Racism. A strong word indeed. These days, an often misused word I feel.
Now before I start this article, I want to make it quite clear and simple. I do not condone racism of any kind in any form. Racism.
At work we were discussing comedy TV of old. Some of you will be familiar with Goodness Gracious Me (Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Nina Wadia, pictured on the right above) and Till Death Us Do Part (TDUDP) featuring a character played by Warren Mitchell, Alf Garnett pictured above on the left)
The description of the program Goodness Gracious Me as given on IMDB is “A British sketch comedy that explores the integration of Indian and British cultures through a series of satires,musicals and skits.” Bear in mind, this is acted out by British Indians.
For Till Death Us Do Part the description is given on IMDB as “A working-class Cockney bigot with a biased and experienced opinion of everything shares them bluntly and almost carelessly.”
Are these programs racist? Well, we (An English man, a Ugandan/Scots man and an Irish man) didn’t think so. What we agreed upon was that they looked at their own cultures and those of their opposites (characters) and laughed and joked about them together.
Till Death Us Do Part probably courts the most controversy because of the language used by the main character. The language used by Alf Garnet could be (and most likely is) interpreted as racism, but no more than some comedians today who use similar language. Yes, it was borderline or cutting edge as they used to call it. But, it was comedy. It’s sole purpose was comedy. Nothing malicious. No racist intent. Again, yes Alf Garnett used coarse language when referring to people of other nationalities and those words would not be tolerated today, nor should they be. They where words of the time. I sound like I’m making excuses for racism and that’s really not how I want to come across. Incidentally, this series had eight seasons and was very popular. This series was last shown in 1975.
Goodness Gracious Me had no swearing in it and takes a look at life from a different perspective. It was an easy-going program that just made you laugh. This series was most recently shown in 2015.
If you think that either of the programs mentioned above are racist, then just bear with me a moment. Do you think Fawlty Towers is racist? Fawlty Towers (John Cleese, Andrew Sachs, Prunella Scales) ran for two seasons. Andrew Sachs played the part of a waiter who happened to come from Spain and was called Manuel whose grasp of the English language was not great and he was ridiculed for it. See anything that may be considered slightly racist yet? There was also an infamous episode called The Germans which would also be considered risqué – and extremely racist in parts. Yet most consider Fawlty Towers to be a great classic comedy. I certainly do. I have all the episodes. And mostly it was great comedy. However, if you watch this episode you may change your mind.
The definition of racism is given as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” or “The programs above where not made with this intention, rather they were made with comedy in mind and an exploration of differences. Have we become more sensitive to this issue, or are we getting to the point were if we think something isn’t agreeable with us we assume it must be racism or some other -ism? Are you offended because you think it is the politically correct right thing to say or think, or are you offended because you genuinely believe that a wrong has been done and as per the definition above, you believe that prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism has been directed at someone of a different race based on the belief that their race is superior?
Personally, I don’t think the latter is the case. I think there is an over use of the word racism and if we continue in this fashion we shall de-value the word and its correct use. This would be detrimental to all of us because the word then has no value or meaning.
I’m not trying to imply that racism does not take place and is not a thing. It does and it is. There is no place for racism in society today, to be clear. But we must be careful that we understand what exactly racism is before we start using the word because we don’t agree with what someone has said as an individual.
Do we take these views because we think we have a better comprehension of what racism is after the years of passed by? Or do we take these views because we think it makes us look more educated? Do we take these views because we are afraid we will offend someone if we do not?
Lastly I will give an example so you can better understand what I am trying to say not so eloquently!
Imagine an Asian friend goes on holiday and comes back to work. They have a sun tan. You pass comment saying how they have caught the sun. A person nearby overhears what you say, but does not hear the full conversation. They then report this to a manager.
At first impression, to the casual bystander, this may appear to be racism. In actuality, it is a genuine conversation and a genuine misunderstanding. There is no racism and there never was. But had the person who reported the matter stayed and listened this may have become fairly obvious. Thus, we all become fearful of what we may say in case it is misconstrued and we are ridiculed for it.
Had you said the same to someone with fair skin, nobody would have batted an eyelid. No one would care. But because the person on the receiving end is not fair-skinned, everyone within earshot who does not hear or listen to the full conversation assumes it must be racism because we are now overly sensitive and make that assumption based on what we think we know.