The strange way that racism is treated in the Guardian

This is a piece by Gary Younge in the Guardian about a photo exhibition at the Tate in London. Gary Younge starts off by mocking John Cleese (an actor whose contribution to British culture far exceeds anything offered by Younge):

Earlier this year, the actor John Cleese, now 80, repeated his claim: “London is no longer an English city.” In 2011, he had told an Australian audience: “I love having different cultures around, but when the parent culture kind of dissipates you’re left thinking: ‘Well, what’s going on?’” He had previously declared: “I love being down in Bath because it feels like the England that I grew up in.”

In May, he doubled down, insisting his foreign friends felt the same way, “so there must be some truth in it”, and describing London (wrongly) as “the UK city that voted most strongly to remain in the EU”.

We will leave aside the fact that Cleese lives in the Caribbean. His meaning was clear: in a familiar, wilful and tiresome confusion of race and place, he was disoriented by the multiracial and multicultural nature of Britain’s capital.


Why will we leave aside the fact that John Cleese lives in the Caribbean? If he was racist as this piece seems to be slyly suggesting then surely he wouldn’t choose to live there?

“describing London (wrongly) as “the UK city that voted most strongly to remain in the EU” – the current wave of Guardian journalists are so babyish that they cannot quote a view they disagree with without saying something like “Trump falsely claimed”, “Cleese wrongly said” etc. In fact it seems that London was a strong remainer city though it is true it was eclipsed by others such as Bristol by a few percentage points. But that is a detail and not the point. This throwing about of “wrongly” and “falsely” belies an intolerance and pettiness. Again Younge is avoiding dealing with the substantive point.

It is quite likely that Cleese’s foreign friends share his view. Why not address that point (rather a good one) than try to mock it by quoting Cleese’s “there must be some truth in it” in an attempt to portray him as some kind of unscientific old fogey.

As for “familiar, wilful and tiresome confusion of race and place, he was disoriented by the multiracial and multicultural nature of Britain’s capital”. This sounds like something which might sound good in a sociology essay at a certain kind of University – but what does “confusion of race and place” really mean? It isn’t explained; but possibly the idea is that there is no connection between race and place so anyone who says, for example, that the British belong in the UK or are somehow the primary racial group in these islands is being racist. (If so it is a good thing that Younge isn’t writing on Israel – he wouldn’t get far before being called an anti-Semite). It is a crazy idea which shows no grasp of how peoples and cultures develop – for example how climate and geography shape a culture. And, again, rather than discuss Cleese’s point Younge tries to mock it by saying it is “tiresome”. And Cleese was “disoriented”? Where did Cleese say he was “disoriented”? He just raised a question and suggested he felt more comfortable in Bath. This is an attempt at diagnosis. Psychological diagnosis of your opponent is yet another way that modern “progressives” use to try to dispose of their opponents and avoid argument and debate.

So Younge would prefer to mock, abuse and diagnose John Cleese rather than address the point. This is entirely characteristic of modern ‘progressives’. This is the argument which Younge is trying to evade and which John Cleese makes clearly and frankly:

Multiculturalism is one thing. John Cleese is in favour of this and likes it. But when the proportion of immigrants reaches such a level that the culture of the host country can no longer be discerned then that raises questions for him. Which sounds reasonable enough. If you believe in the idea of a people and a culture then it follows that you would question the dissipation of a culture. And surely Younge believes in this? After all he, apparently, wants to celebrate multiculturalism (which means supporting different cultures alongside one another). The actual issue here to be fair to Younge is whether multiculturalism means a number of different cultures living at ease alongside a historical and dominant culture (the idea of multiculturalism in the 1980s) or whether it means simply a range of different cultures in which the culture of the host country is just one alongside others. At least let’s discuss this question rather than try to block it and accuse the holders of the other view as being disoriented old racists.

Younge’ article is about an exhibition of photographs which illustrate the ethnic diversity of London (where, apparently, 40% of people identify as non white to 45% who describe themselves as white – note the obsession with ‘white’ and ‘non-white’). If this is really so wonderful why not just say that? Why does he have to pivot his piece off an invented and token “racist” – John Cleese? (Is it precisely because John Cleese is a great British icon – and the line is “You have had your day; move over”?)

In reality people like Younge are probably supporting a corporate view of racial and cultural assimilation – everyone mixes – there is no “discrimination” but everyone tends towards one homogeneous standard model (actually based on whiteness in the last analysis).

Another article in the Guardian today discusses claims that the Criminal Justice system is biased against young black people. Young black people are more likely than young white people to be sent to prison. We are told that this is because of “unconscious bias” and a lack of ‘BAME’ magistrates and judges. An academic is interviewed who claim that this shows “racial injustice”. Even the Ministry of Justice itself can’t bring itself to say outright the completely obvious point: there are more young black men in the Criminal Justice system, proportionally, because young black men, proportionally, commit more serious crimes – of the kind that incur a prison sentence – than young white men.

It is living in cloud cuckoo land to not say this. Yet saying this is proscribed.

This doesn’t mean that “unconscious bias” isn’t a factor. It doesn’t mean that conscious racism never happens. It probably does. (And maybe it happens both ways – with black magistrates showing bias towards young black defendants?) But it is highly likely that the overriding reason there are more young black men in youth jails is because they commit more and more serious crimes than their white counterparts.

To observe a social fact is not racist. But to try to evade this issue (young black men commit more crimes proportionally than their white counterparts) itself contains a little hint of racism. It is patronising to young black men. It denies their experience. Young black men are not just copies of young white men, and their experience of living in the UK (a huge generalisation of course) is not the same as that of young white men. Maybe they do, proportionally, commit more crimes – let’s understand why, rather than put it all down to “unconscious bias” against them – which, in the last analysis, renders them as simply copies of young white men.

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer