What if ‘identity politics’ really did provoke the rise of the far right? What then?

There are two buzzwords right now that spike my blood pressure every time they’re uttered: “ordinary people,” and “identity politics.” These two buzzwords (or buzz phrases, I suppose, to be accurate) are often thrown around in conjunction with each other. They’re both fuzzy in meaning, yet we also all know exactly what – and who – is meant by both of them.

We know that “ordinary people” is code for “the opposite of identity politics.” People without an “identity.” Or rather, an identity that hasn’t been politicised. “White working class” is definitely an identity, and so, for that matter, is “posh white MP who looks like a third rate Harry Potter stand-in”. But talking about how white people’s fears about immigration must be indulged or taxes are too high for hard-working people isn’t “identity politics.” These are all “ordinary people.” (Seem logical so far? Excellent.)

If you’re one of those self-indulgent moaners who is always doing “identity politics” then – and this might be news to you, because you might not have realised you were this influential – but it turns out you’re to blame for the rise of the far right across the Western world. That’s right – Brexit, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Golden Dawn – it’s a backlash against you. Well, you, and other people like you. People (“ordinary people”, that is, not people like you. “People” never means “people like you”), people are so alienated, provoked, and embarrassed in equal measure by you, your existence, and the fact that you dare to make comments on the way public policy impacts your life from time to time that, apparently, struggle as they do, they simply cannot help but turn their support over to borderline (or, in some cases, not so borderline) fascists.  

How are you alienating them, you might ask? Well, for a start, you’ve probably been picking them up on factual errors, especially factual errors with consequences. You may have heard claims about immigration lowering wages or weakening the economy and challenged them with official figures. You may have seen people make claims about what Muslims believe or wear that don’t chime with your own experience so you joined in the conversation. Who wouldn’t be provoked into voting to leave an entire body of law after that? You’re not supposed to be well-informed. That is proof of your elitism. You need to accept that the people who voted for Brexit are very well-informed, and probably read every single piece of legislation that has ever come out of Brussels to assess the consequences before casting their vote – but you should also remember to be respectful of people, by pretending you agree with everything they say, even if it’s factually incorrect, because they won’t be interested in facts or experts, and to imagine anything else is patronising. 

You also probably use words like “cisgender” or “intersectional”. According to articles I’ve read in down-to-earth, read-it-down-the-pub-while-waiting-for-a-beer publications like the New Statesman, and the Guardian, “intersectional” is such a long word that by the third syllable it literally stops “ordinary people” from being feminists. In fact, it actually forces them to start treating women like objects every single day, in protest at the audacity of a writer having the nerve to imagine they would be able to grasp such a wildly complicated concept. Everyone in Stoke-on-Trent was reading about intersectionality on twitter last time I was there, too, which is why they’re all driven to vote for Paul Nuttall in the by-election. I know, it seems a bit unbelievable, the idea that people are both completely removed from something but also their voted is shaped by it, but this must be true as a piece of analysis. After all, the New Statesman and the Guardian are sure that it’s the fault of words like these, and they’re about as down to earth and in touch as you can get. That’s why they never use any words with more than three syllables, words like “nationalism” or “pornification” or “deindustrialisation” or “neo-Popularist”. Certainly these publications never discuss academic concepts, like Keynesianism, or Neoliberalism, and they only ever reference modern, pop cult classic writers like Sheila Jeffries, Janice Raymond, and Germaine Greer to back up their arguments. So you can see how words like “queer” and “cis” and “#punchnazis2017” really pushed them over the edge.

But wait! You might be more than a little indignant at this. In fact, you’re actually very passionate when you talk about these things, not least because they directly impact your life. If anything, people dismiss you because you’re too emotional, aggressive, and biased. That’s partly why you present yourself as academic and use so much evidence to back up your points in the first place. Yes, well, that’s also true. What do you mean that’s a contradiction? It’s perfectly simple: you’re too aggressive but also too wimpy; too academic but also your arguments are poorly-structured and don’t follow professional debate rules; you’re too introspective and obsessed with your own, personal victimhood, but also, you should be more like Donald Trump because he’s the model of a healthy ego. You’re too detached and irrelevant to people’s lives, but also, you’re not respectably dressed and you haven’t done a full PhD on the subject; you’re too busy following the mob and jumping on bandwagons but you don’t pay attention to the popular mood in the country; you’re too sensitive but also you’re lacking in empathy for other people because you don’t mix with anyone outside your bubble.

