Disgraceful scenes in Serbia, where the U21 game with England ended in chaos following racist abuse of some of the English players. The English manager, Stuart Pearce (quoted in the thread title), the players, and supporters, as well as the media, are rightly outraged. This has come up in comments on another thread a while ago but I don’t know about everybody else, but I’m finding this very hard to take in the aftermath of the whole John Terry thing. Rio Ferdinand dropped because his brother was on the receiving end of racial abuse from the England captain, who was then taken to the European championships by a manager who played in apartheid South Africa. Terry was then given a short and less harsh ban than a foreign player. Ferdinand then finds out he’s definitely not in the next squad because Roy Hodgson told some guy on the tube. England player after England player then comes out to say what a great guy Terry is. Respect indeed.
The idea of the English FA as the champion of anti-racism in football is now blatantly a ridiculous idea but you’d think the whole incident had never happened. Somebody in the English media and the football world needs to stand up and point out the emperor has no clothes.
Some GAA leaders’ understanding of racism June 25, 2012Posted by Tomboktu in Gaelic Football, racism.
Last week, the national media reported that two wexford club players have been suspended for eight weeks because they made racist remarks about another player, Lee Chin, during a club game (reports in the Examiner here and here, Independent here, Times here, and RTÉ here). They were suspended by the Central Competitions Control Committee in Wexford GAA.
The following day, the Examiner reported (here) that the president of the GAA, Liam O’Neill, said “This has been dealt with in an exemplary fashion”.
Not enough information has been published about the details of the incident to enable us to judge if the eight-week suspension is strong enough. However, the Irish Times points out that the suspension is the minumum possible when a player has been found guilty of discrediting the GAA.
Worse, though, are the widely reported remarks of the Wexford GAA chairman, Diarmuid Devereux. It was fine when he said: “Any form of racism in the GAA cannot be tolerated. It is terrible that Lee was subjected to these comments on a GAA pitch and the players involved should be ashamed of their behaviour.“
But he displayed poor understanding of racism when he pointed out five facts about the vicitm of the racism: “Lee Chin is a Wexford man, born in Wexford, educated in Wexford, living and working in Wexford.“
Suppose instead for a moment that none of this were true. Imagine that instead Lee Chin had been born in Australia or China, that he is a Chinese citizen, was educated in Australia, and was not working or studying in Ireland. (That last one point is a stretch if he’s playing GAA football, but not impossible. People have been left in the asylum process for years without a right to work, or, if over 18, a right to education.) If that alternative were the case, would that make it OK for opponents to make racist remarks about him in a club game?
The reason the remarks during the game were wrong was that they were racist, not because he is a Wexford man. But by bringing up that part of Lee Chin’s background in a context where another part of it — his ethnic background — is the motivation for the wrong done to him, the GAA county chairman has not simply confused the matter, but lent credence to the idea that nationality or ethnic background are relevant in attacking racism. The irony is that this is precisely the same problem that is the source of racism: the use of nationality or ethnic background when it is not relevant.
I agree with Devereux’s conclusion: “The hope I have is that through education and promotion of ethnic policy, we will rid Gaelic games of such abuse.” The hope I have is that he undergoes some of that education. And Liam O’Neillmight benefit from some too.
 If none of the other facts were true, I suspect a player would would probably have to be living in Wexford to be allowed to play for a club there, meaning one of the five facts would have to be true, but that does not undermine my criticism of the serious flaw in Diarmuid Devereux’s thinking.
Apply the law, Judge Teehan. August 13, 2011Posted by Tomboktu in Human Rights, Inequality, Judiciary, racism, Rights.
A judge’s job is to apply the law, as set out by the Oireachtas. That task is subject to the Constitution and EU law.
I am trying to figure out Judge Tom Teehan’s thought process in doing his job in a recent case. In fact, it looks to me like he didn’t do it correctly. The case was the appeal against a decision in favour of a teenager called John Stokes. He is a Traveller, and had been refused entry to a secondary school of his choice. (Actually, it was his mother’s choice, but when you’re at the younger end of your teens, that’s how these things are decided.)
