Prejudice Will Never Be A Thing of The Past – Matthew Parris | The Times UK

Prejudice Will Never Be A Thing of The Past

Matthew Parris | The Times UK

We look back appalled at racial attitudes of the 1970s but maybe treatment of trans people is our generation’s blind spot

Guess when this was written: 1930, 1950, 1960 . . . when?

“Because we fall backwards to fill our posts by fair and open competition, we can only assume that, since the ethnic minority groups do not fare as well in our competitions as do people of European descent, the ethnic minority groups do not possess the qualities which we require, on average, to as high a degree as their British-born counterparts.”

And guess who wrote this memo. Some BNP racist thug, or publicity-seeking shock-columnist looking for a fight?              

NO. It was written days before the start of the 1980s and its author was a senior principal officer in the Civil Service Department, writing to a colleague to back up his complaint that some “people of negro descent classified themselves as English”.         

Black Skin, Whitehall: Race and the Foreign Office 1945 to 2018: For all its scholarly and careful language, a paper published yesterday by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office makes incendiary reading. Its historian, James Southern, has carried out a comprehensive study.

At 25, I entered the diplomatic service: one of about a dozen “administrative trainee” recruits in my year, 1975. We were two or three white women, seven or eight white men and one British man of Indian origin, Robin Chatterjie. Robin – who died young – became a friend. He was a popular figure among us and an obviously outstanding recruit. We all thought ourselves the crème de la crème, and wouldn’t have bothered about race: Robin was Oxbridge, that was the thing.

As for me, I was haunted by anxiety about being secretly gay and so knew all about the office prejudices that affected me. But I had absolutely no idea Robin was almost certainly (forgive the italics) the first non-white recruit in history to the fast stream of the FCO.

Even today the proportion of non-white recruits is well below national averages and has barely changed in 30 years. I should be surprised if a similar pattern would not emerge in the senior ranks of all the great departments of state: So, all credit to the FCO, at least, for publishing these findings.

I won’t try to summarise 30 pages of painstaking evidence and explanation.

It’s cringe-worthy reading:

James Southern quotes official memos about the unlikelihood that anyone called “Chin” could owe their loyalty to Britain;and here’s a memo from 1965: “[With] the present upsurge of racialist feeling among negroes throughout the world, there would be a considerable risk in employing a negro in a diplomatic service post abroad.” Such a person “would immediately become a target for subversion by the Iron Curtain countries”.

The officer in question was discussing the possible blocking of three non-white applicants for transfer from elsewhere in the civil service, all of whom had passed their entrance exams with flying colours. One official wanted to block the “negro”; his colleagues wanted to block the two others: one with “a Chinese name” – Mr Chin’s origins were in British Guiana – and the third of Indian origin. All three were eventually blocked, the real reason never stated.

Politicians tended to duck. Only Roy Jenkins and Robin Cook emerge with real credit. Senior civil servants, meanwhile, sought ways of avoiding explicitly discriminatory rules, thus concealing race as the real reason. Instead they invented supposed “attributes” that non-whites might lack, like the attribute of appearing to others, or feeling, thoroughly “English”.

James Southern makes a most important point, which renders his study more than historical and painfully relevant to the present. It’s not enough, he says, to remark that public attitudes were different then. Attitudes were changing and everyone knew it. Enlightenment was coming and millions could see the light. Reactionary thinking knew this and so sought to conceal its purposes and prejudices behind apparently rational practical arguments.

We all do this with our prejudices. So, I’ve been thinking about Southern’s study in the light of today’s horribly angry debate about “trans” people.

On the facts and the rationalities, I’m with my brave Times colleague Janice Turner, whose journalism I much respect. I don’t think women can have penises; don’t think anybody in any field is free to categorise themselves without reference to how others would describe them; I do think women who want “women-only” places have a right for their fears to be heard; and I do think that, changing gender being so important a step and so hard to reverse, we should give deep thought to how fast and how early in life a person should do this.

There’s a “BUT” coming, though. Only a trans person can know how it feels, or have first-hand experience of how the world is reacting to them. I noticed homophobia in the FCO because I was gay. I didn’t notice the institutional racism because I was not of Indian origin. If Robin Chatterjie had moaned about racial prejudice – he never breathed a word on the subject – I’d have said he was imagining it, making a fuss about nothing.

Might there then be a reason for the huge and, to my mind, irrational rage and anxiety that so many trans people feel?

Do the rest of us have any idea of the invisible cage that gender makes around us all, and the tremendous difficulty and pain of breaking it?

Don’t we still struggle not to think of transitioning as weird?

How would you feel, all day, every day, everywhere, to sense that those around you were seeing you as weird?

