As I’ve blogged often, the intellectual collapse of the left in recent decades has left me bereft of a political home, forced to re-evaluate my beliefs in the absence of a tribe I can belong to. The idiot new left, having noticed that brown people are less wealthy than white people (on average), has made that most basic of all mistakes: confusing correlation with causation, and has decided that the economic dominance of Europeans in recent centuries is all about racism.
A month ago, I was at a weekend music festival with seven friends, all black (as I’ve explained before, I’ve long been accustomed to the role of token whitey). Misreading a headline on my phone, I announced that Jeremy Clarkson had been sacked by the BBC for – allegedly – mouthing the word “nigger”. My friends’ reaction was an immediate groan: yet another dumb, politically-correct decision made by rich white people in the name of protecting the feelings of black people. It’s not, of course, that black people enjoy being racially abused: but such abuse is, in fact, incredibly rare. There is a huge difference between having “nigger” shouted at you in the street by a stranger and having it said as part of a nursery rhyme. This is a difference that black people tend to understand, and the white middle classes tend not to. Similarly, no black people (to my knowledge) were offended when a radio DJ accidentally played a tune containing the word (for which he was sacked) or when a One Direction band member affectionately called a friend “nig”.
Let’s not be under any illusion: the white media and political establishment has not, all of a sudden, become the champion of black people’s feelings. Indeed, by blurring the lines between genuine race hate and words that they deem to be “racist”, they are setting back the cause of race relations by years. When I attended marches and came face-to-face with the thugs of the National Front, Combat 18, the British Movement and the British National Party, I don’t remember being supported by hordes of Oxbridge-educated BBC executives; and yet today, the white British elite dares to tell me, and others who risked our necks to clear racism from our streets, what words we may or may not use, regardless of the context.
There is no such thing as a “racist word”. There is racism for sure, and there are words that might have racist connotations depending on context, but in their irrational fetishisation of mere words, politically-correct cretins have opened the door wide for racists to operate with free rein. The rise of political correctness – which is itself a politically-correct term for censorship – has been a victory for the far right.
UKIP can thank the white middle-class left for its rise. Nigel Farage must laugh daily at the ease with which he can navigate the rules of political correctness: each time a UKIP councillor says a “racist word”, he expels them. And yet he can easily formulate genuinely racist messages that pass the moronic PC check-list. Whether Farage himself is racist (he probably is) is irrelevant. What’s important is that he has mastered what the Americans call “dog-whistle politics”. He is the master of rallying society’s bigots without breaching the “don’t say naughty words” rules. Can’t say “nigger” or “paki”? No problem – just hint that the “complexion” of our society is changing, or that “somebody” from “somewhere” is taking your job.
What is most perplexing is that the left’s spokespeople on race are those members of society that have the least experience of it. The white middle classes are the most ignorant on racial matters; and yet, because the middle class possesses an immense self-confidence in its own abilities (and quietly scorns the lower classes that it claims to defend), somehow the liberal narrative on race and immigration has been written by those who least understand these issues.
When I was active in the anti-racist movement, it wasn’t like this. The unions formed the bedrock of the mainstream left, and unions (love them or loathe them) were the very bodies that encompassed working people of all races. Long before the ascent of moronic political correctness, the most powerful black man in Britain was Bill Morris, who led the mighty Transport and General Workers’ Union and then the Trades Union Congress.
The Blairification of the Labour Party made the party acceptable to the middle classes, and won it a generation in power; but simultaneously, it removed the party from its bedrock working class support. Now, none of the big parties could understand working class resentments, and now, UKIP has filled the vacuum.
Today, political leaders are being urged to “talk about immigration”: but this is euphemism for accepting the far-right position that immigration has damaged society, and must be reined in. Yes, we must have an honest discussion about immigration if we are to see off the rising threat from the far right: and for that to happen, the moronic censorship rules of political correctness must be stripped away. The narrative must be wrenched away from pompous, privileged commentators and the voices of those who have been most affected by immigration must be heard.
