by Farah Jassat
Have you ever met a self-confessed racist? Not someone who may hold racist views but cloaks them under political arguments. Someone who just defines themself as being a racist.
Self-definition is fascinating. What is the line that people cross from making racist comments, but disclaiming them as just being jokes, to openly admitting racist views as legitimate perspectives? The line may be easy to cross in the comfort of our own minds but social stigma repels giving it a voice.
This week’s group therapy hears ‘Martin’ confess that he is a racist but he can’t change the way he feels just to make others feel comfortable. Hearing this I immediately wonder where he is coming from. He might be ideologically convinced of racial superiority, but as I listen he doesnt seem to be talking about race at all, but immigration from the developing world. Is he then politically convinced of first world privilege (whatever that may mean)? His contention is with people who come to Britain from the developing world and scrounge off the system without giving back to society. This could be developed into a racist view if he mentioned types of people but he doesnt. And his partner is from Morocco which just confuses me even more. He seems to admit there is that tension but indicate it hasn’t grown big enough to cause a rift in their relationship – yet. I’m glad the contributors notice this tension (or lack of) and explore if we value our value systems enough to live by it.
Maybe ‘Martin’ really is a racist and maybe he isn’t. In a way, that’s not the point. What I find interesting is why he is so keen to self-define this way. Is rebelling against societal norms by saying the unexpected empowering? Perhaps it makes people sit up and listen to the underlying socio-political concerns.
Whatever the motivation to call yourself a racist, I find such self-definitions a bit sensationalist. If people have a problem with immigration, then fine, discuss the arguments and the facts. Labels aren’t always helpful – especially if wrongly applied. We all have pre-conceived notions of what they mean and so if we want to have a meaningful discussion of social, political and perhaps psychological fears and prejudices, then we need to deconstruct the concerns and arguments beneath the labels.