That last one, if you’re anything like me, might get you in the gut the hardest. The idea that you could be unintentionally insulating yourself into a segregated bubble of safety bothers you, so you check yourself to see if this is true. But, if you’re honest, it really does feel like you spend quite a lot of time hanging out with different people, from different backgrounds, who speak different languages, with different gender identities, and different states of personal health or physical ability, with different ideas about the world. Yes, you know that you probably do spend a lot of time around people who are similar to you in various ways, you’re not trying to completely deny that, but at the same time, you’re not entirely convinced that the Daily Express newsroom, or the Ukip headquarters, or the average evening with David Davis’ or Liam Fox’s friends would necessarily be more diverse than your little insular bubble. In fact, you have to admit, you reckon there’s a chance it might be even less so. It’s not immediately clear to you how the insular nature of your social or professional bubble might be so much worse that it renders all your comments on the world irrelevant.

I do see why you might be confused. I was confused too, until I learned that “in a bubble” doesn’t mean you mix with people who are all the same. “In a bubble”, you see, actually means the opposite of that. For example, one unanswerable piece of evidence that you spend your life “in a bubble” is if you live in a big city like Manchester. If you’re trying to define “ordinary people”, by the way, Manchester and Liverpool are very confusing places: you may think that they are full of these much-mentioned “ordinary people.” Ukip’s new leader Paul Nuttall is definitely an “ordinary person” in spite of all other evidence to the contrary chiefly because he has a Liverpool accent. However, these cities are both super queer-friendly (super friendly in general), they both voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and both insist on voting for the left-wing luvvies in the Labour party. (Which means, of course, that no Conservative or Kipper must criticise Labour in those cities, because the will of the people has spoken. Right?) When you consider that in Liverpool so many people (rather famously) hate the Sun newspaper, it becomes clear that they can’t be “ordinary people” after all.

But even these privileged, elitist, cosmopolitan stuffy Liverpudlians, swanning about in a city where everybody owns at least six yachts and nobody eats anything but prosecco-soaked kale isn’t as much of a bubble as the nation’s capital. That’s right: if you live in the capital city, by virtue of it being one of the most multicultural, diverse cities in the world, you are, in fact, living inside the ultimate “bubble.”

I know what you’re thinking: there are lots of people living in London who do their damned best to still be “ordinary people.” If you look really, really hard, there’s still silenced, beaten down, underground enclaves where you can find “ordinary people”. There’s Finsbury Square in Islington where Nigel Farage used to work as a stockbroker, or Kensington, where Ukip MEP David Coburn’s address was officially registered before he rented property in Scotland while campaigning there to be elected to the European parliament. Both roaring with “ordinary people.” (Don’t get me started on Scotland itself, by the way. Very few “ordinary people” living there. You can tell how resolutely pro-Westminster establishment they are by the huge number of Scottish people who voted for an insurgent third party instead of Labour or the Conservatives in the last election. You can also tell because nearly half the country backs Scottish independence, like the Westminster establishment lackeys they are. The Scottish people would never, ever, even begin to understand the legitimate economic anxieties that Ukip voters in Surrey are facing so don’t even bother telling me it’s significant that they voted to remain in the EU, okay?)

So I guess it’s possible to be a Londoner and be an “ordinary person” after all. But if you happen to have one of those politicised “identities” that we all know about, then, sadly, it’s quite tough for you to ever be an ordinary person. Because the fact is, the people who in the biggest bubble of all are minorities. Everybody knows that. If you live every day in a society where the dominant groups of people are not people like you, and who like to remind you that they’re not like you, whether you try to ‘integrate’ into the dominant community or not, you will always, sadly, be “in a bubble.”  

If this sounds like Alice in Wonderland on stilts, it’s because it is. We all know what “in a bubble” means, just like we all know that “ordinary people” means.

Firstly, here are some things it doesn’t mean. In a bubble doesn’t mean assuming every relationship looks like yours or shrieking about how other people’s love makes you want to throw up. In a bubble doesn’t mean assuming everyone is assigned the right gender at birth because you were. In a bubble doesn’t mean that you expect everyone to look like you and that you have a hissy fit if a film you enjoyed as a child is remade with some lead actors who don’t look like you, while simultaneously claiming, if anyone is happy about the remake, that you do not see why it matters what the actors look like. In a bubble doesn’t mean throwing a tantrum when a bus has to wait for a wheelchair user to get on. In a bubble doesn’t mean smugly telling people to calm down about Trump because you don’t know anyone who has been affected by his rhetoric or his policies. In a bubble doesn’t mean bragging about you’d gladly chuck away your right to privacy, because if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear, because you never grew up with the fear in your gut of being outed and you never got hate speech or violent threats sent to you for being too sexual or not sexual enough or having the wrong opinion, and you’ve never been given any reason to distrust the police.

