you opened your mouth, and put you in a box? They would be denying your individuality. Denying you, in fact. You'd be indignant, outraged. So don't do the same to others. Grant them the same respect, as free individuals, as you expect yourself.'
'But we're not just individuals, are we? We're also products of particular cultures. So in this sense, I am a white, middle class Englishman, part of that culture.'
'Then get to know black culture. Understand the socio-economic forces that shape it, and how the individual and group spirit tries to cope with these forces. Face your fears. Overcome your ignorance. Have the courage to treat other humans as humans, rather than as categories or stereotypes.'
'How do I do that?"
'Meet some, fool!'
'I don't know any black people.'
'Well how come you seem so sure in your opinion of them?!'
'If you don't know any, then at least get to know their culture.'
'Yeah, but it's all bling bling and gangster rap, isn't it? All 'I'm the best, I'm going to kill you, I'm going to fuck that bitch'.
'Yeah, gangster rap has got pretty big in the last 15 years, you're right. Mainly because it has stopped being a music made for black communities, and started being a global phenomenon mainly bought by white middle class kids who want to slum it and imagine they're a gangster, like playing Grand Theft Auto. Go out and listen to some proper hip-hop, some Kanye West, or Common, some Naz or KRS One.'
'I'm not really into rap.'
'OK, go and watch some black comedy.'
'Not Lenny Henry, please...'
'Forget Lenny Henry, go watch some Dave Chappelle. Here's some.'
'And watch The Wire. Watch that shit right now. That'll make you understand what it was like if destiny decided to make you born in a ghetto rather than some nice rich neighbourhood.'
'Everyone is always telling me to watch The Wire.'
'Then watch it! And go to the NFT, and watch a film called Killer of Sheep. Greatest African-American film ever made. If that doesn't make you capable of empathizing what it's like to grow up in the ghetto, nothing will. Because that's what racism is. A failure of imagination, a failure of empathy, and a failure of sympathy. Which means you're less of a human.'
'OK, OK, I get it.'