To tee-up my point, let me quote the three relevant pieces of law.
Exhibit A, Section 7(2) of the Equal Status Act:
(2) An educational establishment shall not discriminate in relation to—
(a) the admission or the terms or conditions of admission of a person as a student to the establishment,
Exhibit B, Section 3(1) of the Equal Status Act (this was amended by the Equality Act 2004, and it is the current wording I quote here):
(1) For the purposes of this Act discrimination shall be taken to occur—
(c) where an apparently neutral provision puts a person referred to in any paragraph of section 3(2) at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless the provision is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary
And the final piece of law, Exhibit C, the section 3(2) of the Equal Status Act which is referred to in Exhibit B:
(2) As between any two persons, the discriminatory grounds (and the descriptions of those grounds for the purposes of this Act) are:
(i) that one is a member of the Traveller community and the other is not (the “Traveller community ground”) [...]
The key piece is Exhibit B. The starting point of it — in fact the core purpose of it — is that an apparently neutral rule cannot be used to discriminate on the Traveller ground. It then allows an exception to that: the rule “is objectively justified by a legitimate aim”, and sets a standard for that exception: “the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary”.
Now, I know some disagree with this law (I don’t), but whether or not it should be the law is beside the point here. The fact is that the democratically elected Oireachtas decided that this is what the law is, and the judge’s job is to apply the law.
The rule the school used to exclude John Stokes was that his father had not been a pupil at the school, and when the school was over-subscribed it gave places to the sons of past-pupils first before running a draw for others.
The judge summarised the situation and said:
Accordingly, it can be stated unequivocally that the “parental rule” — an ostensibly neutral provision as provided for by the amended section 3(1)(c) of the Equal Status Act — is discriminatory against Travellers.
He then said that the question that arises is whether the school can invoke the exception:
[T]he onus is on the [school]
(A) to objectively justify the there was a legitimate aim;
(B) to prove that the measure was proportionate; and
(C) to establish that such measure was necessary.
In paragraph 17 of the his judgement, Judge Teehan said*:
17. With regard to the question of the legitimacy of the aim, [John Stokes] adverted in argument to the school’s Admissions Policy, and the lack of any direct correlation between the stated aims and the “parental rule”. Dealing with “Goals”, one of the criteria referred to is “supporting the family ethos within education”. While this goes on to justify the “sibling rule”, with no reference to parents, I find that the overall aim of the [school's] Board in introducing the “parental rule” is entirely in keeping with this goal and the “characteristic spirit of the school”, a concept to which it must have regard with section 15(2)(b) and (d) of the Education Act 1998. The [school] has thus objectively justified to the satisfaction of this Court that the aim of the Board in this regard was wholly legitimate.
Now, the judge goes on to deal with the second and third components of the exception — the bits about ‘proportionate’ and ‘necessary’ — but I stop here at the first stage and ask: what on earth did the judge think he was doing finding a ‘father rule’ was legitimate? That finding completely rejects the the intention of the Oireachtas, and the judge has failed in his duty to apply the law as set by the democratic legislature. (Nor he is not invoking a higher authority such as the Constitution or an over-riding EU law.)
Let us remind the judge: the core purpose of the law you were meant to apply is to prohibit discrimination against Travellers. Now, ask the question: how do you get to be a Traveller? The answer, of course, is by being the son or daughter of a Traveller. I can think of no other way of becoming a Traveller. And the rule the school used to give preference to non-Travellers — which the Judge did find is discriminatory — uses that very criteria of who your father (in this case) is, and that rule is, he says, a ‘legitimate aim’?
If the judgment is not overturned, the idea of a ‘legitimate aim’ will be allowed to be so wide, so flexible, that all somebody has to do to get away with undermining the intention of the Oireachtas would be to define an aim that is based not on your membership per se of a group that is the subject of the discrimination at hand, but on the process by which you come to be a member of that group.
Do you want to exclude people who have a disability? Then write a rule that discriminates against anybody who has had an accident that severed their spinal cord, or who in utero experienced a bio-chemical assault that irrepairably damaged the genes that control the development of hearing, etc.,
I wonder would Judge Teehan have tried his logic with a rule that permitted lower pay for people formed from the merging of a human sperm containing an X chromosome with a human egg. That would have been an ingenious way to overturn the Oireachtas’s intentions on gender discrimination.
