There was a time when England was great. It was racist and brutal and overbearing and all kinds of other bad things, but it was also great: a bastion of idealism, a global cultural centre, a nation of inventors and warriors. A small island that dominated the world militarily, yes, but also culturally – and not just because of overbearing colonialism, (often the reason, granted) but also because they’d figured important things out.
And now they’re the nation that adjudicates personal spates in which a Welsh woman is fined for calling an English woman an “English cow”. This is ‘racism’, see, and the power of the state must be brought to bear whenever the dreaded ‘R’ word rears its head, no matter how small the infraction.
Apparently I should be getting a lot more upset when my colleague calls me an Upper Canadian.
Racism is a terribly complicated thing. Bad, of course, but complicated. Which is precisely why the attempts of government to curb it are sometimes so ham-handed. I should grant that without any government efforts to stop racism, it would likely be more widespread than it is. This is one of those cases where I can’t claim all government efforts have been bad. But it’s this terrifying urge social engineers have to perfect us all that gets society into trouble. Preventing a racially-motivated gang from attacking immigrants, or a radio station from playing songs inciting violence against a minority are the right job for government. Regulating schoolyard taunts is not.
I’m fascinated by the difficulties faced by the entertainment industry in its attempts to represent reality while obeying society's expectations regarding racism. Django Unchained is an example. You may have heard of the interview in which Samuel Jackson encouraged a white interviewer to say the ‘N’ word.
What was the right response from the interviewer? He could hide behind saying the interview wasn’t about him, it was about the subject, Jackson, and the film, and that saying the word would have made the interview about that.
But the interview ended up being about that anyway. And as a conversation between two people, it was as bizarre a moment as it was interesting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQdYM0ZzOEI
Is the movie racist? Is Quentin Tarantino racist? I saw the movie and enjoyed it. Does that say something about me?
Then there’s the current spat over the CBC’s casting ad looking for someone who wasn’t Caucasian: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/Casting+agency+apologizes+white+posting/8312002/story.html
The ad agency has fallen on its sword and taken blame. What’s funny about this is that it isn’t really news, it’s just a public example of a well-established policy. But before you assume I’ll start decrying “racism against whites,” think again. Like I said before, racism is complicated – too complicated for the silly sloganeering of the politically correct or courts that fine a Welsh woman 50 pounds for attacking an Englishwoman for her ‘race’.
Shouldn’t casting agents have the right to put people who look a certain way or mean a particular thing to their audience in certain roles? An absurd example: In casting the role of Hitler for a movie, should the public broadcaster consider an Asian woman?
It’s not the same, of course, but what that example says about art is relevant. In creating television programming, producers and directors have the right to decide what they want a finished work to be, right down to the colour of the host’s shoes and, yes, the colour of his skin.
Or do they?
Again, these are complicated and subtle things best left to the general public and the private sector to vote on with their feet and dollars. When government attempts to establish a coherent rule set to cover all cases, it messes up. Any legislation regarding racism should only address obvious, overt harms the vast majority of people can agree on. Attempting to slice the subject more thinly risks running immediately into absurdity. You end up with the idiocy of the politically correct objecting to the Conservative government’s use of the word ‘barbaric’ when describing abhorrent cultural practices: http://www.freedominion.ca/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=163050
My suspicion is that only a handful of saints are free of one form of prejudice or another. The degree to which we hold these prejudices, the degree to which we recognize they are prejudices and the degree to which we act on them is far more pertinent.
What better way to end this blog post than with a racial slur of my own. I can’t stand President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s sabre rattling over the Falklands. Let it go already, you Argentine llama!