No. These things are not examples of being “in a bubble.” It is not literal. Just like “Metropolitan elites” and “the establishment” are not literal either. We bang our heads against walls trying to argue down the absurdity of Trump or Farage or Arron Banks or Lord Ashcroft calling themselves anti-establishment, but it isn’t absurd at all once you realise that it is not literal. It is code. Translated, “in a bubble” means this: that you are too insulated from the people who hate you. In a bubble means that you don’t feel scared enough. In a bubble means you don’t feel scared, and you should feel scared. It means: how dare you not feel scared? It makes me sick that you aren’t scared. How dare you go about your life without apologising for yourself, without being eternally grateful to every “ordinary person” who doesn’t beat you up or call you a dyke?

And once we realise this, the logic of saying: you caused the rise of the far right by living in a bubble suddenly becomes clear. It’s not an excuse, or an abdication of responsibility. It’s a threat. They are saying: don’t you know how easily we could remove your humanity? Don’t you remember? You better remember, you better not push us too far, you better not expect too much or get too happy, because if you do, you leave us with no choice but to bring back fascism.

These groups of people (you know who I mean) want to pretend that we are the ones who politicise our own identities, but the reason that us being “in a bubble” makes them so furious is because it shows them that we have the audacity to forget for a bit that our existence is a political issue. We have the audacity to believe, for a bit, that our “identity” – our existence – is not still up for debate. That is what they want. They want it up for debate. They want us up for debate. They want us to not be “people”, but an abstract issue, a question, a problem. A problem that requires a solution.

That’s why it’s so dangerous for us to give ground on the matter of “debate.” It’s not about winning these people round with ideas. The debate itself is what they want. They want us to be up for debate. They have said as much themselves. 

I’m not speaking, now, to the people who make these arguments as threats to us. I’m appealing to the well-intentioned people to whom these arguments have filtered down. People who say they’re on our side while blaming us, while lecturing us about how we are obligated to present evidence in our own defence. As if opening your eyes and looking around the world isn’t “evidence” enough that bigoted beliefs are nonsense.

Asking people to “debate” far right politics is shifting the burden of proof away from the person making the case for extremism, and on to the person who is expected to provide evidence for their own humanity. We don’t shift the burden of proof in this way unless we believe that an argument holds some level of validity. In doing so, we are kind of accepting the premise of the far right argument. We are implying that they are making a reasonable case, that now needs to be disproved. And we’re kind of saying that it’s your fault if you’re not able to make a convincing enough case for your own existence.

People’s humanity should not be left in the hands of their tactical debating abilities. Imagine playing a panel show game, with panel show rules, rules that perhaps you aren’t even familiar with. Rules like “if your voice goes above a certain pitch, you lose the game,” or “if you swear, you lose the game.” Imagine that you’re playing against people who have practiced this game since they were young, because they went to a school were everybody played this game, all the time. Then imagine that if you lose the game, not only does it count as evidence against the case for your own humanity, but it’s also used as evidence against the humanity of everybody who shares your features, or hair texture, or romantic orientation, or faith. Because every time you play this ridiculous game, you are playing it as a representative of all those people. Would you want to play? Would you consider it worth the risk? How would you feel about that game being screened on television or at a university hall, as soft level entertainment? Marine Le Pen having a chat with Andrew Marr while we sip our coffee, wondering how many points she will score this time, wondering who will win this round of the game, this is not normal Sunday morning entertainment. 

I don’t know. Maybe people like me did provoke voters into voting for nationalism and probable economic oblivion. Maybe it really is our own fault. And if that’s true, I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry. I’m sorry I shared things on Twitter and blogged about politics and got emotional in public and embarrassed you, the respectable left, so much with what you call “identity politics” and “political correctness,” and what I just call “life” and “stuff that impacts people I care about.” I’m sorry if I did it wrong and fought for things I care about in the wrong way. I’m sorry, most of all, if I have made things worse for people who will be impacted most.

I don’t believe, as it happens, that these things caused the rise of the far right. I don’t believe these people when they make demands about what we must do or give up to placate them. They have been telling us in Britain for ages that they will all calm down if only we can have tougher borders and an immigration points system like America. But America has all this and they still voted for Trump. Nigel Farage and his friends have been telling us that all they want is a system just like America. Now he’s cheering on Trump and saying the American immigration system is too soft. No amount of “toughening the borders,” no amount of associated cost to human life will never be enough for people like him. America has an extraordinarily harsh immigration system, and Barack Obama deported somewhere around 2.4 million undocumented migrants – that’s more than any other President in history. It didn’t stop them. Because they aren’t telling the truth when they say dropping “identity politics” or “political correctness” will make them back off. Of course they aren’t. They aren’t making reasonable, moderate, meet-me-halfway requests. They are making demands. Demands, and threats. 

“You provoked me into harming you, and if you fight back, it will get worse, so don’t fight back” is always a repulsive argument. But even if it is true, for the sake of argument, the question is, what then? Because while I doubt I provoked people into voting for Brexit by sharing one too many jokes about Nigel Farage with a microphone moustache on Facebook, it’s almost certainly the case that we are seeing a strong backlash more generally against social progress. Or “identity politics”, as you might call it. “Political correctness.”  

And this is the point where I do get a little angry. I understand that for people who are primarily in the business of trying to get votes, that means you have to get people to like you. You feel you can’t define their actions as racist or tell them you disagree even if they’re talking rubbish or stand up to them if they’re coming for your friends. However, I am not trying to get people to vote for me. And every time I open my mouth, it’s not my responsibility to do free campaigning for the Labour party, or for “our side”, or anything like it. I will always, always, always, put my friends, my loved ones, their safety, their feelings, what makes them feel safer, what action they ask me to take ahead of what is going to make a bigoted person want to be nicer to me. At least, I hope I will always do this. I may fail at it, because we’re in for difficult times, and I’m not very brave, and this won’t be easy.  

But what’s the alternative? I come back to the question again and again: what do you want us to do? I’m serious here; I’m really asking. What are the options? I’ll speak to homophobia because that’s my experience; if I am dealing with a homophobe, I have essentially three options. I can love myself, and provoke their anger, hate, and discomfort, and live with the knowledge that there are people who think I should be dead, or cured, but hopefully not many, and I don’t have to be around them much. Or, I can be apologetic, talk about how ashamed or tragic I am, talk about how I’ve struggled and how no-one in their right mind would ever choose to be gay, so please have mercy on me, and then praise them, gratefully, every day, for not hitting me, having me institutionalised, or for deigning to tolerate me. Or, finally, I can not exist. That’s really it. And let me tell you, if you think the second one sounds reasonable, that it often goes together, in the end, with the third one. For me, the first option is the only one I am prepared to accept without a fight.

So if the first option provokes fascism, what next? If your argument is that some people’s existence is so inherently challenging for “ordinary people”, so provocative, so hate-inducing, that it takes work, arduous work and study and mollycoddling for them to not want those people exterminated, and that the people they want to exterminate must do that work, as penance for existing in the first place, I have to ask you, whose side are you on? If you are coming from a place where you can only conceive of a world where “ordinary people” can dictate the terms of existence to “extraordinary people,” with the threat of fascism hanging over everyone’s heads should we provoke them again, you are not on my side. There’s no third way solution with people’s humanity. You’re either considered “people” or you’re not. If you’re not with me on that, then go ahead, protect yourself and the people around you however suits you best. Prioritise what you need to prioritise. But for the love of God, please stop pretending to give me advice.   

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‘Political correctness’ is about listening, not speaking

I find myself increasingly frustrated by established writers like Nick Cohen writing again and again on so-called ‘political correctness’, equating it with a top-down controlling approach to language, when in fact it is very often the opposite.

What I often see when people talk about ‘political correctness’ is the democratisation of language. The ‘objective’ consensus that existed before the days of ‘PC gone mad’ about what is and isn’t acceptable or offensive, where did that come from, if not the educated ‘establishment’? The top-down slurs used to dehumanise and devalue entire groups of people, where do those words come from, if not the ‘establishment’? When the charity MIND responded to Cohen’s most recent anti-political correctness article on the subject of mental health slurs, they stressed the fact that their language objections and suggestions come not from political types or academics, but from all sorts of ordinary people that they work with. Asking well-paid high profile media professionals to listen to the voices of those people is the very opposite of a top-down imposition from the ‘political class.’

