Respectable, dinner-party racism

black in media.jpgBritain’s print media have for the past week or so been full of stories of how “hideously white”, upper-class and cliquey they are. One could say they have been indulging in a collective bout of therapeutic self-flagellation. The stories are based on a recent survey which found that top managers in broadcast and print - white, upper class, Oxbridge-educated - invariably give jobs to their mirror images.

The report was spot-on, but black media and non-media folk did not really need a report to inform them of this obvious no-brainer. (This is a subject that is very close to the heart of yours truly and we will come back to it in the next couple of days.) One consequence of this lamentable under-representation of blacks in the media is uninformed, biased and sometimes openly racist reporting of issues relating to minority communities.

At other times, the coverage is of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, insidious sort - such as the apparently randomly-occurring word or phrase that, on its own, may seem innocent but, when looked at in the context of other strategically-placed words and phrases, could be as hurtful as the best efforts of your average plain-speaking Klansman.

And these “slips of the keyboard” in the main go unchallenged, because there is no one to do the challenging, or the few minority employees in such organisations may be loath to blow their career chances by raising objections. Even in cases where members of the public send in rebuttals and letters to the editor, they don’t get published. I should know! And what happens when said editor is a member of what we may call the " nudge-nudge, wink-wink tendency "?

On 13 June I read a comment piece in the London Guardian by Max Hastings. The article, “The bung and the blind eye: that’s the real world of sport,”1 was about the corruption that goes on in both football and horse racing. It’s a well-written thought piece, but segments of it left a very ugly taste in my mouth.

Distinguished editor

sir.jpgDid you know that Africans were cannibals? No? Then, leave it to Uncle Max to disabuse you of your ignorance by his inspired choice of simile: “Tom Bower's Broken Dreams, the most authoritative recent account of the chaos of greed, corruption and vanity that is the football industry, makes an innocent, non-footie fan like me feel like a Victorian reading Henry Morton Stanley's In Darkest Africa, complete with cannibalism and ritual disembowelment.” That’s in paragraph five. Far be it for me to imply anything untoward here. Uncle Max is the distinguished former editor of the right-wing Daily Telegraph.

What has horse racing and football got to do with Darkest Africa and Africanised ritual disembowelment and cannibalism? Somebody stop me! When your ears have been thus pricked, you start looking for the words “Africa”, “Africans”, “black”, and “blacks” and the associations that said text will give to them.

We don’t have long to wait. It comes in the very next paragraph. And this will blow you, my friend. It’s just too good to be true. Here goes: “Only a fortnight before Panorama's exposé, Newsnight made allegations against Arsenal about shenanigans with African players and a Belgian team. With football clubs as with some racing types, there are no limits to the treasure they will squander and the ruthlessness they will deploy to recruit the right animals to win, win, win.” Geddit?

I like this one. The said African players are in the Belgian team, so the word “Belgian” here is a red herring. And since we are also talking about horse racing here, is it not justified to use the word “animals”? Africans, or African football players, are animals, or are like animals. Sorry, he was referring to horses! Far be it for me to suggest that something stinks here. Uncle is an honourable man; his is also the distinguished former editor of the Evening Standard.

The next nugget, in paragraph nine, sounds innocent enough but, given what’s gone before, one could be forgiven for saying “thanks, but no thanks”: “They inhabit houses such as the late emperor Nero would find vulgar. Their only worthwhile privilege is immunity from the legal consequences of any misdemeanour they might commit, since no jury will convict them. When their usefulness as players is over, they are left to face a 40- or 50-year void that must make many yearn for the dogmeat factory.” Oh, and the bypassing of immigration laws is also mentioned!

Nazi-era focus of history-teaching

You may think this one is a bit iffy. Anyway, here is the result of my textual analysis, for whatever it‘s worth: Nero was the morally-decadent, sexually deviant Roman emperor - and we all know how sexually rampant these African animals are. And these animals earn gazillions for just being able to kick an air-filled receptacle! As this is an interactive game - why else would the writer be so coy? - I will leave you, gentle reader, to make what you will of “dogmeat factory”. My paranoia? I like paranoid!

