It seems that week after week, we're hit with another story of Nigel Farage or one of his UKIP counterparts spouting racist, sexist and homophobic comments left right and centre. It's become worryingly predictable, and it seems that although there is a candidate step down here and there, a half-hearted apology and a tepid reassurance that this is 'not representative of UKIP', they continue to receive support.
The most recent incident was Farage's defence of UKIP general election candidate Kerry Smith's use of the word 'chinky'. To put it in context, he referred to a Chinese woman as a 'chinky bird'. Although Smith stepped down as a candidate, Farage didn't exactly his condemn his colleague's incredibly bigoted choice of words. Farage instead claimed that a lot of people would use the word 'chinky' to describe going for a Chinese meal. Would they, Nigel? And if they would, does that really make it okay? Just because flippant racist comments are used by 'a lot of people', this does not mean that we as a society should tolerate it. The UKIP leader even went as far as to attribute the use of the word to Smith's 'working class background'. How pleasantly classist to assume that all working class people use this kind of language. Also, must I state the obvious that not all working class people are white?
Farage argued that a lot of people from Smith's background talk like that, and that it is 'snobbish' to condemn people for colloquial language, 'particularly if it's not meant with really unpleasant intent'. So there we have it. Before, we were 'playing the race card' when we challenged racism. Now, we're apparently 'snobs' if we dare ask people to refrain from using blatantly racist and insulting terms to refer to people of colour. It's almost laughable to witness the excuses that people will come up with in order to preserve discrimination.
'I feel a bit sorry for Kerry Smith, because he's a genuine fellow', Farage stated.
Here's an idea, Nigel, how about you start feeling sorry for the 'genuine fellows' who are consistently negatively affected by the actions of those who maintain and support racism, sexism and homophobia? As well as this, Farage seemed to hint that if the 'intent' isn't bad, then we should, as we are always told, just get over it. This is nothing new. We are bombarded with racist jokes, costumes, stereotypes and quips, and when we object there's a quick reaction of 'It's a joke, lighten up!' 'It wasn't meant like that!' 'It's not racist!' 'I have (insert race) friends and they don't mind!'.
Here's the thing. If you are not affected by racism and discrimination, you're not really in a position to tell people to how they should feel about and react to what they perceive as racism. If you do something that has racist connotations, it doesn't matter if you didn't intend it like that. The very act is perpetuating racism, and you accepting and defending that act is you demonstrating that casual racism is a-okay. Halloween and fancy dress costumes are a perfect example of this. People who you would assume to be reasonable will turn up in blackface or will dress up as 'Arab terrorists' and will be genuinely perplexed and defensive when you tell them that it's actually pretty offensive to do such a thing. Instead of having a rational conversation about it, you'll probably be shut down and told to 'chill out'.
As Rhammel Afflick put so well, the 'race card' that people of colour have been allocated is not a privilege. It's really not enjoyable or a privilege to have to constantly plead and reason with people to stop behaving in ways that disadvantage people. It's exhausting and upsetting. It seems that no matter how much we try and reason and protest and challenge, we never progress much further. The constant outrage we have to voice over comments like those Kerry Smith made is draining. People dismiss ethnic minorities when they challenge racist jokes, when they plead with people to stop using inflammatory words such as 'chinky', and we generally try to put an end to casual racism. Racism, when you're not affected by it, is one huge joke, and those who object to it are just ruining the party.
People need to start realising that however minor, however unintended and however flippant a casually racist viewpoint, joke or comment may be, the fact is that it reinforces racism as an institution and as a device that hinders people of colour from achieving equality. When you laugh along with your friend's racist joke, when you turn a blind eye to your relative's racist use of words, when you support comedians who use racism to get laughs and make money, you are merely another part of the machine that is perpetuating racism, and causing a steady stream of pain and injustice to people. If you truly are 'not a racist' - as racist sentences so often begin - then you will actively challenge both institutional and casual racism at every step of the way.