Nick Cohen also explicitly makes the argument that using respectful language about anybody with mental health problems is what softens the public up to the cuts to services or benefits. The idea that people with mental illnesses were treated better before the days of respectful language is so bizarre it is bleakly amusing. You don’t need to look back as far as the Victorians to see that this is false. Over the last century there has been, broadly speaking, consistent positive improvements in terms of how we approach mental health which correlates almost directly with the work done by groups like MIND. That work includes campaigns around language – not just discussing which words we ‘can’ say or write, but all of us together re-evaluating the way we think. Dehumanising language is problematic because it’s an expression of dehumanising thinking, and far from ‘political correctness’ leading to less humane policies, history would suggest that the best way to justify inhumane policy is to first dehumanise the necessary groups – using language.

Besides, isn’t what Cohen says he advocates here just as much a case of ‘political correctness’ as what MIND advocates? He argues that we should use x or y terminology to justify government spending on mental health. That argument is either disingenuous or else he’s come so far round full circle that he’s forgotten what his original point was (that those on high shouldn’t dictate language for political reasons). Either way, he seems, along with far too many others, to have given up on challenging the underlying reasons why anyone should resign themselves to being dependent on ‘charity’ in the first place. Benevolent charity from on high is arguably much more of an imposition by the ‘political class’ than asking people to check their language.

And the reason why such a societal model is problematic is evidenced by Cohen’s own message to MIND: don’t you dare criticise the way people treat you or speak about you, because they could withdraw their oh-so-generous ‘charity’ any time. It codes it into our social and economic DNA that inequality is inevitable, that power disparities are inevitable. It isn’t true. And when we start to talk about, say, people with mental illnesses in language that implies difference not inferiority or weakness, we begin to ask questions about those power structures. We begin to ask that employers make an effort to accommodate various types of mental illness. We begin to ask that transport providers make an effort to accommodate various types of physical disability. We begin to ask how much of that ‘inevitable’ inequality is down to stigma, prejudice, greed and inflexibility on the part of society’s institutions, rather than something innate which we must all accept. How much of the social isolation that can go alongside mental illness – which can, in turn, be connected to other inequalities from housing to imprisonment rates – could be mitigated by breaking down stereotypes and slurs?

Reshaping the way we value each other, reshaping the things we believe to be central to each other’s humanity and the things we don’t, reshaping our priorities, those things should be central to tackling mental health inequality – all inequality. The real irony that so many miss when getting upset about what they can or cannot say or write anymore is that at the root of what is fashionable to call ‘political correctness’ the point isn’t to say or write anything at all, but to listen to each other.

If racism becomes a forbidden word, the debate about it will never move into the 21st century (Guest blog by Janine Griffiths)

Racism has become almost like a dirty word in our society. But not for the right reasons.

Nowadays far too many accusations of racism invite angry responses of being too “politically correct” or “oversensitive”. Such responses can be expected even if such accusations are later proven false. The counter-accusation of “being too pc” or “pandering to minorities” have been levied against those who have fought against racism since the height of segregation in America and the apartheid era. And perhaps it is a mark of progress in our society when even the racists themselves go to great lengths to deny they are racists, or that their actions may have been influenced by racial discrimination. Take George Zimmerman for example, who over recent weeks became infamous over the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin after following him against police orders because he looked ‘suspicious’. It is one of the latest in a long line of racially charged cases that has so successfully split the public both over here and in the states right down the middle.

Some say George Zimmerman is innocent and acted in self-defence. Others say he is a racist gun nut who shot dead the black teenager in cold blood. The media has had its two pounds of flesh too. Some media outlets have condemned the killing and declared George Zimmerman guilty as charged. Others have instead opted to condemn Trayvon Martin after dragging up details of his alleged marijuana suspension from high school, and questioning the way he has purportedly presented himself on social media.

Then to top it all off extremists from both sides of the fence have joined in the feeding frenzy. The New Black Panther party – who have not only gained unpopularity with the majority of law-abiding American’s but have also been widely condemned by the surviving members of the original Black Panther Party – have offered up a $10,000 bounty to anyone who can catch Zimmerman dead or alive. Neo-Nazi groups in the US have also put in their two pence worth by patrolling the streets of Sanford, America in nice shiny black boots to “make sure” that the white residents of the area feel safe.

Conservative blogs and websites surrounding key figures like Glenn Beck and Dick Cheney began calling for the country to ‘wait for the facts’ on Twitter. But they did this by implying – without much evidence – that Martin was a criminal.