Let’s talk about immigration.
Fact 1: Immigration changes working class communities
When, a century ago, Jews flooded into the East End of London, the locals had never encountered anything like them. They were alien people with strange ways of talking, a bizarre religion, and weird food. Despite being white, they clearly looked different from English locals. The animosity that flared between Jews and locals was hardly surprising. Of course, the upper classes scorned the fascist street thugs; but they also scorned the Jews. The same happened in the 1950s, when certain, poor parts of British cities – such as Notting Hill and Brixton – rapidly filled up with black people. The Notting Hill race riots of 1958 blew up because poor white people were confronted with a culture they had never encountered, and left by the establishment to deal with it. The problem was solved, not by PC language policing imposed from above, but by the community itself. The Notting Hill Carnival (in my humble opinion, the world’s best party) is the lasting result of that. The same happened in Bradford in 2001, when working class communities had to deal with an influx of Asians. Communities can resolve these problems, so long as government responds to ensure that housing, health and education services cope with the new population. Political correctness makes the problem worse: When the sneering PC response is to tell people not to say “Paki”, when they are facing rapid changes to their communities and ways of life, the effect is to drive traditional Labour voters to embrace the far-right.
The message: yes, immigration has directly affected your community. This doesn’t make immigration a bad thing, but the authorities must take heed of your worries and problems.
Fact 2: Non-white people can be racist
Perhaps the single most ludicrous position of the politically-correct elite is to declare that only white people can be racist. This point (rightly) enrages people who live in areas of high immigration, and know from their own experiences that white people can be, and are, the targets of bigotry. It is a statement that can only be made by privileged white people who have had little, if any, contact with black or Asian communities. If any single sentence can be blamed for the rise of the BNP, the EDL and UKIP, it is this one. The truth is simple: some people are hateful morons, and those people exist in every community. To decide that a violent assault is more or less acceptable depending on who threw the punch, and who received it, is the height of idiotic thinking; and yet this appears to be the default position of today’s left. Those white people like me, who have spent much of their lives as a white minority in black communities know that there are a few people who hate us for the colour of our skin, not the content of our minds. When many Somalis migrated to the UK, it was primarily the black British community that resented their arrival, and violence between the groups was common. When I was at school, some black people turned on “Pakis”, pleased to find common cause with white skinheads. Many people in mixed relationships have learned that they experience far more bigotry from black people than from whites. This isn’t the “understandable” result of “racial oppression”, as too many white liberals appear to believe. It’s racism.
The message: No group is free from racial bigotry. Any victim of racism is as worthy of support as any other. This includes white people.
Fact 3: Free speech is ESSENTIAL
As the left has become increasingly dominated by the white middle classes, its messages have become increasingly ludicrous, and irrelevant to society as a whole. The new generation of left-wing journalists is called upon to comment on everything. Privileged white Oxbridge graduates from the shires write comment pieces on every subject under the sun, including race – a subject with which they surely have little direct experience. Even when they attempt to take on board working class views, they come across as patronising and ignorant. When editors select black commentators, they tend to pick those who will repeat the standard white narrative. The banning of “offensive” words has crippled the ability of the left to counter the UKIP threat. I urge those with politically-correct sensibilities to listen to the excellent N Word from the rap artist Greydon Square. As the introduction says: “There is no such thing as the N Word… the word is Nigger… how can we get past the word when we can’t even say it?”
The message: UKIP will not be countered by banning words. Political correctness has been the greatest friend of the far-right. It must go.
Fact 4: Some people have been disadvantaged by immigration
Economists are clear: immigration is a boon to economies. London, by far the greatest home to immigrants in the UK, is also by far the wealthiest city. This is not a coincidence. However, there have been both winners and losers. A bricklayer friend was clear to me that his wages dropped after mass immigration began from Poland. Prostitutes tell a similar story. This is not a reason to stop immigration; but the authorities must respond, identify those people who have lost out, and find strategies to help them. Scrapping university tuition fees for affected groups might be one of many ways to address the problem. One of the many disastrous legacies of Blairism was to close the door to working class people entering higher education.
The message: We accept immigration has not been a win for everyone.
Fact 5: Immigration is a good thing: long may it continue!
And once we’ve dispensed with the mealy-mouthed bullshit that has characterised the race debate for decades, we can make our case loud and clear. Immigration has enriched our culture. Immigration has enriched our economy. Sure, there have been inevitable cultural clashes, but these can be managed, as such clashes have been in the past. Yes, there have been losers, but we are richer as a society, and can afford the welfare state and education system that we need to fix these short-term problems. But ultimately immigration can and will continue, and will continue to make our country a better place to live. Let’s face it: much of the UKIP vote came from people least affected by mass migration. It came from the whitest areas of the country, and the older, more conservative individuals. It is an ultra-conservative reaction to inevitable change. We can sympathise with those who fear change, while pointing out that they’re wrong, they’re ignorant, and they will inevitably lose.
Possibly because it’s Black History Month (US/Canada), I’m seeing a burst of Facebook discussions among my black friends on that old favourite: why do black communities underperform others? Various economic, education and health metrics still demonstrate large gaps between black and other populations, and inevitably people wonder why. The old white supremacist explanation – that black people are simply biologically inferior – has gradually faded from grace in recent decades, although this idea is often still hinted at.
Discussion among black people tends to swing between blaming others (it’s caused by racism/colonialism/the aftermath of slavery/etc.) and blaming themselves (why don’t black people invest in each other like Indians and Jews seem to do?) Meanwhile, many white liberals tend to blame racism and colonialism while simultaneously showing an almost colonial lack of faith in black societies to sort out problems for themselves.
It appears to me though that the truth is better, and the outlook more optimistic than any of these viewpoints might consider. I admit that I long supported the “white guilt” viewpoint. The Caribbean Londoners I grew up with undoubtedly suffered greatly from racism and police brutality. They also lagged far behind white people in educational achievement and economic success. There was an obvious correlation between race and disadvantage; many people (me included) therefore assumed that one was the cause of the other. But of course, assuming causation from correlation is the oldest mistake in the book.
It was my own black friends who helped set me straight on this, pointing out that they had escaped council estates, made careers and raised stable families, despite experiencing persistent racism. From their micro-perspective, the difference was clear: those whose families valued literacy and education succeeded. Those who came from families that placed little value on education did not.
The disparities between different racial groups should cast doubt on the idea that racism causes communities to fail. In the 1930s, Jews faced immense prejudice. They were also mostly economic migrants, and lacked capital. And yet many – including both of my grandfathers – opened businesses and moved out of the East End ghetto into the suburbs.
The Caribbean immigrants who began arriving in the late-1940s did not follow the same pattern of success as the Jews. But the East African Asians who fled Uganda in the 1970s did. The Pakistanis who came later did not do so well. But the West Africans who came in the 1980s and 1990s did better.
What kind of “racism” is so selective? When Indian and Chinese children do better in school than whites, but Pakistanis and Bengalis do worse, how can anti-Asian racism be blamed? And now, West Africans (mostly from Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone) outperform white children but children originating in the Caribbean do not. How can this be explained by anti-black racism? In short, it can’t.
I attended the “blackest” school in the UK, where around 75% of the kids were first or second generation immigrants from the Caribbean. While some of the Caribbean migrants had come from educated, middle class homes, the majority didn’t. Many of my school friends left school with scant literacy and no qualifications. Many of their parents too were semi-literate, having come from rural island communities to take up work as bus conductors. Today, I still have friends in their 40s and 50s who have limited literacy.