*To make it easier to follow, I have replaced the words ‘respondent’ with ‘John Stokes’, and ‘appelant’ with ‘school’ in the quoted text.
On the day Mladic has been arrested May 26, 2011Posted by Tomboktu in Human Rights, racism.
There has been plenty of commentary on the significance of the arrest today in Vojvodina of General Ratko Mladic. I first read the following three comments in 1998, when Mark Danner first published them in the New York Review of Book. They still haunt.
When the truck stopped, we immediately heard shooting outside; stones were bouncing off the [truck's] tarpaulin. The Cetniks told us to get out, five at a time. I was in the middle of the group, and the men in the front didn’t want to get out. They were terrified, they started pulling back. But we had no choice, and when it was my turn to get out with five others, I saw dead bodies everywhere…. A Cetnik said, “Come on [Turk], find some space.”… They ordered us to lie down, and as I threw myself on the ground, I heard gunfire. I was hit in my right arm and three bullets went through the right side of my torso.
We came near to what I saw through my right eye was a wooded area. They took us off the truck in twos and led us out to some kind of meadow. People started taking off blindfolds and yelling in fear because the meadow was littered with corpses. I was put in the front row, but I fell over to the left before the first shots were fired so that bodies fell on top of me….
About an hour later, I Iooked up and saw dead bodies everywhere. They were bringing in more trucks with more people to be executed. After a bulldozer driver walked away, I crawled over dead bodies and into the forest.
Strike! November 1, 2010Posted by Tomboktu in Culture, History, Human Rights, Labour relations, racism, Trade Unions, Workers Rights.
1 comment so far
Don’t miss STRIKE! – a play about the most dangerous shop workers in the world.
STRIKE! is a fictionalised account of the famous anti-apartheid shop strike on Henry Street in the 1980s. We are back after a sell out show in the Samuel Beckett for a week in May 2010 where it received a great reaction from audiences each night.
The play is running for three weeks – two weeks in the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College from Tuesday 26 October to Saturday 6 November. Then we will run for 5 nights in the axis: Ballymun from Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 November.
Written and directed by Tracy Ryan, STRIKE! uses visuals and music of the time to tell the story of a group of young people who went on strike to protest against apartheid and confronted the establishment, caused a state of emergency in South Africa and eventually saw the banning of South African produce in Ireland.
A clip of the show is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwhSKoAj0p0
More about STRIKE!
In Dublin in 1984, the economy was failing, unemployment was rife and 10 young women and one young man were about to change the world. In July a shop worker on Henry Street refused to sell South African fruit to a store customer and was suspended. Ten colleagues followed her out on strike; they thought it would last 2 weeks – it went on for nearly three years.
Come and see STRIKE!
Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin
Tuesday 26 October to Saturday 6 Nov. at 7.30 pm
Matinee on Saturday 29 and November 6 at 2.30 pm
Tickets €15.99; €11.99 concession; €9.99 matinee and for group rate of 10
Box office: Book online at www.tcd.ie/drama or by phone at 01 – 896 2461
Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 November at 8 pm
Tickets €14.99; €11.99 concession; €9.99 for group rate of 10
Box office: Book online at www.axis-ballymun.ie or by phone at 01 – 883 2100
Dept Education disconnectedness – a case study October 10, 2009Posted by Tomboktu in Education, Human Rights, racism, Rights, Sex, Uncategorized.
Even if there hadn’t been a scandal over the Ceann Comhairle or negotiations on a revised programme for government, parliamentary question no. 1271 last Tuesday would have had to struggle to get any attention. For starters, it was for written answer; further, it was for answer on a day when the Dáil returned after a break (and thus it was included in a long list of answers that had built up over a fortnight); finally, it was about an issue many would consider to be a minority interest. But question no. 1271 does merit some attention, not just for that subject matter, but possibly more so for what the answer reveals about the lack of even the most simple joined up administration in our government.
