" I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. "
Martin Luther King Jr, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, University of Oslo, 10 December 1964
Schools have a duty to better educate children about racism and discrimination and also the massive differences between them.
There are two types of people in this world – people of colour and white people (chiefly Western, white people). I hate to divide the entire planet’s people into two convenient camps, but raise this issue with any POC and white person separately, and, in general, you will receive varying responses, responses that necessitate a division into two groups.
I myself am a white, heterosexual, British male. On the face of it my privilege couldn’t be any higher – perhaps only if I had been born into money would it be higher, but this falls into the category of class discrimination, which I shall come to later.
By privilege I mean the position of power every white, Western person is born into automatically. A structure of hierarchy exists whereby whites occupy the top, and POC occupy the lower rungs. This was seen in the report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. High Court judge William Macpherson defined the institutional racism evident in the trial of Lawrence’s killers as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin.”
We have seen this in the States with Trayvon Martin, and again over here with Mark Duggan - who’s death triggered a staggering reaction of frustration and hopelessness in young people in England’s cities.
White privilege owes its existence to our history. The centuries of Eurocentrism and complex superiority that bred colonialism and slavery have led to a white-dominated culture and media. Western Europe and the Anglosphere are, and officially identify as, multiracial societies, so we should strive for diversification and work towards social and political equality.
We see white privilege in all aspects of our culture, such as in Hollywood and in white, European standards of beauty and ability. For example, POC often fill the role of the negative ethnic stereotype – brown-skinned Muslims are terrorists, young black men are the streetwise thug, the noble or soothsaying savage et al. We also see it in parliament, where there is a lamentable lack of POC in a system claiming to be meritocratic and fair, but, if I can name at least three major names in our Tory government that attended Eton, we can see this isn’t the case at all, and that in reality ‘merit’ boils down to money and nepotism.
You don’t need me to tell you racism against POC exists, but does racism against whites, so called ‘reverse racism,’ by POC exist? This writer thinks not, instead highlighting the differences between racism and discrimination/prejudice. White people are often prejudiced by class, gender, ability, sexual orientation and disability, but race? No.
If racism stems from a position of power, then POC, by their very position in the race hierarchy, cannot be racist due to their fundamental lack of said power. Power gives birth to racism, and reverse racism comes from the manipulation of the oppressor (white people), into the oppressed (POC), and is thus an attempt to invert and belittle the racism POC experience.
So, what do I expect of my white brothers and sisters, and, more importantly, what do POC expect? I do not expect self-hatred, nor do I expect grovelling apologies for being white. Just an acknowledgement of our ancestors’ history and the part white people have played in engineering this social cancer. Never reduce POC’s experience of racism by comparing it to the prejudice that, say, overweight people or redheads experience, because these assertions (which I have actually heard expressed) are ridiculous and short-sighted.
So, if you ever experience reverse racism, realise that it’s a tragic hangover of our history, and a reaction against white privilege.
Why must some commentators on the situation in Ukraine refer to this nation as ‘the’ Ukraine, and not simply ‘Ukraine’?
Any use of this prefix, particularly by international media, denigrates the people of Ukraine by suggesting the country is just a ‘borderland’ to Russia, which of course it’s not, and any Ukrainian would be quick to point this out.
Ukraine is an entirely separate nation to its neighbour Russia not only geographically, but culturally as well. Visit the Black Sea city of Sevastopol, where names of streets and shops are Russian, where the newspapers on sale are in Russian, and where you can only buy Russian beer and listen to Russian radio, you won’t know what I’m talking about, but visit anywhere else – Kiev, Dnipropetrovsk, Lviv – then you will.
Euromaidan has revealed to the world the prevalent anti-Moscow feeling throughout Ukraine. The Western media has perpetuated the idea that those battered pro-EU demonstrators are struggling against a ‘regime’ – and this word has been used by a number of people in such a manner as to suggest they are fighting against some old Soviet, Stalinist dictatorship, conveniently forgetting how Viktor Yanukovych was lawfully and democratically elected in 2010 by the people of Ukraine.
Yanukovych, for all his pandering to Vladimir Putin and perceived favouring of ‘USSR’ ways, and for his spurious imprisonment of political rival Yulia Tymoshenko, was not a dictator. His grossly distasteful mansion filled with garish bling is more Colonel Gaddafi than it is elected head of state, but he was not the authoritarian the Western media leads us to believe, and his presidency was not a regime. For a modern regime look to China – a real dictatorship of secret police forces, censorship, murder and violence. The Independence Square protests, though extremely violent and sad, were unlike the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing of 1989, when entirely peaceful demonstrators were gunned down by the military.
Ukraine’s recent history, like much of Eastern Europe’s, is encumbered by horror and tragedy. The scene of the most terrible of famines – the manmade Holodomor (an extermination of hunger – considered as genocide by most), saw up to 10 million ethnic Ukrainians perish at the hands of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine is an unstable, dangerous region, and with such vivid, searing memories of genocide, subjugation and war in the nation’s collective consciousness, who can be surprised there is such a strong pro-European Union, anti-Russian sentiment amongst Ukraine’s youth, despite the many improvements within the country since the dark days of years past? The EU, or rather the ‘Fourth Reich,’ may be a 21st century neoliberal, German empire of bureaucracy and surveillance, but it’s nonetheless attractive to many Eastern European citizens.