This generation of black Londoners faced savage racism in the 1970s and 1980s, especially from the police; they also were excluded, by their lack of qualifications, from universities and well paid jobs. It was easy to combine the two things in folklore: to say that Babylon (the Rastafarian word for the white power structure) would never offer opportunities to black people. This was easy to believe. I believed this. To add to the confusion, black British people compared their position to that of black Americans and South Africans. This was deeply inaccurate; Britain never had racial segregation laws or traditions to overturn. The racism may have been superficially similar, but the political reality was incomparable.
But when, starting in the 1990s, many West African immigrants breezed into universities and professional jobs, it became clear that this racial model of British society was wrong. I had to question my own beliefs, forged among the afro-centric viewpoints I absorbed in my teens. When a Nigerian friend graduated as an accountant and invited me to her awards ceremony, I saw a new British reality. Expecting to see a line-up dominated by Jews and Indians, I instead saw Chinese, Nigerian and Ghanaian graduates collecting their certificates.
So does the black British community have a problem? The question is meaningless. There is no coherent black community. Grouping people together based on their skin colour is nonsensical, and indicates a racist world view. The key deciding factor in a person’s economic success in the UK is their level of literacy and education. It turns out that working class black people originating from the Caribbean have far more in common, economically, with white British people than they do with those of West African origin. The same applies to those immigrants from rural Pakistan versus those from urban India.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem with racism – this is still alive and well, and the rise of UKIP reveals a strong xenophobic streak in British society. For black parents wondering how to give their children the greatest chance of success, the answer is the same as for any other parent: teach them to read and write young, to behave at school, and to develop a thirst for lifelong learning. And most of all, tell them that the colour of their skin is no excuse for failure.
Growing up in the political hotbed of 1980s Cold War London, I found myself among interesting people. The African National Congress, after being banned in the 1950s, had set up a leadership-in-exile, based in London and Amsterdam. One of my teenage friends was the son of senior ANC exiles, a couple who had fled South Africa when the clampdown on the ANC began – including the jailing of the activist lawyer Nelson Mandela.
My friend, and other children of the ANC leadership, tried to be normal teenagers, but that must have been hard. I was warned to keep phone conversations with him minimal and to the point: their phone was almost certainly bugged by British intelligence which, despite our nation’s professed love of “freedom”, was working to monitor and help the South African government suppress the ANC. These children of the ANC had been raised in London, but groomed for political leadership when they one day returned to a country they had never visited. They also had to endure their parents leaving on long, secret trips to southern African countries, from which they might never return.
When Mandela walked free, my friend’s parents returned to South Africa, his father becoming a government minister in the first ANC government. My friend moved to Johannesburg shortly afterwards, was offered a diplomatic career, but decided to follow other paths.
Mandela, like many leaders of oppressed people, showed immense bravery and self-sacrifice. He famously spent 27 years in prison for his “seditious” activities, and refused to leave until a transition to democracy was assured. But Mandela differed from other revolutionary heroes: he tamed his people’s justifiable thirst for revenge, and instead crafted a new, multiracial South Africa; he taught a love of democracy and racial tolerance; he stood down from power rather than try to cling on to the bitter end, like so many other African revolutionary heroes had done. He refused to repeat the mistakes of earlier African independence movements which had angrily expelled the white and Asian elites, only to lose their most educated people and wealthiest investors.
Racists and white supremacists hate Mandela more than any other black leader because he didn’t just outperform other black leaders: he has a valid claim to be named as the greatest national leader of the 20th century. Neither of the great Western “heroes” of the 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher can remotely compare.
Yes, the ANC’s acts of resistance included acts of terrorism. But ANC atrocities are tiny compared to the real terrorism of that era. South African forces repeatedly gunned down civilians, including school children. The South African, US and UK governments supported far greater acts of terrorism in Mozambique and Angola, as they tried to stamp out the ANC’s fighters. How ironic that Mandela, a creator of democracy, was labelled a terrorist by the terrorists – Thatcher and Reagan – who crushed democracy and free speech in the name of freedom.
Mandela rose above all the world leaders of his generation. It is testament to his greatness that the people and newspapers that labelled him a menace in the 1980s are today lining up to praise him.
“But Mandela wasn’t a saint”, people are saying. So what? Both right and left revel in the simplistic idea that the world divides easily into good and bad people. His early activism, his time in prison, his ascent to the Presidency, his founding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, his creation of a stable nation where most others would have created war and misery; all these things mark him out as far greater than his peers. He wasn’t a superman. He was a human being. But he was a remarkable human being.
“But look at South Africa now”. It’s easy to cherry-pick bad things in the country today. Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, was easily convinced that AIDS was not caused by the HIV virus, and effectively killed hundreds of thousands of people by suspending treatment programmes. Corruption is rife. The ANC leadership now stuffs its pockets, gorging itself on countless millions of dollars. President Zuma lives in enormous luxury, and boasts an impressive collection of wives. South Africa is a violent country – but then that’s nothing new. Only generational change, coupled with free speech, housing, education and healthcare, can address the violence. South Africa is a deeply racist place too, as attacks on immigrants (mostly other Africans) demonstrate.
Mandela understood his country and his continent. He must have realised much of this was inevitable. Just as in the rest of Africa, the liberation struggle was just the first of a series of struggles. Colonialism and Apartheid put a racial mask on inequality, but now in South Africa, as in the rest of Africa, inequality, corruption and brutality can no longer be conveniently blamed on a foreign devil: it is home grown. Mandela and his ANC comrades, sowed the seed of democracy, human rights and free speech, allowing future generations to renew the struggle – this time a class struggle, not a racial or tribal one.
Nelson Mandela died in a very different world to the one he was born in. His death prompted an inevitable barrage of abuse from morons, but this just served to highlight how much organised racism has declined worldwide. The racist American right settled for complaining that America’s black President was attending Mandela’s funeral but hadn’t attended Thatcher’s (ignoring the facts that Thatcher was not a head of state, and that her greatly-contested achievements were tiny compared to Mandela’s).
I finally visited my old friend in Johannesburg last year. A local celebrity, he mixes in a wide multiracial circle. His black friends are internationally educated and well travelled, unlike their parents’ generation. They are part of a confident and rising Africa that is just starting to be noticed internationally. This Africa is the creation of generations of leaders who shook their people awake and harnessed their resentment; but one man stood head and shoulders above the others.
I should start by stating that Miley Cyrus is not racist. This is just the latest moron meme in a series of increasingly moronic attacks on Cyrus from the Guardianista ex-liberal tendency. Cyrus isn’t the real target, but she has become a convenient scapegoat. The real target is black music and dance.
I blogged a couple of months ago on the Guardian’s opening shot in this story, in which Hadley “I Have Black Friends” Freeman launched an attack on Cyrus for her “racist” twerking episode at the VMAs. The claim was that Cyrus was racist. Because – wait for it – she’s white and had black backing dancers.
Since then, the Guardian, in true bullying tabloid fashion, has wheeled out one has-been after another to condemn Miley, or to patronise her. Yesterday, they outdid themselves, producing 73 year-old Christian singer Cliff Richard to express the hope that Cyrus “grows out of it”. If you’re starting to wonder where the line is between the “quality, liberal” Guardian and the “gutter, right-wing” Daily Mail, you’re not alone.
Perhaps realising that a parade of white faces screaming RACIST! at Cyrus was looking a little strange, the Guardian recently found a black person to do the same thing. Ikamara Larasi helpfully pointed out that she is a black woman, and she doesn’t twerk, but complains (in straw-man style) that she thinks people expect her to twerk, because she’s the same colour as Rihanna.
