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.

  • Clyde Duncan  On October 22, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    So many Indians and Pakistanis, why so few Chinese in British politics?

    •Despite their educational and economic success, ethnically Chinese people are still underrepresented in the British parliament

    •Nicolas Groffman examines the reasons why | South China Morning Post

    The Chinese are greatly under-represented in British politics. According to the last census, there are 433,150 ethnic Chinese in Britain, 0.7 per cent of the population, around 40 per cent of whom were born in mainland China.

    If they were proportionately represented in parliament, one would expect four or five MPs of Chinese ethnicity.

    But at present there is only one, Alan Mak, the Tory MP for Havant, and one Chinese member of the House of Lords, Nat Wei.

    If we take representation in the House of Commons as a guideline, all other ethnic groups do better in politics than the Chinese. There are, for example, 29 MPs of South Asian origin.

    The Chinese community in Britain is financially and academically a net contributor to society and scores above average compared with other ethnic minority groups, but it is the weakest link in politics.

    Incidentally, the Chinese are also under-represented in the performing arts, the military and the police.

    What is it about Chinese ethnicity that brings about this disparity? It is clearly not educational attainment or wealth, which are both above average for Chinese Britons.

    The Chinese are good tax payers, and get involved in community activities as volunteers and workers. But it does appear that cultural and behavioural factors are restricting them from standing for election. Is it because they are selfish? Timid? Uninterested in politics?

    Liberal Democrat peer Clement Jones, deputy chair of the all-party parliamentary group on China, puts it differently: “The Chinese in Britain tend to take a Confucian approach to politics, preferring gradual change to firebrand oratory.”

    The fact is that when Chinese people do make an effort, they tend to do reasonably well even if they do not get voted in.

    Back in 2010, a mainland Chinese-born candidate stood as a Conservative in Liverpool Riverside and got a respectable 10.9 per cent of the vote.

    This was despite having a strong Chinese accent and standing in a constituency that traditionally votes Labour by a huge majority.

    The candidate, Wu Kegang, actually increased the Tory share of the vote by 2 per cent.

    Now chairman of the BCC Link to China, an organisation dedicated to building partnerships, he looks back on that election as a significant learning experience.

    “I would never suggest the system is rigged against Chinese candidates,” he told me recently.

    “No one attacked me because of my race. In politics, it’s not a question of whether the system is fair or unfair.”

    “It’s about whether you can connect with your electorate. You can do that any way you like.”

    Alan Mak, who was born and brought up in England, is not eager to talk about ethnicity.

    He wants to be – and generally he is – liked or disliked on the basis of his politics and his manner rather than his Chineseness.

    Mak has observed growing numbers getting involved in grass-roots politics and community campaigns, and says he hopes this will translate into more elected Chinese representatives in the future.

    In his own constituency of Havant, on the south coast of England, the population is 98.5 per cent white. There is nothing Chinese about Mak’s campaign or his politics.

    The story could not be more different for Yang Jian, an MP in New Zealand who has a whole website in Chinese complete with WeChat accounts and teams of Chinese volunteers working on his campaign.

    His political work was of course related to his constituency and its local issues, but the overtly mainland Chinese nature of some of his campaigning and the fact that he had worked in China within the intelligence services before he moved to New Zealand prompted accusations he had helped train spies before he moved to New Zealand.

    Yang’s story is savoured by some of Britain’s intelligence wonks, who think it is an example of cunning Chinese infiltration into free-world politics.

    It is not – it’s an example of how wafer thin Chinese political influence really is.

    Even intelligence insiders like Yang can shrug off mainland Chinese doctrine with little effort after a few years in the Anglosphere.

    Some point to the traditional unwillingness of Chinese people to stick their heads above the parapet. “A gun shoots at the leading bird” is an old Chinese saying on the dangers of standing out.

    Yet it would be beneficial for the UK as a whole if more Chinese were involved in its politics.

    Chinese people bring their traditional virtues of diligence and intelligence, and in a well-administered society, they can develop these virtues for their own benefit of and for society.”

    In the case of immigrants turned citizens, they bring a strong objectivity. Second-generation Britons of any ethnicity tend to be carried along with mainstream opinion, but first-generation immigrants are more resistant to local groupthink.

    This was particularly evident in the Chinese immigrant response to Brexit, which has been phlegmatic and, indeed, optimistic.

    There has been a marked improvement in Chinese participation in other forms of politics. For example, many universities have had Chinese leaders in their student unions, and many town councils have Chinese members.

    These are feeble beginnings, and some of the student leaders are simply people who have been asked to put their names forward by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association in the belief that this will somehow forward China’s interests in Britain. But it is better than nothing.

    It is perhaps unfair to be too demanding of the Chinese community while its numbers are small. The Indo-Pakistani-Bangladeshi population, if taken as one group, amounts to nearly 5 per cent of Britain’s population, so it is perhaps not surprising that it feels more at home and participates more in public life.

    The answer, according to Wu Kegang, lies not with the electorate but with Chinese people themselves. You can’t force people to become public servants.

    They need to make the effort to communicate outside their own circle of friends, and to care enough about local politics to use their skills and experiences to help the wider community.

    When this happens, it will benefit not just British Chinese, but the wider UK.

    • walter  On October 22, 2018 at 5:30 pm

      It seemed that Asians, Chinese and Indians preferred to control politicians behind the scene, never in public. The Indians. today have stepped out of the background, and I expect the Chinese will start doing this soon, maybe already started. Off topic, every one complains about the past, every site on the internet, every politicians it is a distraction, end up in an ever lasting conversation. Asians, and many Guyanese/West Indians are aware of these problems, but seem to understand, that not every one is a Gandhi, or a Mandela, that is a 24/7 protest. Do whatever you can to better the situation [no complaining] but remember you have a life or a few lives for whom you may be responsible. Respect your self, teach your children, no one is better than you. move forward.

  • Clyde Duncan  On October 22, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    History Is Too White, Claim Academics

    Nicola Woolcock | The Times UK

    Mark Twain wrote that the ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.

    Now academics have begun a campaign to make history less white and “Eurocentric” in schools and universities after research found that racism was a common experience among those studying the subject.

    The Royal Historical Society is spearheading a campaign to make history more diverse.

    In a foreword to a report released today, its president Margot Finn, a professor of modern British history at University College London, says that society “needs to ask itself hard questions” about “systems of racial and ethnic privilege”.

    The report says that 89 per cent of history and philosophy students are white, compared with 77.3 per cent of all students, and that racism is a common experience of black and ethnic minority staff and students in history departments.

    It adds: “The racism . . . includes the stereotyping of historians by equating ethnicity with skills. It also includes forms of exclusion and silencing. Such behaviour is discriminatory for the individual, and at worst abusive.”

    [Of course, the “forms of exclusion and silencing” sounds like ‘know your place’ – ‘be seen and not heard’ colonial mentality, to me.]

    The report uses a year of research and a survey of 700 university historians. It offers guidance for academic historians on how to diminish barriers to equality, so that they can “attract and train the best intellects”.

    History attracts one of the lowest proportions of black or minority ethnic students, or academics, compared with other disciplines, the report says.

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