Running Away From Racism

This is mainly about racism and some problems that I have with a few anti-racists and parts of the anti-racist movement. However, some points I would like to make also apply to many other issues such as sexism.

Please note that I think anti-racism is an important topic and I fully support its aims. It is because of its importance that I feel the need express various problems with the way it is approached.

The two main points I am arguing against are:

  • there is no point in arguing with racists views
  • we can challenge racism just by ignoring or censoring racist comments.

Running Away From Racism

There has been much debate about racial prejudice and discrimination on social media at this time following the death of George Floyd. People have put up various posts about racism. Not unexpectedly this has resulted in some people questioning the amount or reasons for racism.

Few of these comments have been from ‘devout’ racists. Personally I would not bother to indulge someone who believed in their inherent racial superiority or denied the existence of extermination camps in Germany under Adolf Hitler.

Questioning Or Raising Doubts?

Other comments come in two categories:

  • comments by people who have read something that raised an alternative point of view and who would like some clarification
  • comments by people who have racist views and want to cast doubt on the validity or importance of the issue

These commentators have expressed ideas such as ‘there is no racism because there has been a black American president’, ‘black people have made it to the top’, ‘black people are more likely to be criminals and that is why they are targetted by the police’.

Such ideas are quite commonly voiced by much of the mainstream media and by writers such as Douglas Murray.

The way that I have tried to tackle these comments is to point to data or studies that show otherwise. For example there is discrimination in the UK in housing1, employment2, the criminal justice system3 and health care4.

Even if I think that the comment is by someone who is racist and I am not going to change their opinion, I still post these replies since there are other people who will read the comments. I feel it is important to do this because it stops the commentators  attempt to ‘cast doubt’.

Deleted Comments

What has happened on numerous occasions on people’s timelines, pages where I am not administrator or sole administrator,  is that all the comments or the original post is deleted.

When I have asked why I have been told something along the lines of  ‘I do not want to see such trash’. However, it is the sort of thing that BAME people see all the time, those attitudes affect their lives on a daily basis and that is why it needs to be challenged.

To delete any opinions that you find uncomfortable is censorship. That is why ‘the right’ now claim moral superiority when it comes to free speech. They can claim that “you don’t have any answers”.

Many of these people who don’t want to see the ugly reality of racism in our society are often the ones who will share very strong anti-racist and anti-fascist posts (e.g. Anti-Fascist Action) or talk about punching fascists in the face. Yet they cannot stand to view something that might show the slightest hint of racism. I am not saying that it is not sometimes necessary to show a more ‘robust’ response when fascist groups are trying to intimidate a community but I think there is a bit of a contradiction here.

Blaming and Shaming

One of the reasons that I am no longer willing to work with my local anti-racist group is that some of the members resort to abuse and shaming rather than try to engage in any reasoned argument. This has also happened elsewhere.

I have been accused of ‘tip-toeing’ around racists because I have tried to counter their arguments. However, the ‘anti -racist’ response has been to ignore what commentators post  or perhaps delete the comment they do not like.

As I mentioned above sometimes these comments are more of ‘I have seen this what is your response’ type question. Again these are ignored, delete or worse…

An example of ‘worse’ is when we are leafleting about racism in the street. I get into a conversation with a member of the public about immigration or some similar topic. The conversation is going reasonably well, not sure if I am getting anywhere but still worth trying. Then one of ‘our’ group comes over and starts calling the person ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’. Even if the person doesn’t walk away, they are going to be much more defensive and less likely to listen to your views.

There is clear evidence that trying to force people to accept anti-racist ideas rather than showing them why they should not hold racist ideas is counter-productive5.

Censoring Will Not Work

Many of the views that people do not ‘wish to see’ are commonplace in some mainstream media. The Sun, Express and Daily Mail have a circulation of millions per day. Many right wing commentators on YouTube have millions of hits – I doubt if peoples Facebook pages get this much coverage. It is possible to sit in a little social media ‘bubble’ where you see nothing that offends or  upsets you, but this does nothing to fight racism. It is out there it is real and it needs to be fought.

Although I am not in favour of people being allowed to express everything – e.g. real incitement to hatred, I think we have to be very, very careful about what is censored. We cannot expect the censorship to be applied to just the views that we do not like and it could be applied just as easily to views we support as well.

While I think that people should be protected from living in fear I do not think they should be protected from being offended. It is not nice, and people should not offend unnecessarily, but sometimes it is necessary. I know that some people will be offended by this post: they have been offended when I have accused them of censorship, of racism and sexism.

If we look back in history we find that people were offended by suggesting that blacks were not inferior to whites, mentioning the existence of homosexuality, not believing in god…

Germany before the rise of Hitler did have anti-hate laws and some of the Nazis fell foul of them – speaker/publication bans, imprisonment etc. However not only did such ‘censorship’ give the Nazis publicity and allow them to claim ‘their voice was not being heard’ they still managed to circumvent the laws by carefully wording their publications and speeches.