Don’t worry Ikamara, I don’t expect you to twerk. You see, Rihanna is a stunningly talented international music artist. And you’re not. Nor do I expect you to play tennis like Serena Williams, or be the First Lady like Michelle Obama. I don’t expect you to read the news like Moira Stuart, nor do I expect you to write incredible, moving novels like Toni Morrison. You see, while that kind of stereotyping does still exist, it’s fading fast, and it mostly exists among people like your Oxbridge-educated, Home Counties-raised, Guardian journalist chums. Most of us are perfectly aware that not all black women are amazing singers and dancers like Rihanna, and we’re happy to accept that situation. In fact, the only people I can see stereotyping anybody are you and your ignorant “lynch Miley” mates, who think that the average person is too stupid to tell the difference between you and Alexandra Burke.
Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with race. It is a continuation of the “ban all sex, help, we’re all being sexualised!” campaign which some individuals at the Guardian have been nurturing for years, and now appears to have reached fever pitch. Those who have been paying attention will know that much of the noise comes from a small group of individuals: Kat Banyard of UK Feminista, Julia Long of Object (who, together, are competing to be today’s Mary Whitehouse) and a small group of Guardian journalists who have somehow managed to turn a quality newspaper into the Object house journal. Ikamara Larasi, who stuck the latest knife in Miley’s back, comes from a “black feminist” group called Imkaan, which appears to be (like Lose The Lads’ Mags) another group linked to Object, and thus can claim Object privileges, including Guardian column inches.
Sadly, Larasi’s intervention seems to have confused people who might have been more skeptical had a white woman penned such obvious nonsense. On Twitter, I was told (by a white woman) that I, as a white man, should pay attention when a black woman writes about race. Because, of course, ALL black people believe the same thing and Larasi is black, so is therefore a spokesperson for black people (or “people of colour” as she tweeted… I kid you not). I wonder what would happen when such a person encounters two black women with opposing views. Would her head explode? A (black) friend of mine commented, “Miley isn’t the first. Might as well burn Madonna at the stake for having black and gay dancers then…”
Another tweeter posted a link to a page showcasing The 9 Most Racist Miley Cyrus Moments, which I still can’t tell is a parody or not. Gems from this page include she wants her new album to have a “black sound” (OMG Amy Winehouse, Joe Cocker and Elvis were RACISTS!) and she pretended to perform analingus on a black backing dancer (only pretended? Damn… I’d pay good money to see that).
Miley is playing the morality brigade perfectly (this week, she allegedly smoked weed on stage in Amsterdam, and was met with fake shock from the coke-snorting journalistic fraternity), and I applaud her. When society becomes as pathetically (small-c) conservative as it has become again today, the best response is to shock the fuck out of it. That’s why the Sex Pistols topped the charts in 1977 with God Save The Queen (despite it being banned), and the Prodigy’s wonderful Smack My Bitch Up (watch it!) video won awards 20 years later (despite it also being banned).
Rather than scream at racism-that-isn’t-racism and sexism-that-isn’t-sexism we should take aim at bullying-that-is-truly-bullying. The moronic British media loves to destroy people, especially young women. Doubtless Guardian and Mail journos alike are salivating in anticipation at the moment Miley appears drunk in public, has a messy break-up, or is rumoured to have a drug problem. I’ve cancelled my Guardian app subscription, and will be investing the savings in Miley’s latest album. Why don’t you do the same?
The phrase “linked to” is a favourite among the architects of moral panics. Marijuana was linked (back in the day) to black men raping white women. In more recent times, Ecstasy and various other safe drugs have been linked to (mostly invented) deaths. It is a favourite tool of tabloid journalism – claim ice cream is linked to gang violence and – Lo And Behold – it is! Because you just linked it.
In its endless descent into the journalistic gutter, the Guardian has adopted such tools too, such as its recent article Online trolling of women is linked to domestic violence, say campaigners. The Graun is, at least, smart enough to add “say campaigners” to the headline, so that when one points out that the claim is utterly baseless, the editor can respond: “we were just reporting what they said”.
