What’s the legal definition of racism? I don’t know; maybe someone can enlighten me. My dictionary tells me it means “A belief in the superiority of a particular race: prejudice based on this” or “Antagonism towards other races…” It goes on a bit but the other meanings aren’t relevant right now.
Even as I write this, I’m concerned that I’m inviting trouble. It’s a very difficult subject but, not being one to bury my head in the sand, I’m going for it anyway. I love the Internet (as you might have noticed) and have been making friends behind the scenes with people from all over the world. I don’t know if they’re black, white, brown, green or purple, they’re my pals. It doesn’t matter. OK, so you sometimes get clues from someone’s name but that’s not the point.
I do not wish to offend anyone but I sometimes feel totally inhibited about what I may or may not write on this site because of the racism issue. I tend to crack jokes about women – because I am one; about men – because I’m married to one; about Scots – again, because I am one; but I am shit scared of doing anything else. It’s because I’ve already had my fingers burned.
Some years ago, I was involved in writing a skit for a New Year’s Ball. There had been an incident reported in the local newspaper about how the pilot and co-pilot had fought over a stewardess during a flight. In the skit, we poked fun at the local airline for that and while we were at it gave British Airways a good slagging off too. The top BA man was present and appeared to enjoy the joke. BUT an Englishwoman who was married to a local man complained bitterly that the skit was racist. We had our knuckles severely rapped.
I have often worked in places, and with other nationalities, where I was the only Scot. Believe me, I know that I am a foreigner amongst them. I get called a “haggis-eater” (I don’t even like haggis) and “Jock”, and people make fun of bagpipes, kilts, you name it – anything Scottish is up for a good ribbing. It doesn’t bother me in the least because it all seems to be good-humoured fun. I join in and act the part. Now that’s the point!
If I poke fun at an Asian, a Jew, or a black person, if it’s genuinely meant as fun then it should be OK. Right? Wrong! Different people define “fun” in different ways. I think that it is the intention which is important – is it intended to be derogatory? But you can’t legislate for intentions and you can’t define “fun”.
It seems to me that part of the problem might stem from the confidence of the other race. The Scots, for example, whilst having been oppressed by the English for years, will never kow-tow. Some other nations, on the other hand, have been subjected to everything from sheer exploitation to paternalistic colonialism. Some do kow-tow and those better educated amongst them quite rightly resent the inference of superiority. But does that mean we can’t have jokes about other races? I sincerely hope not.
One of my favourite comedy programmes is Goodness Gracious Me. It’s a complete send-up of British Asian families. It’s hilarious, but am I being racist by suggesting that they get away with it because they are British Asians? I’m not getting on that ridiculous soap box where people moan that being white, heterosexual etc puts you in a minority, but could we all relax please?
Meanwhile, until or unless I get the OK from some Brits who aren’t of Caucasian descent I shall continue to be muzzled.
Where would you draw the line? Have you ever been the victim of racist abuse, or been accused of racism? Comment now and let us know!
Phillida McCollum is a freelance writer who specialises in writing about stuff to fill space on BE. [Can't think of anything amusing right now... ho hum]