08 September, 2010
Playing the card once too often
Now I hear annoying ring tones every day. I'm not sure which are worse, the cutesy homebrews like this one or the downloaded popular tunes. My pet hates are people who insist on listening to the entire tune before answering, or those people who spend ages fishing in the bottom of their bag for the ringing phone and then, at last retrieving it, spend what seems like hours squinting at the screen as if they'd never before seen such a device in their life, before timidly pressing the answer key and offering a tentative "Hello". Such people should be punished by chaining them to a wall while a just out-of-reach handset plays the whole of Mahler's fifth as its ringtone (with the option of commutation of the sentence to public hanging if there are mitigating circumstances).
But Mr Smith's ringtone is hardly in that class of genuine disruptive offensiveness. Not to an irredeemable racist thug like moi, any way. Unfortunately the unnamed offendee, apparently a lady of mixed heritage, thought otherwise. As I read the newspaper report, she didn't collapse in tearful horror and fear of imminent racist mayhem in the shop where she overheard Mr Smith's phone. Instead she went home to allow her victimhood to simmer for a while before reporting the crime to the police. And in due course a couple of coppers felt Mr Smith's collar and an outraged beak handed down a suitably stiff penalty.
So then, will the firm judicial handling of this incident demonstrate and reaffirm the national will to clamp down on racism; will it allow and encourage people of colour to walk freely with pride and without fear in our streets? Will it promote commuity cohesion and brotherly love? Or will it just piss people off, exacerbate White resentment and promote segregation and mutual hostility?
Let me tell you a story.
Back in mediæval times, or the late 1970s as they are commonly known, I was working as, among other things, a team leader to a group of technical clerks.
Now there are some jobs which are fulfilling and which engage the worker's ready enthusiasm. There are some jobs which are mind-numbingly tedious and repetitive but which, with practice, you can more-or-less delegate to your autonomous nervous system. (How does the old joke go? (Warning: sexist filth alert!) Q. "Why do women knit?" A. "To give them something to think about while they're talking.")
And then there are those jobs which are tedious but require ongoing concentration from a reasonably bright worker, such that you cannot ever quite get to the stage of doing them on autopilot while devoting your attention to riding a mental unicycle round the office, balancing a beachball or your nose. Not unnaturally there was a fair old turnover as staff moved on to more interesting work or into work at a higher grade.
When replacement staff were assigned to me, I would groan (internally, of course) when I learned that my new clerk was from an ethnic minority. If you have read this blog before you will now be thinking, "No surprise there then. This Greenwood fella is a racist thug of a particularly vile stripe." Well, not so fast. For one thing, this is 30 years ago when I was still a paid-up Labour-voting Guardian-reading Lefty for whom yer Darkie was self-evidently the relentless victim of racist neo-colonialist White oppession and to be abjectly propitiated and appeased at every opportunity, innit.
No, this reaction was born of real-life experience, the experience of both myself and other team leaders, including the modest sprinkling of South Asians then at my level. The unfortunate truth was that ethnic minority underlings brought with them a significant probability of the race card being deployed. How significant? Hard to say, I wasn't keeping stats, was I? But from my own direct experience and from anecdote, I would put it as high as one-quarter to one-half of cases.
Deployment of the race card was not generally directed at me, for I'm a lovely fella what gets on well with everybody, innit geezer, but at the "The System", at "Institutional Racism". But deployed it would eventually be with tiresome predictability.
And with the best will in the world, forever having to find diplomatic ways of communicating
— Actually, you didn't fail the promotion interview just because you're a Spade, Winston. You failed because you're a chippy Spade who sees a racial slur in every interaction. You failed because you would be more trouble than you're worth.or
— I'm sorry that HR have valued your Indian degree at equivalent to one A-level, Sanjay. Fact is, they quite genuinely don't rate your "BA" from the Dirtpur Academy of Applied Tantric Yoga, Karmic Homœopathy and Accountancy all that highly.does tend to lose its sparkle after a while.
Even by the 1970s and 1980s, the race card as a weapon had come to be viewed as an entitlement for ethnic minorities much as the Whitley quota* was, and possibly still is, for staff of all shades in the UK civil service. I have had conversations with colleagues of colour (obviously not people in my own management hierarchy) who have openly boasted of their intention to deploy the race card in order to get their way.
So where does this leave us in 2010? How have the last 40 years of official legally-enforced Anti-Racism contributed to race relations and "community cohesion" in wonderful multicultural Britain?
I can only speak for myself. Fortunately for all concerned, the likelihood of me starting a business with employees is vanishingly small, but if I were to do so I have to say that I would go to considerable lengths to avoid employing non-Whites (with the possible exception of people I have known well for a long time and have come to trust). Frankly, the overhead of perpetually watching out for their precious sensitivities is not worth it.
And as to the racist ringtone incident, well it merely exacerbates my increasing instinct to avoid going anywhere near, let alone interacting with, people of colour. I'm sorry, guys, I just can't be bothered tiptoeing round your preening hair-trigger victim sensibilities any more.
Welcome to the Happy Multiculture.
* Negotiations on routine staff terms and conditions in the British civil service have traditionally been mediated through bodies called Whitley Councils. One such T&C was the certification of sick absence, where it was agreed that, to avoid adding unnecessarily to the workload of GPs in documenting trivial self-healing complaints, staff should be allowed to "self-certify" sick absences of up to 3 days, up to a total allowance of 10 working days in any one year.
Not unnaturally, such self-certificated days off became known as taking a Whitley and in some quarters this 10 days' worth of unvalidated sickies came to be seen as an entitlement, a form of supplementary annual leave, and as the year drew towards its end local staff groups would even informally contact members of staff to remind them that "they hadn't taken all their Whitleys" for the year.
BTW The actor who utters these 'racist' words went on to become the good looking bloke in Goodness Gracious Me! (ie not the tubby one who married his co-star Meera Syal). Channel 4 does indeed repeat Rita Sue & Bob Too quite often- it is one of a small number of 'social realist' 1980s Brit films that actually does wear well- I always remember Bob cursing the architect of his downfall bluntly, and in very un pc terms, as 'Fat Fookin Mavis!'
ten minutes ago I popped out, despite the rain, to pick up a copy of Samuel Beckett's letters, which was wainting for me at my local Idea Store(Tower Hamlets council speak for library)
While waiting for the book to be processed the Library Assistant, a black woman in her forties, informed me that
Eid the last day of Ramadan was this Friday.
Was I looking forward to it, she asked?
As I am a slightly balding white dude in his early fifties, I could not totally conceal my surprise.
I think the kids look so smart,she added. The streets will be chocker with stretch limos. Joy will be in the air.
I was tempted to inform her about the tendency for local Muslims to celebrate Eid by hanging out of stretch limos and letting all and sundry know of their love for Osaaaama!
Hmmmm. Tough one. I'm going to have to take a while to think about it...
OK, done. It's the latter.
I mean, tracking this chap down through a report made a while later must have been no small amount of detective work relying on CCTV, mobile phone record search, etc (unless the shopkeeper said "Oh, I know who you mean, he lives three doors away").
I guess the police points-scoring system must be rather like 'Scrabble' - a 'racist' incident is clearly the equivalent of getting 'Q' on a double word score...
She was winding you up, waiting for a reaction.
I would have replied "No, but I am looking forward to International Burn a Koran Day..." for maximum impact, and minimal possible repercussions.