This isn’t just sloppy journalism. The Guardian has long been militating for increased censorship of the Internet, and since it still maintains the pretence of supporting free speech, it must find online harm at every turn.
The Guardian itself appears to be becoming increasingly censored, especially on anything related to sex. What had originally seemed like the work of a few puritan journalists now seems to be official editorial policy. A series of good journalists have published ludicrously flimsy anti-sex articles. Not being privy to the internal workings of the organisation, I wonder what has been going on at Graun HQ. Does Julie Bindel stand over every journalist’s desk with a gun until she or he has produced yet another denunciation of “sexualisation” or “pornification”?
This feeling of a pro-censorship conspiracy is not just speculation: in her book The Sex Myth the sex worker/blogger/author/researcher Brooke Magnanti reveals that, after she won the Guardian’s 2003 blogger of the year award, a group of female Guardian journalists jointly threatened to resign if she was offered a column in the newspaper. Her crime was to present her sex work as a choice, and to refuse to label herself a victim, in strict contravention of Guardian editorial policy on sex work.
The Guardian’s hatred of any sexual expression is becoming so strong that the normally-PC paper is prepared to stray into the realm of racism where necessary. I’ve blogged previously about the jaw-dropping 2009 “white man’s porn is making black men into rapists” article by Tim Samuels.
Not to be outdone, Hadley Freeman (another once-sane journo who appears to have succumbed to the Curse of Guardian Towers) was enraged by Miley Cyrus’s recent twerking episode at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Her rage (of course) is primarily about open displays of sexuality: “she copied the dance moves of strippers” (but I know strippers who dance very well – what’s the problem?) and “female celebrities will one day feel that they don’t need to imitate porn actors” (all sexual expression is porn, and porn is bad, m’kay?)
Freeman tries to dress up her anti-sex rage as concern about racism, and digs herself a deep hole in the process. She casually drops in the fact that she has lived in the Notting Hill Carnival area for 12 years, which is kind-of like saying “I have black friends, you know”. I grew up a couple of miles north of Notting Hill, and while it was once a heavily Caribbean area, it had gentrified long before Freeman moved in.
She appears to be outraged that Cyrus had black backing singers: “a young wealthy woman from the south doing a garish imitation of black music and reducing black dancers to background fodder”. They are “fodder” in Freeman’s eyes anyway: to me, they are dancing beautifully, as only women of African origin can, and helping distract from the fact that Cyrus can’t dance. She refers to the event as a “minstrel show”. Other than banning black backing dancers from shows with white lead performers, it’s unclear what remedy Freeman would like to see.
She has fallen into the trap awaiting “progressive” middle-class puritans: dance and music originating in sub-Saharan Africa have always been far more overtly sexual than those originating in Europe. The overtness of African sexual expression offends the sensibility of European prudes, just as it offended (and titillated) European colonialists in Africa, who insisted that shameful African nudity was covered up.
Black music now dominates Western popular music forms. Not because (as Freeman suggests) whites are guilty of “cultural appropriation”, but simply because it is better, and it has come to dominate the meme-pool. It is hard to imagine what Western music and dance would be like today without African influences.
Freeman, of middle-class Jewish-American roots, educated in English boarding school and then Oxford, did not grow up around black culture. Like many privileged whites who grew up surrounded by privileged whites, she is discomfited by it, and all the Oxford education in the world cannot help her formulate linguistic tricks that adequately hide that fact.
The icing on the cake is that Freeman wraps up her bizarre articulation of dislike for black sexual expression in Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. King dreamed of a racially mixed world, but Freeman dreams of a world without strippers, porn and black backing dancers. What a sad, decaf, Euro-centric, Guardian-approved world that would be.