More balance is needed when representing Euromaidan. The West, with its assumption that the demonstrators are all pro-democracy (many, like Pravy Sektor and Svoboda, are far-right, anti-Semitic, neo-Nazis), risks provoking civil war by dispensing aid to Kiev. The same happened with Libya during the Arab Spring. Our government, by sending military aid to North Africa, is complicit in that country’s gradual descent into a failed state.
These days any uprising seems to indulge leftist fantasies of revolution. It’s exciting and positive to witness the dismantling and overthrowing of despots, but in the West we have a duty to observe with balance, and to treat these situations with the respect they deserve.
My fellow young people there is something wrong. We all feel it, a certain dread. We are disillusioned with the powers that be, but what are we doing about it? We owe something to ourselves and to our future. We are the generation that have come to age through the first period of neoliberal capitalism. The first to mature through aggressive consumerism; secular, and far removed from spirituality. When things go wrong, without God, what form of redemption do we have?
There are some that say history ended in 1989. The gradual year-long collapse of the Berlin Wall which signalled the dissolution of the Soviet Union heralded the beginning of neoliberal capitalist pre-eminence. October of 1990 witnessed the reunification of Germany; a month later, Margaret Thatcher, that toothy spectre of capitalism, left office the most vilified British premier of all time. Her subjugation of the working class with the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike provided the last chapter in the proletariat’s epic struggle – a doomed romance. By silencing the final whispers of socialism in a major Western nation, she forged a path from then to now.
We are living in advanced Thatcherism. ‘Greed is good’. Bankers’ bonuses, MP’s expenses, and corporation tax avoidance – time and again the British public are pissed upon by the elite. Our governors – our Prime Minister, our Chancellor of the Exchequer and our Mayor of London – are ex-Bullingdon trash, and our Labour Party (ostensibly a party full of diluted Tories), has lied to us through the murderous, reptilian Blair, who, underneath his beguiling awfulness, will never wash the damned spots from the palms of his hands.
Meanwhile the working class, through blood, sweat and tears, continues to function, barely, through the mire of unemployment and food and fuel poverty; amidst cuts to the NHS, the emergency services, education, and arts funding. They have shut down our libraries and rendered university tuition a preserve of the rich; taxed those audacious enough to own a spare bedroom, and blocked benefits to those most in need in such a way as to effectively make a dirty word of ‘benefits’ – thanks in no small part to the Murdoch media empire and its prolonged smear campaign against the poor. See also Channel 4’s Benefits Street – tragically disappointing from them.
Almost midway through the second decade of this millennium and migrants bear witness to threatening pogrom-vans instructing them to ‘go home or face arrest.’ Not quite Kristallnacht, but nasty all the same and typical of a government and media complicit in scapegoating minorities and the vulnerable, thus deflecting popular attention away from its own failings and reinforcing its capitalist agenda.
We are living in controlling, deceptive times. Times when omnipresent surveillance will catch a thief in the act or a killer’s footsteps, but simultaneously track the footsteps of the innocent and innocuous, or horde your private mobile data for capital gain. They say it keeps us safe, that this omnipresence hinders the violent intentions of fanatics, but does it not also keep us in line?
The linear is homogeneous and anodyne, a metaphor for the people of the 21st century, perhaps – in the West at least. Individualism is being suppressed. If the fruits of capitalism and communication technology have made us more connected than ever, they are likewise destroying our capacity for independent thought and creative output. If history ended in 1989, then we are the last men and women, and we must make the final stand.
Nietzsche famously declared ‘God is dead.’ We, as the first generation of the end of times – this post-historical, postmodern era – must redeem ourselves through declaring the system dead, for our invisible idols have been replaced by an untouchable machine, tangible in the very least through its infinite bureaucracy and surveillance. We must struggle through the chains that enslave us, get angry at those who oppress us, and defeat the fatal lassitude that resides in many of us – that depressive powerlessness that we are impotent in the face of authority.
We are crashing towards a stark future, one that is inorganic and without beauty. Our dystopia will consist not of totalitarian dictatorships, as is popularly anticipated in science fiction, but of plutocratic democracy – a post-Fordist society dominated by capital and intense state scrutiny.
Artistic innovation and protest are being quelled in the face of ruthless capitalism. The counterculture our parents and grandparents were a part of has been atomised and sold off in chunks. Music subcultures like Punk or the Mods and Teddy Boys no longer exist in their do-it-yourself, working class form, and are recycled decades later in an endless sequence of repetition. When was the last time you heard a protest song? Ironically, young hijab-clad Muslim girls are the closest we have to punks in our generation, insofar as wearing a hijab can be considered an act of rebellion against secularism and the system that birthed it.
We are Alex in A Clockwork Orange, brainwashed and stripped of all creative tendency and humanity, as he is stripped, albeit of his violent humanity, by ’Ludovico conditioning’, into a passive, impotent citizen. Alex, though a destructive nihilist, is symbolic of a counterculture feared, loathed and persecuted within a society long since transmuted by what we can assume to be authoritarian capitalism. We cannot allow ourselves to sleepwalk into this mind control.
Far away in foreign realms, away from the Anglosphere, Paris, Brussels and Berlin, we are witnessing change, loud and fiery, and with big balls to match. From the Arab Spring to Euromaidan we have seen powers dismantled from the bottom up. Ok, so Trafalgar Square isn’t going to turn into some infernal battleground of bloodied protesters and countless shell casings anytime soon, but I deplore the prevalence of apathy, taking comfort from the smashing of Millbank windows and makeshift shanty camps at St Paul’s.
It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to break free of our MacBook screen, TV dinner lives, because, let’s face it, we are being made tepid by the system, and, in the words of Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden, ‘we’re slowly learning this fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.’