Monday, 26 March 2012

Playing Politics with Race

By Michael Roderick 
It seems interesting that the racially-motivated murder of a young, black Floridian should have taken place on the same week as the slaughter of 4 French Jews by a lone radical, Mohammed Merah. Both events have managed to bring the prickly issue of race to the political forefronts of their respective nations; both issues have highlighted the ugly but often silent infestation of prejudice in many Western cultures. In France we have seen an appalling political game. Faced with the imminent Presidential elections, the candidates have quite openly plundered the situation for their own gain. Nobody seems to know quite what’s going on: the Socialists are blaming the hysterical rhetoric of the right for precipitating the tragedy, the right are calling for some sort of general crackdown on muslims or The Enemy or something like that; Madame Le Pen, the leader of France’s ultra-nationalist Front National, who seemed to be in retreat only a few days ago at the prospect that she might have to deal with an angry public and press following a Norwegian-style massacre committed by a rightist lunatic (the kind of people that make up her party), has, since it developed that the gunman was not some Jew-hating nationalist but rather a Jew-hating Mohammedan (as she would phrase it), emerged as Joan d’Arc Triumphant, heroically attacking the barbarian-oriental-northafrican-nonwhite enemy who want to destroy France and all that is good and white and decent and wholesome and white. It’s a foul circus, at once hilarious to watch as French politicians tangle themselves in knots of used and vacuous prejudices; at the same time horrifying to watch French politicians willing to resort to used and vacuous prejudices for political advance.

It is therefore remarkable to see American politicians, so often willing to embarrass themselves with a whole menagerie of hideous gaffes and inaccuracies, playing a rather safer and more tactful game than their French counterparts after an incident which has sparked a similar flurry of so-called ‘national debate and soul-searching’: the death of Trayvon Martin. Despite the protestations of the Florida Police, it is increasingly obvious that the man who shot the boy dead, George Zimmerman, has committed a crime, or at least there should be a more thorough investigation into the incident. What is more, it really doesn’t matter if there is a racial element to Martin’s murder, what matters, at least to the sump of the American Media, is that people have taken it as a racially-motivated crime. And yet, despite also it being an election year, with the President no doubt eager to project his pater patriae image, Mr Obama has remained remarkably unwilling to discuss or mention the racial issues that have bubbled up. In his only public statement on the matter, the President skipped around the controversy, noting only how ‘every parent in America’ should feel concerned. His one possible racial remark noted only how if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. Whilst I was reading about both this incident and the one in France in The Times on Saturday, the exact same phrase was used in both articles to refer to how general society should react to such tragedies; a phrase, I dare say, that always makes me shudder- ‘soul-searching’. The same phrase was cheerily also used at the time of UK-wide riots last year, and one struggles to find a publication where such a phrase pops-up, or at least one similar to that, denoting comparable saccharine introspection at a non-existent problem, when a nation-shaking tragedy takes place. Yes, the death of Trayvon most certainly does highlight how incompetent and ignorant some of the Floridian police are; hell, it may even be worth discussing how some members of someof society view our youth, or African-Americans, or hoodie-wearers, or whatever. To infer anything else, or to over-blow the issue to such an extent as to call it a ‘national tragedy’, or claim it’s indicative of some latent ‘racist rot’ that afflicts the majority of American society , as the ham-‘civil-rights’ activist Al Sharpton claimed on Friday is dangerous nonsense. There is little worse than when large numbers of people, often ignorant and media-fed, start talking about the state of their culture, especially when they are jolted into doing so by some mass-moving event. Most of the stuff that’s spouted is nothing but rot (as the aforementioned attempt by the French to comprehend their massacre demonstrates), and is often distorted, histrionic, generalizing and sentimental.

Like the French shootings, the ‘discourse’ that emerged from the flames of the London Riots was noxious bunkum; the left blamed the rich, the right blamed the poor, David Starkey blamed the blacks, Darcus Howe (the hackneyed ‘old west-indian negro’ as he describes himself) blamed the whites and Society, or whatever that’s supposed to mean. The tragedy in Toulouse was certainly of national proportions. It can be granted the title of ‘national tragedy’. However, like with the death of Trayvon Martin, or the London Riots, or with any other event, catastrophe or calamity that seems of biblical importance at the time (and which gradually fades from national memory), what is needed is a healthy dose of perspective. Are the actions of a lone and lunatic fundamentalist in the south of France revealing of a wider curse that Muslims or immigrants or the usual suspects bring to society? Of course not, don’t be so stupid, there have always and will always be people ready to kill other people, whether or not they do it for what they believe. Is the fact that an African-American teenager was shot dead indicative of some internal rot infecting the whole of American society, or that the US is still largely racist, or that there is no justice for minorities whatsoever? Probably not, and if the case says anything about anything, it’s about legal loopholes and not cultural deficiencies. I repeat again, perspective is absolutely essential to the maintenance of sanity and the rejection of idiocy and easy, nebulous conclusions. In a recent party-address, Nicholas Sarkozy, again attempting to quantify and infer meaning or explanation, claimed that Merah, the perpetrator, was ‘inhuman’ and ‘a monster’. The President is mistaken; after all, what is more accurate, more frightening and more important for us to understand is that that ‘monster’ was, in fact, oh so human; oh so like us.

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