The Muslim fasting period of Ramadan has been coming and going for centuries, but never before have Muslim minorities in the West been under such scrutiny. This year’s Ramadan starts tomorrow. The UK’s Channel 4 TV channel has cleverly launched a set of what it calls “provocative” programming around Ramadan, including tonight’s Documentary, A Very British Ramadan, and a call to prayer to be broadcast each morning at 3am.
It’s strange that programmes about an ancient religious festival should be seen as provocative at all, but there is now a hardcore Muslim-hating minority across the Western World that never wastes an opportunity to throw hatred at Muslims, much as monkeys in the zoo enjoying throwing shit. Thus, the Channel 4 decision to run Ramadan-themed programmes is a great piece of trolling, designed in part to provoke bigots who think Islam has no place in British society. And it seems to be working.
Of course, the average Muslim-hater has little or no contact with Muslims or the Muslim world. They live in a fantasy land where Muslim countries teem with extremists, and are dangerous places to visit. I admit that I too had preconceived ideas about Muslim countries, especially Arab ones.
Being British and Jewish, I was nervous when I won some contract work in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, in the mid 1990s. I had previously been to Turkey, but the UAE was a more intimidating prospect. The airport welcome was friendly though, and I easily got a cab, with a talkative driver, to my downtown hotel. The UAE is a fairly conservative country, although moderate by the standards of its neighbour, Saudi Arabia. I found that as a foreigner, I could order beer in the hotel, and wasted no time in doing so.
I then learned that Ramadan would begin two days into my visit, and wondered what this would mean. I soon discovered that no food or drink, even water, was served during daylight hours. The office I was working in adjusted its hours to make life easier for its employees, beginning at 7am and ending at 2pm, so that people didn’t become too hungry or thirsty during the working day.
At one point, I was in a meeting with an Arab manager, and said I was thirsty. Without thinking, he reached into his desk and produced a bottle of water for me. As I started to drink, he suddenly remembered it was Ramadan, and asked me to drink the water out of sight of the office, in the stairwell. I was discovering that for Arab Muslims, just like for my own Jewish family, religious rules are made to be twisted and broken. People of all origins enjoy their traditions, usually without thinking a great deal about their origins.
The hotel served breakfast early, so that people could eat before sunrise. And people did eat. A lot. Likewise, after sunset, a huge Iftar buffet was laid on to break the fast. Although Ramadan is supposed to be a time of fasting, in fact Muslims tend to eat more during this time than the rest of the year. A huge meal tends to be taken after sunset, and another huge breakfast before the sun rises. As I said, religious rules are made for twisting.
One of the most amusing sights I saw was in the pastry and ice cream shops around the city. In the few minutes before sunset, people would grab a table and peruse the menu. Waiters would stand to attention, waiting. And as the call to prayer began to echo through the city, the waiters rushed out and people shouted their orders. Soon, huge slices of cake and towering ice cream sundaes were being served and devoured.
More entertainment was provided by an ongoing debate over whether nicotine patches were allowed during daylight. Many Emiratis were heavy smokers, and smoking was haraam during daylight, because the smoke was taken orally. The UAE’s top mullahs pondered this deep theological problem as the nervous smokers waited; and then, to general relief, they announced that the daytime use of nicotine patches was halal.
My time in Abu Dhabi blew away preconceptions I had about Arab culture. For sure the country is run by a dictatorship, and is a deeply conservative culture. It isn’t the kind of place I could have considered staying in long-term – my party lifestyle would have been too severely compromised. Yet the people were among the friendliest I had encountered – more so than most European or American strangers I had met in my travels. As for my being of Jewish origin; after a few days I was confident enough to tell locals this fact, and met no hostility at all; the strongest reactions were along the lines of “Ah! If only the Israelis and Palestinians could work together. They are the smartest peoples in the Middle East.”
I welcome the Channel 4 experiment in Ramadan programming. For most, open-minded people, it represents the chance to learn something. And anyone who is upset by the coverage deserves to be upset: morons will be morons.