Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cameron: Skin colour no protection for racists

By CNN Wire Staff, CNN World website, February 4, 2011
(Cameron was speaking at the European Security Conference in Munich)
He (Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain) seemed to suggest in his speech that Britain has been too tolerant of extremism, however.

"When a white person holds objectionable views -- racism, for example -- we rightly condemn them," Cameron said. "But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn't white, we've been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them. ... This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared.
"All this leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless," he said. "And the search for something to belong to and believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology."
He said that instead of ignoring extremist ideology, "we -- as governments and societies -- have got to confront it, in all its forms. And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity, open to everyone."
Cameron is onto something very big here. Our refusal to confront racism if and when we meet it, when it originates with a person or people who are not white has to stop.
I recall a sad story about a little girl, then in grade two, a very keen student, who came home from school one day many days after she had taken a book to her classroom full of coloured pictures of various bird species. This little girl loved school, loved to learn, was enthusiastic about her life and rarely, if ever, complained about anything. I know her quite well. She is my second daughter, Jillian.
"The teacher has never even picked up the book, or asked me to show it to the class, as part of "show-and-tell," reported Jill to her parents and older sister.
"That's really too bad, because we know that you were excited to show it to the class, when you took it to school," came the response from her parents.
And then, in a few days, there was a parents' night at the school, and since I knew the principal personally, I spoke to him about the disappointed little girl in our house.
"Mike," I inquired, "Perhaps you would like to know about a little story concerning Jill and her grade two teacher? She has not even thanked Jill for bringing the book and has paid no attention to it or to Jill since the book arrived."
"Well, you know, John, anytime I approach that teacher with some corrective criticism, I am told that I am being anti-semitic!" were the words that came from his mouth. "You do know that she is Jewish?"
I'm sure that the faces of both Jill's parents fell, leaving us both aghast at the response of the principal.
We knew at that moment that there would be no satisfactory explanation to Jill about her teacher's spurning of the book and of Jill's enthusiasm to share her book with her classmates.
We also knew that there would be no further conversation between the principal and that teacher about her classroom demeanour.
Jill is now satisfactorily engaged as a marketing representative for General Electric in their medical equipment business, a graduate of both an undergraduate degree in French and a Master's program in Labour Studies.
And, we can only hope that the teacher has long-since retired, and not inflicted herself on many more students, through her insensitivity and her defensive shield when faced with even a professional criticism.
When Imam Chadoury in Great Britain screams, "We are going to implement Sharia Law in England!" on CNN's Parker/Spitzer show, one evening last week, and no one confronts him, we know that the PM has touched a raw political nerve.
Racism, no matter the colour of the skin of the source, is still racism. And to confront that racism with political correctness, lest we be considered racist or worse, is to default on our responsibility as citizens.
I recall another story that might illustrate my point.
I was conducting a class in Colorado in the late 90's when the subject of racism came up. So, I inquired of the group what their response would be to the following scenario.
You are at a social gathering on Saturday evening, in a friend's home, when someone tells a racist joke. What do you do when you hear that racist joke?
One woman responded, "Well, I would withdraw quietly from the circle where the joke was told, and move to another part of the house and talk with different people. But I would not say anything to the person who told the joke."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Oh, well, I would not want that person to think that  thought I was better than him or her by telling him I was offended by the joke," came the answer.
"So, I retorted, "Your reputation with the racist joke teller is more important than the reputation of the (presumably) black race against whom the joke was told in the first place?" "Is that right?"
There was an embarrassed silence, as  the woman turned several shades of scarlet...and then she wimpered, "I guess that's right, but I never thought of it that way."
Another story: On the night I was ordained to the priesthood, I went to thank the homilist, a black Barbadian, doctorate from Harvard, who told me, rather angrily, "The book that I wrote on the church's position on multi-culturalism has been removed from the shelves of the Anglican Book Store in Toronto, so that no one can purchase it!"
Stunned, I ask impulsively, "Why do you think they removed it?"
"You know damn well why they removed it; you're not stupid!" came his response. "They removed it because of the colour of my skin."
In the days and weeks following his untimely death, only two months later, the books were returned to the public displays for sale in that bookstore.
Many of us have been too silent for far too long when we encounter racism, bigotry, sexism, and even ageism. Many of the television shows on American television use male characters as stereotypically dumb, over-sexed and chronically challenged to create both humour and ratings. Corporations know that men are not going to become a political force and object to their "use" of the male stereotype and they also know that such stereotypes "fit" with the average woman's view of "men"....dumb, insensitive, lazy and too aggressive.
Joe Biden, the Vice-president of the U.S., while a candidate for president, commented once in an interview that bigotry had become far more sophisticated that it used to be, a few decades ago. He is right; however, our readiness to confront has atrophied in the wake of the tsunami of political correctness that has emasculated most of us in North America in the last twenty-five years.

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