Racism: not just over there…

Streets in Glasgow named after plantation owners/tobacco barons are renamed by axti racism protestors, 2020.

I am a middle class, middle aged, white male. I am part of the problem, but I want to be part of the solution. I have been talking about prejudice and racism my whole adult life. We keep thinking things are getting better, and then something swings into our consciousness to bring us up short.

Black community leaders in the US have encouraged white people like me to educate myself, and then use whatever megaphone or communications device we have to hand to educate others. I have no megaphone, but I write stuff, so that is what I will do…

Back when my lovely sister and I were studying ‘O’ level sociology, we were taught the difference between direct and indirect racism. We were also taught about something called institutional racism. Time for a few definitions;

Direct racism is where someone discriminates against someone in thought, word or deed because of their race.

Indirect racism happens when a person, organisation or policy acts in such a way as to place people from a racial group at a disadvantage (even if they were unaware of the effects of their action, or if it was unintentional)

Institutional racism happens when one of the above kids of racism becomes ‘normal’ behaviour in an organisation or society.

Please note one crucial fact here- indirect and institutional racism can be extremely complex and subtle in application and effect. Partly this is because we all want to believe that we are the good guys and so we resist any suggestion that our ‘normal’ behaviour is rooted in hidden prejudice.

Even when we have acknowledged racism in the past within our society (and lets face it, we really don’t have to look very hard) we tend to regard that as belonging to ‘another era’, and tend deny any legacy effects, even whilststill benefitting from continuing inequality in the form of trade, commerce and the cost of labour.

There is an uncomfortabe reminder of how this works in small town Scotland just along the coast from where I live. A rock that has been painted (until recently) in the colours recognised internationally as a ‘blackface‘ trope and emblazoned with the words ‘Jim Crow’.

Many people coming to town were shocked. The racist origin of this decoration was surely so obvious that only racists would defend it, right? Well, no. It was not that simple. You can follow some of the debates, including how angry people get, on the posts and comments below;

https://thisfragiletent.com/2009/11/02/jim-crow-laws-and-a-painted-rock/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2010/03/10/jim-crow-and-the-coon-songs/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2010/07/16/4027/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2011/01/03/a-bit-more-on-jim-crow-rock/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2013/12/24/whats-in-a-name-jim-crow-rock-again/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2014/01/18/jim-crow-another-letter/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2017/12/30/jim-crow-rock-hits-the-news-again/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2018/01/15/the-tide-turns-again-on-jim-crow/

I share this story with some trepidation, even now. I don’t like conflict. I was never quite sure about ‘making a fuss’. I even thought that other people might be right, and this rock was just a benign oddity. Certainy, as seen above, the end result is far from edifying. Even now, attempts to find a community solution to the current graffiti covered state of the rock are too divisive.

I am also left convinced that my community, as a whole, has learned very little through this process about our history, and the ongoing pervasive effects of racism in our culture and our consciousness. I continue to hope that one day soon, we can make this rock into a different kind of monument- one that allows genuine reflection and restoration.

Let us remember, lest we forget.

Let us remember that the racism that resulted in the death of George Floyd and so many others originated here. We exported it in exchange for sugar. Then we excused ourselves by making black people into figures of fun an entertainment. Finally we managed to pretend none of these things really happened, it was all just ‘political correctness gone mad’.

Well shame on us all.

***********UPDATE*************

The local paper has just printed this statement from local MSP

“I understand and support the desire to get rid of the stigma caused by the rock once and for all. The name is offensive, whatever the dispute about its origins, and the repainting of it over the years, again and again, has added insult to injury.

“It is time that the rock was dealt with in a way that unites the town and indeed in early 2018 a number of local people approached Cllr Alan Reid and myself to ask us to try and help to do so.

“We agreed to try and help but were unable to find out who owned it. None the less we moved ahead and were assisted by the influence of former Moderator Rev Lorna Hood who convened a meeting of Hunter’s Quay Community Council, Dunoon Community Council, the local police, Dunoon Grammar School, local churches and The Dunoon Observer to discuss a way forward.

“Whilst initially there were some disagreements there was in the end a widespread view that change was required.

“As a result of the meeting the individual who had been painting the rock agreed to stop. Thereafter it was envisaged that there should be a competition for local young people to bring forward new design ideas which would re-define the rock as a symbol which unifies, rather than divides, the town. Dunoon Grammar School’s art department kindly offered to oversee the painting of the rock once a new positive design was agreed upon.

“The original discussions also resulted in a commitment to create a plaque or noticeboard near the rock which can explain the history of the rock and explain the decision to change it now.

“Staff at Dunoon Grammar School have organised this competition and have received a number of submissions from pupils in the Grammar and many of our local Primary Schools. A panel will now be organised to judge these submissions and select a new design. Over 100 submissions were made before lockdown slowed the process. More details of this will be published in the Dunoon Observer shortly.

“There is also an intention to have the rock washed and all paint removed to provide a blank canvass for the artists to paint the new design and it is hoped this will happen in the very near future.

“I hope that this will provide reassurances to those who have signed the petition and bring a final conclusion to this unhappy matter much closer.

Well done to the two local heroes who brokered this deal- it would not be fair to name them here, but I for one am very grateful…

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