The hashtag #teamdueprocess was then forced into an embarrassing admission that a photo of a young black man sticking two fingers up to the camera and wearing his pants down was not in fact Trayvon Martin and therefore had no relevance to the case. But it was left up anyway to make a point.

And in a startling prophecy that would put mystic meg to shame, the Conservative Review has also branded the teen ‘a criminal thug on his way to a life in prison’. How they could possibly predict that is a mystery to me.

Beck’s website, The Blaze, had further tried to muddy the waters by speculating again without much evidence that Martin could have been suspended from school for possessing drugs, sexually harassing women or arson. As if any of that had an influence on the fact that he got shot after buying a dangerous bag of skittles and iced tea, which may have been used in terrorist activity.

At the end of last month a white supremacist hacktivist who has proudly named himself ‘Klanklannon’ took up the work of Cheney’s Caller and leaked private messages he claimed belonged to Martin. The hacker invited people to log into Martin’s gmail account and see for themselves, having kindly changed the password to ‘niggerniggernigger’.

Then, in the middle of it all you have those who simply say that the failure to arrest George Zimmerman and investigate it thoroughly to the satisfaction of all parties is the real story here. And I have to agree. Perhaps we don’t have the full story here. Maybe there is more to all of this than meets the eye. And of course, as the above examples have shown that the mainstream media, by and large has been neither helpful nor neutral. But when you hear whispers among supposedly well-meaning and impartial people, including the Attorney General in the US who claimed that there shouldn’t even have been an arrest or investigation into the case, then that old dirty word rears its head up again. When you have online bloggers and sofa warriors stating that George Zimmerman’s claims that he acted in self-defence should have just been taken at face value and the fact that somebody died as a result doesn’t count, well then it is easy to see why so many young black men are “paranoid”. The cause of Zimmerman’s paranoia however, has yet to be determined.

I would only add that the conflicting police reports at the time are a cause for concern. As is the fact that the decision not to arrest George Zimmerman at the time was taken after Zimmerman’s father “made a few calls” which resulted in the state prosecutor coming to the police station to persuade the lead detective not to arrest Zimmerman.
There are many who say that there needs to be a “conversation” about race in America. They claim that ethnic minorities have had it their own way for too long, and that it is about time they stopped stomping their feet and complaining about and dare I say it….racism. There are many in the UK who emulate such sentiments and call for similar “debates” about multiculturalism – another dirty word.

When a case comes up in the news which exposes institutional racism against minorities, as the Stephen Lawrence case in England did over the last decade, usually the “conversation” is diverted to an example or statistic of a crime involving a black person. The truth is we as a society have been having these one-sided conversations for a very long time. These conversations, which are often influenced by the media have lead to anger, bitterness, and horrific “revenge” and hate crimes perpetrated against both black and white people in the US and UK. It has also led to Guantanamo-style prisons, the loss of liberty and tin-pot dictatorships all over the world.

Whenever we come to accept the childish “us against them” “black-white” or “they started it” mantra opportunistically embraced by biased reporting, self-interest groups and political pundits then we must also accept the consequences. Perhaps those consequences inevitably involve the passive acceptance of laws and violence against our perceived enemies and then eventually against us. What a dangerous conversation indeed.

I say it is time to move the conversation to the 21st century. Rather than denying the existence of racism or other prejudices that continue to embarrass our civilisation, perhaps there should be a renewed focus on solutions that identify cause and effect. By solutions, I am not talking about ones which will benefit or blame the black race. Or the white race. Or the Latinos or [insert favourite racial group here.]

What I refer to is something that is not immediately ‘clear’ or simple or downright lazy such as “deport them” “take away guns” “kill them” “secure our borders” “bring out more laws…”.

Sure, let’s have that conversation about racism, but without the political shamans, ‘thinktanks’, skinheads, or panthers. But a conversation with proposed solutions that would be apparent even if the skin tone or racial identity of the people it affected were neither known nor suspected.

Perhaps if Zimmerman had initiated such a conversation Trayvon would still be alive today. And maybe he was acting in self-defence. Maybe Trayvon was. Nobody really knows what went on yet except the two young men involved. But the day we start saying that it’s ok to kill an unarmed person in “self-defence” without being arrested or questioned in any way is a very dark day indeed. And when we condemn or exonerate such a person based on the information filtered through a ridiculously partisan media, we ourselves open ourselves up to the possibility of living up to the ideals of that old dirty word – racism. This then leads on to other dirty words like violence, war, conflict or shooting somebody because they look different.

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