17/11/2011 05:57 GMT | Updated 19/03/2012 06:55 GMT

Blaming the Collective

Some naively claim that racism no longer exists. Others say that racism is tolerable now because it is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. In other words, 'they' should stop moaning because at least 'they' can sit at the front of the bus now.

Some naively claim that racism no longer exists. Others say that racism is tolerable now because it is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. In other words, 'they' should stop moaning because at least 'they' can sit at the front of the bus now.

Of course, the very real issue of racism is still alive and well; as much today as ever before. A common claim, made by those whom I like to refer to as 'casual racists', is that only groups such as the BNP and EDL shoulder such outwardly prejudiced views; as if in some way that makes their own inwardly prejudiced views acceptable. This theory goes as follows: "as long as I denounce the BNP in public it is alright for me to hold repugnant beliefs about minorities."

Having taken the time to scroll through the murky world of the online tabloid comments section, here is just one example (exceptionally representative of the majority of posts) that highlights the bigoted aspects within British society - grammatical corrections have been made for the sake of comprehension:

"Whilst not an advocate of violence it's getting to the point of all out war. Telling us to integrate whilst they tear down churches to create mosques, telling our kids they can't recite baa baa black sheep any more, celebrating their festivals whilst we are barred from wearing a Christian cross/crucifix. If they want to live here surely they should integrate with us? If any more of them enter soft-touch UK we will sink! Stop this now before the white Brit no longer has a say".

It should come as no surprise to anyone to find that this commenter left their remarks underneath a Daily Mail article. Aside from the atrocious grammar manifesting within the aforementioned rant, the paragraph is filled with hatred and narrow-mindedness from start to finish. It is smothered with inaccuracies and hearsay.

The opening sentence implies that violence may now be the only solution; thus offering the green light for criminal acts to be perpetrated against minorities. It is a call to arms if ever I have witnessed one. But what, if anything, ignited such nauseating beliefs? What has driven a presumably sane individual to furiously type their bile online for all and sundry to see? And worst still, why is this seemingly the opinion of the majority?

What is essential to understand is that whilst racism towards black people may indeed have declined somewhat (albeit, even this is arguable), racism towards other minorities within Britain has increased no end.

Whether it gypsies, Asians, activists or immigrants, they have all received an unacceptable level of discrimination.

During the Dale Farm episode, gypsies were all tarred with the same unpleasant brush. Collective guilt was placed on an entire race of people.

Johann Hari, of the Independent, noted a similar pattern following the trial of BNP-supporting burglar-shooting farmer Tony Martin. Hari picked up on the fact that one columnist - of Daily Mail fame - ascribed collective guilt on all travellers: "True [Martin] hated gypsies. He had every reason to hate them. He and his neighbours had been terrorised by them for years".

The hatred present within this Daily Mail column was astounding. Imagine for a second that these remarks were made regarding black people: "True, I hate blacks. I have every reason to hate blacks. I was burgled by black people".

This simply would not have been accepted - one would hope. Yet, in the case of gypsies, these assertions were conventional. Not a single eyelid was batted. And gypsies are not alone in this kind of discrimination.

Muslims - especially since 9/11 - have been the subject of a powerful right-wing crusade to belittle and intimidate them into submission. Take this Daily Express headline from September last year: "Muslim plot to kill Pope". The story reported that six men had been detained in connection with a plot to "blow up" the Pope. Yet, strangely, the headline appeared to blame all Muslims. Not just six, but all of them collectively; as if in some way each and every Muslim knew of the plan.

During the recent Remembrance Day celebrations, stories were rife of Muslims planning to burn poppies and cause havoc. The same old outrage was expressed over the fact that Tohseef Shah, responsible for spray painting a war memorial back in May 2010, was not given a prison sentence. Unsurprisingly, not given similar attention is the story of 63-year-old John White, the churchgoer who pinned meat onto the door of a mosque, who also avoided a jail sentence following his equally deplorable crime. Moreover, Mr White was spared a harsher punishment following a letter from the chairman of the mosque begging for leniency. But naturally, this did not fit into the tabloids view of the world - the one whereby all Muslims are evil and white people are, of course, faultless - so therefore, the story was not deemed newsworthy.

Nobody minds condemnation over an attack on a war memorial - after all, it is a sickening crime that deserves serious attention - but what I do object to is its use in the wider context of slurring the reputation of all Muslims. Readers are quick to state that because this one man vandalised a war memorial, all Muslims must therefore be disrespectful and anti-British. Yet, nobody suggests that because an elderly white gentleman vandalised a mosque that all elderly white gentlemen are bigoted simpletons. Consistency is the key here, as, through its omission, prejudices are unveiled. The exclusion of fairness and equivalence speaks volumes. We are all too happy to ignore crimes committed by 'us', but if 'they' dare to break the law 'they' have overstepped the mark. It is hegemony of the extreme; the race kind of hegemony that so many of us wrongly believe has vanished from society altogether. Try telling that to the numerous victims of discrimination.

In recent weeks, gypsies, Muslims and even protesters - St Paul's anti-Capitalist protesters were mocked because some of them were seen drinking Starbucks coffee! - have been the victims of collective blame. Of course individual protesters drink Starbucks coffee, of course individual gypsies steal things and break the law, and of course a minority of extreme Muslims hate Britain and all it stands for. But, individual white people also break the law, as do Sikhs, Jews and Scientologists. However, a non-racist merely blames the individual and demands that they are brought to justice - be it Tohseef Shah or John White - and charged for their crimes. A racist blames the collective and generalises the acts of the individual to an entire group. They tend to hate all of them collectively, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of said group had nothing whatsoever to do with the crime.

The problem is that a large majority of people hold some form of prejudice or intolerance. There are blatant racists, there are casual racists (those who endorse a rigid anti-immigration policy) and then there are the overwhelming majority who at some point or another have expressed a bigoted stance (anything from buying British-only food to whinging about Asian doctors' accents). But it is imperative that the term 'racist' does not get overused as there is a fear that it could lose its potency. To be a racist ought to be just about the worse blemish on an individuals reputation. Therefore, wrath ought to be aimed and saved for extreme cases whereby the perpetrator ought to know better. Why waste breath condemning meat-headed scumbags who merely crave the attention? Remember, deep down, the one thing a racist can never achieve is anything like discrimination; for they are indiscriminate by definition.

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