If you never want your views about the wrongs of racism to be questioned, then just don’t mention it. However, if you do share you views publicly  then do not be surprised if people question what you say.

Reaping What You Sow

While I am on this topic I thought I would mention a trend that I find extremely problematic.

Many people, whose views I agree with, have called for censorship either by the state or by organizations such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. Examples have been the recent Michael Moore film (which has now been banned by YouTube) and calls for it to be illegal to question climate change.

I am not in favour of giving the state more powers to censor, or of giving unaccountable corporations the rights and power to censor.

It has been claimed6 that YouTube are already censoring videos that contain the words ‘Lesbian’ and ‘Gay’. Many other YouTubers have had trouble for expressing left wing ideas or ‘inciting hate’ by putting up anti-fascist statements. Anarchist symbols have been ordered to be removed since they are deemed to be hate speech.7

While the ‘right-wing’ get lots of media coverage8 about ‘the left’ censoring them particularly on college campuses, the data shows that people on ‘the left’ are much more likely to be censored9.

The same people who want more restrictions on the ‘far right’ get upset when Trump wants to classify ANTIFA as a terrorist organisation10.

Dealing With ‘Racist’ Comments

It is important to try and find out what has been said in the comment or link. It is sometimes too easy to react too quickly without understanding or knowing what the points raised were – I have been guilty of this myself. It is important to refute peoples arguments rather than just make them think that they and other people reading the comments are not being listened to.

I would also try and work out where the person was coming from so I could write a appropriate response:

  • ‘Devout Racists’

I would not bother replying if the comment was obviously from someone who was just trying to provoke a response.

  • They want to cast doubts about the validity or importance of the issue

‘Slap them down’ hard. Make it quite obvious why they are wrong not just to them but to other people reading the comment – put in links to research that shows that racism still exists and is still a problem. One of the reasons for my blogs is that I have links to relevant references which I can then cut and paste in responses.

  • How do you respond to this?

People posting opinions or links that express a different point of view. The person posting may not even agree with the point they post, but instead may just want some clarification. A common one is that ‘black people are more likely to be criminals and that is why they are discriminated against’. This view has been expressed in mainstream media many times and it is not surprising that many people hold such views.

One of the problems is that good propoganda often mixes valid data and analysis but then reaches conclusions which are not supported by the evidence. I will often say what I think is correct about the comment but then point out why that does not justify the conclusions.

One example would be All Lives Matter or the fact that more white people are killed by police. I would point out that the extra-judicial killings in the USA is a matter of concern irrespective of race – killing 1000 people of year would not be acceptable even if the demographics were not racially skewed. I would then point out that this is a separate issue to Black Lives Matter which is highlighting the racial bias in society as a whole.

We Need Debate

I mean this in two senses. The first is that I do not claim to have all the answers or even that I am approaching this in the correct way. However, we do need to discuss how we deal with racism when it occurs. Ignoring, deleting comments and running away does not work.

We also need to debate some of these issues when they are raised. One of the ways that people get entrenched in their views, and what makes them less likely to change them, is when they feel they are not being listened to or that you don’t have a response.


1 Britain’s housing crisis is racist – we need to talk about it, The Guardian 2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2017/jul/06/britain-housing-crisis-racist-bme-homelessness)

2 Racism still festers in Britain’s workplaces. It’s time to get tough, The Guardian 2019 (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/22/racism-britain-workplaces-diversity-training-employers-sanctions)

3 The Colour of Injustice:Race’, drugs and law enforcement in England and Wales – a briefing paper, Release (https://www.release.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/publications/The%20Colour%20of%20Injustice%20-%20Briefing%20Paper.pdf)

4 Is there institutional racism in mental health care?, BBC News 2017 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40495539)

5 Ironic Effects of Antiprejudice Messages: How Motivational Interventions Can Reduce (but Also Increase) Prejudice, Lisa Legault, Jennifer N. Gutsell, and Michael Inzlicht, Psychological Science 22(12) 1472–1477 (https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2011_LegaultEtAl_PsychScience.pdf)

6 Nerd City Says YouTube Algorithm Is Demonetizing Videos With Words Like ‘Gay’ And ‘Lesbian’, Nerd City (https://in.mashable.com/culture/7292/nerd-city-says-youtube-algorithm-is-demonetizing-videos-with-words-like-gay-and-lesbian)

7 Hamilton orders removal of anarchy symbol, calling it ‘hate material’, CBC News 2018 (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/hamilton-anarchy-symbol-1.4664192)

8 NYT’s Campus Free Speech Coverage Focuses 7-to-1 on Plight of Right, FAIR, 2017 (https://fair.org/home/nyts-campus-free-speech-coverage-focuses-7-to-1-on-plight-of-right/)

9 Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions, Vox, 2018 (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/8/3/17644180/political-correctness-free-speech-liberal-data-georgetown)

10 What is antifa and why is Donald Trump targeting it?, The Guardian, 6 June 2020 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/06/what-is-antifa-trump-terrorist-designation)

 

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