How can I, as a man who cannot begin to know how it would feel not to be blissfully happy in my own gender, whisper to myself that this trans thing is all got up by the media?

When I was young, people said gays were a tiny, tiny minority of sad, twisted people and our claims for rights preposterous.Now cheerful gays are bouncing out of the woodwork all over the place. Today gays and straights commonly see bisexuality as unusual and more likely a cover for being gay.

Everything in our upbringing rigidifies gender. Rule-bending or shape-shifting invites mockery, hilarity, fascination or horror. Break that cultural cage and who knows what the types and the numbers might be? I don’t. I really don’t. And that’s all I’m trying to say.

Read James Southern’s report and remind yourself how ignorant, in retrospect, an age can be.

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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On October 7, 2018 at 5:19 am

    Very interesting and informative.
    It seems “humanoids” are still “tribal”
    in their class prejudices.
    Let’s all hope aliens 👽are more accommodating in their colonising of planet earth.
    Learn from the mistakes of tribalistic man/woman – kind.
    Social media is changing mindsets
    as we progress into future generations.

    Prejudices remain the “stigmata”
    of the past.
    “Snobbery and snottiness”
    becomes “unfashionable”
    An embarrassment to those who still practices all kinds of prejudices.
    Kamtan aka lord alien 👽

  • Trevor  On October 8, 2018 at 1:06 am

    Laughable how the Union Jack country merges historical anti-Black racism, and xenophobia with that of modern European gay rights and feminist rights.

    Slaves from Jamaica were sodomised against their will by mainly British and Jewish plantation owners during the times of slavery, and African-American men were hung from trees and burned alive along with their entire families by mobs of white men for offending a feminist American woman back in segregation days.

    African-American men have been presently target practice for police and a female police officer used feminism as a way to play the victim when she shot an innocent and unarmed Black man while she “accidentally” broke into his own condo unit!

    I find it offensive that whites change the struggle to suit their own agenda. How can they compare the atrocities of my African-American sisters being burned alive because of lying white Americans with that of their “rights” to have intimate relations with children and animals under LGBTQ?

  • Clyde Duncan  On October 8, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    Civility Has Its Limits

    The conflict over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination centered NOT on tribalism, but on a lack of justice.

    Peter Beinart | The Atlantic

    When it comes to Brett Kavanaugh, there are three camps. The first believes it’s a travesty that he was confirmed. The second believes it’s a travesty that he was smeared. The third believes it’s a travesty that the process was so divisive.

    David Brooks is in the third camp. The Kavanaugh hearings, he wrote on Friday, constituted an “American nadir”. You often hear such phrases from people who think the biggest problem with the Kavanaugh battle is that the participants weren’t more courteous and open-minded.

    Jeff Flake said that in debating Kavanaugh, the Senate “hit bottom”. Susan Collins called it “rock bottom”. Think about that for a second. For most of American history, Supreme Court nominees — like virtually all-powerful men — could sexually assault women with complete impunity.

    Now, because allegations of such behavior sparked a raucous, intemperate political fight, America has hit “rock bottom”, a “nadir”. How much better things were in the good old days, when sexual-assault allegations didn’t polarize the confirmation process, because sexual-assault victims were politically invisible.

    Implying, as Brooks, Flake, and Collins do, that America’s real problem is a lack of civility rather than a lack of justice requires assuming a moral equivalence between Brett Kavanaugh’s supporters and Christine Blasey Ford’s.

    “What we saw in these hearings,” writes Brooks, “was the unvarnished tribalization of national life.” The term tribe implies atavistic, amoral group loyalty:

    Huns versus Franks, Yankees versus Red Sox, Hatfields versus McCoys. There are no larger principles at stake. “There was nothing particularly ideological about the narratives,” laid out by Kavanaugh and Ford, Brooks declares, “nothing that touched on capitalism, immigration or any of the other great disputes of national life.”

    But gender is indeed one of the “great disputes of national life”.

    The Kavanaugh fight pitted people who worry that #MeToo hasn’t changed America enough, that it’s still too easy for men to get away with sexual assault, against people who fear that #MeToo has changed America too much, that it’s become too easy for women to ruin men’s lives by charging them with sexual assault.

    That’s not a tribal struggle; it’s an ideological one. It involves competing visions of the relationship between women and men.

    Describing Democrats and Republicans as warring tribes has become a political cliché, BUT IT IS WRONG.

    If tribal implies unthinking or inherited group loyalty, then Democrats and Republicans were actually more tribal in the mid-20th century. Back then, being a Democrat or a Republican signified less about your view of the world; because party identity was more a function of regional or ancestral ties.

    Whether or not they supported civil rights or higher taxes or the Korean War, Irish Catholics from Boston were mostly Democrats; Presbyterians from Kansas were mostly Republicans. Today, party identity is more a function of what you believe.