We now come to another piece by Uncle, published in the same organ on 27 December 2005. It is essentially a rubbishing of a report by Britain’s Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, that the Nazi-era focus of the country’s history curriculum for schools undervalues “the overall contribution of black and other minority ethnic peoples to Britain's past, and ... ignore their cultural, scientific and many other achievements.”

Make what you will of the article’s title: “This is the country of Drake and Pepys, not Shaka Zulu2”. Uncle’s thrust here is that since the history of the world for the last 500 years has been dominated by the West, British kids should remain ignorant of the history of other societies. The only exception being that, they could take “comparative studies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, the 20th century's great mass murderers.”

“If one's own people were victims of western imperialism, it is entirely understandable that one should wish to study history from their viewpoint. But, whatever the crimes of our forefathers, this is the country of Drake, Clive and Kitchener, not of Tipu Sultan, Shaka Zulu or the Mahdi."

"It should not be difficult to broaden the agenda for pupils who want to specialise in modern tyranny,” he writes.

Multiculturalism sceptic

There are times when he is plain-speaking and this is one of them. Take this gem: “But as a profound sceptic about multiculturalism, I can't see the case for such an agenda, unless the vast majority of British people are to pretend to be something they are not.” This is as truthful as he gets and it is refreshing. One can now see why he is such an honourable man, why he was knighted by the Queen, why he is one of Britain’s foremost military historians and imperialist ideologues.

This is definitely not the land of that savage and cannibal Shaka Zulu, but it is one that was built on the blood, sweat and tears of enslaved peoples whose descendants have chosen to make this their home. The racism, xenophobia and downright hostility that all minorities face would somewhat be reduced if people get to know each other from an early age - and that is what the teaching of history in schools should be about.

It should not be about triumphalism on the part of the victors in the centuries-old historical struggle for dominance. It should be about humanity and common understanding.

Sir Hastings wants those kids so inclined to take courses in 20th century mass murders and despotic movements such as communism and fascism. Would that he had told us whether there would be any space in his curriculum for the crimes against humanity committed and still being perpetrated by Bush and Blair in the name of freedom and democracy in Iraq and elsewhere! Or, are those episodes about imperialist self-interest? We should be told.

Sir Hastings may be more knowledgeable than I am about history and the teaching of it, but I know that the world history taught to me by my school masters in Darkest Africa, has made me a well-rounded intellectual being. Presumably, he would want less for British kids.

Long live blogging

Which brings me, seamlessly, to Uncle’s offering to the London Guardian of 24 May, titled “A foreign knowledge desert requires cultural irrigation3”. As you may have guessed from the title, the piece posits that the cure for ignorance is knowledge. Its strapline: “Unless we teach Americans more about us, we'll continue to be dismayed by the thrust of their foreign policies”. Is this a chronic case of self-contradiction, or is it foot-in-the-mouth-itis?

I will say no more. Take the floor, Sir Hastings: “Only by reaching out to Americans can we hope over a generation or two to make them better attuned to the world outside their own vast powerhouse. Unless we spend the money and make the effort, we shall continue to be dismayed by the consequences of foreign policies shaped by a few clever and sophisticated people in the state department, and some pretty ignorant ones in the White House and elsewhere. We cannot justly complain about how little Americans know of the world, if we shrink from doing our part to alleviate their condition.”

Yes, he loves Americans, more than his own people. The Americans deserve a better understanding of history, of the world. But not British kids. As I said before, he is an honourable man, a distinguished editor twice over and the proud owner of a knighthood for services to the (old, new, who knows?) empire. All I have tried to do is put the case before a jury of sorts, for them to arrive at their own conclusions, not about the British media in general, but about certain illustrious alumni of it. You may not agree with my nudge-nudge, wink-wink for, taken on their own, the articles may seem harmless. However, add them together and see what you get.

To come back to my introductory paragraph, would this man have given me a job when he was editor? Would he now were he still one? Long live blogging and long live the net! Otherwise, you would not have seen this article.