    The parties are so bitterly polarized not because they’ve become more tribal but because they’ve become more ideological.

    But for Brooks, depicting the supporters of Kavanaugh and Ford as tribes is useful because it doesn’t only suggest moral equivalence, it also implies an equivalence of power.

    The “tribalization” of American politics, Brooks argues, “leads to an epidemic of bigotry. Bigotry involves creating a stereotype about a disfavored group and then applying that stereotype to an individual you’ve never met.

    It was bigotry against Jews that got Alfred Dreyfus convicted in 1894. It was bigotry against young black males that got the Central Park Five convicted in 1990. It was bigotry against preppy lacrosse players that led to the bogus Duke lacrosse scandal.”

    THIS IS MISLEADING. There is no equivalence between the “bigotry” faced by preppy lacrosse players and that faced by black males. There’s no equivalence, because preppy lacrosse players, in general, enjoy far more privilege and power and thus, the stereotypes people hold of them don’t generally land them in jail or dead.

    Similarly, there is no equivalence between the “bigotry” faced by men accused of sexual assault and the “bigotry” faced by women who suffer it.

    There’s no equivalence, because men wield far more power. If you don’t think that matters, try imagining Kavanaugh getting confirmed by a Senate composed of 79 women.

    The struggle over Kavanaugh was, at its core, a struggle between people who want gender relations to change and people who want them to remain the same.

    And throughout American history, whenever oppressed groups and their supporters have agitated for change, respectable moderates have warned that they were FORMENTING INCIVILITY AND DIVISION.

    In April 1963, seven white Alabama ministers and one rabbi wrote a letter to Martin Luther King Jr.. The letter articulated no position on segregation and the right to vote. It assumed, instead, a moral equivalence between blacks who wanted race relations to change and whites who wanted them to remain the same.

    Both sides held “honest convictions in racial matters.” Both “our white and Negro citizenry” should “observe the principles of law and order and common sense”.

    The real danger, the authors claimed, was “friction and unrest”. Averting it required “forbearance” and “restraint” on both sides.

    King, whose Birmingham campaign was titled “Project C” — for confrontation — was purposefully fomenting such friction and unrest through marches, sit-ins, and boycotts.

    While “technically peaceful”, the ministers and rabbi warned, the “extreme measures” adopted by King and his supporters “incite to hatred and violence”.

    In his response, written from jail, King argued that the white clergymen were mistaking symptom for disease.

    The problem wasn’t “friction and unrest” between Birmingham’s two tribes. It was centuries of oppression, which there was no frictionless way to overcome.

    “I am not afraid of the word ‘tension,’” King explained. “We must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

    Even as Bull Connor’s men savagely beat black protesters in the streets, King recognized that Birmingham was NOT hitting “rock bottom”. It was rising from an almost century-long nadir in which white supremacy — no matter how murderous — was barely even a subject of political controversy, in which black powerlessness was the foundation on which comity between two of America’s white-dominated political parties rested.

    The problem that the Kavanaugh struggle laid bare is NOT “unvarnished tribalism”.

    The problem is that women who allege abuse by men still often face male-dominated institutions that do not thoroughly and honestly investigate their claims.

    That problem is NOT new; it is very old.

    What is new is that this injustice now sparks bitter partisan conflict and upends long-standing courtesies.

    Rape survivors yell at politicians in the Senate halls. THE VARNISH — the attractive, glossy coating that protected male oppression of women — IS COMING OFF.

    Brooks, Collins, and Flake may decry the “tension” this exposes.

    But, as King understood, the “dark depths of prejudice” can’t be overcome any other way.

    • Trevor  On October 8, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      Great! The suffering of Africans and East Indians under colonialism is similar to the false accusations of loose and privileged white American women under Trump. I wish that my ancestors could made false complaints all day and be believed, even when some of the African slaves in the Caribbean and Americas were probably raped every day and no one, up to this day, gives a hoot!

      • kamtanblog  On October 9, 2018 at 5:00 am

        If it can be proven today descendants of that generation should sue British an EU governments for compensation.
        They just need proof that it happened. Hard call but plausible.
        If I was a descendant of “unlawful” sex aka “rape”and can prove it beyond all reasonable doubt would be sueing the government for compensation today.
        A lot of us are descendants of lawful rape…
        Go figure

        Lord alien 👽🇬🇾🇬🇧

      • Trevor  On October 9, 2018 at 5:36 pm

        Theresa May has been reluctant to compensate those of the 1950s who were immigrants to the UK who suddenly lost British citizenship under her office. I don’t see the Europeans giving us any compensation for the slave trade run by Amsterdam merchants in the 1500s to early 1800s & later the British until 1966.

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