The (possibly) minority-interest issue is homophobic bullying in schools. The question, from Labour’s Ruairi Quinn, asked for statistics on what school inspectors found about school policies and practices on the issue during their routine whole school evaluations.
Minister Batt O’Keeffe uses three paragraphs of his answer to set out the law on school codes of behaviour, to outline administrative provisions on school policies on bullying, and to summarise what inspectors do – and what they don’t do – when conducting a Whole School Evaluation. It is not until then that Deputy Quinn’s question is answered:
The [Whole School Evaluation] reports published by my Department in 2008, and 2009 to date, have not explicitly identified problems with homophobic bullying, nor have school policies and practices to deal with such behaviour in individual schools been identified by inspectors as causes for concern.
The reason for this is
The review of anti-bullying policy during a [Whole School Evaluation] does not focus explicitly on any single category of bullying or harassment such as homophobic bullying.
Now, it’s not as if the Department of Education doesn’t know that there is a problem here. Ruairi Quinn’s question hints at that when he sets out the timeframe for the statistics he wanted as being “since the second report on homophobic bullying in schools was published”. That reference in Ruairi Quinn’s question is not the clearest, but I think reasonable to suggest that it refers to two reports on research by Dr James Norman and his colleagues in DCU’s School of Education. And my reason for thinking these were what Ruairi Quinn was referring to? You see, the studies were commissioned by the Department itself, and Ministers in the Dpeartment launched them with press releases.
The first report – dated 2004 – found that 79 percent of a large sample of SPHE teachers had enocountered instances of verbal homophobic bullying in the school term in which the research was conducted. Physical homphobic bullying was observed less frequently at 16 percent (still worrying), but where that was witnessed, there was a very high incidence of repeated physical homophobic bullying (87 percent). (I also wonder if there is any form of physical bullying that would not come within the ambit of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.) The report also found that 90 percent of the school’s policies did not refer to homophobic bullying.
The second research report, published in 2006, used a different approach. It went into significant depth in five schools, interviewing 100 teachers, parents and students (that is, 100 in total, not 100 of each). All of the students in that study reported that homophobic insults – ‘slagging’ using words like ‘faggot’, ‘queer’, or ‘dyke’ – are pervasive, and the researchers found that the evidence suggests “parents and teachers accept these terms as normal behaviour”. (I don’t know if there is research on equivalent racist or sectarian insults, but I doubt it would suggest that parents and teachers accept such terms as ‘normal behaviour’.)
The good news in Minister O’Keefe’s answer to the parliamentary question is that
My Department has also been working with the Gay Lesbian and Equality Network (GLEN) on the development of guidance material for school leaders in supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual students in second-level school. “Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students in Post-Primary Schools: Guidance for Principals and School Leaders” produced in association with the education partners and published jointly by GLEN and my Department, will be launched next week [by Minister of State Seán Haughey TD] and circulated to schools.
Maybe I am excessively cyncial, but I think two characteristics of that announcement tell us more than the Minister probably intended. It sends a signal that a junior minister is launching the report – and at that, a junior minister with no particular responsibility in this area (Seán Haughey’s three-fold remit is school transport, lifeling learning, and educational disadvantage). Perhaps more significant is that fact that the guidance has been produced in association with an NGO. That is not the situation with the Department’s Guidelines on Traveller Education in Second-Level Schools or its Guidelines for Developing a School Substance Use Policy,
Ultimately, though, the Department’s publishing of guidance is not a sign that it is addressing the issue in a meaningful way. The Department is failing in its duty because in the two school years since the Norman reports were published, not even once have inspectors used their routine Whole School Evaluations to check whether a school has taken any steps to deal with the problem – never mind assess the quality of those steps. Putting the issue of homophobic bullying on the agenda in just a handful of schools each year would not entail a disruption of the WSE process – it already entails sampling in the subject areas. However, for all schools to see a paragraph on findings on the matter in the reports when they come to be published – and schools do check the published reports – would make clear that homophobic bullying is an issue that is open to being checked and reported on. That would be a low-cost way to provoke schools to be sure their house was in order before a WSE team announced their imminent arrival. And it would show some joined-up administration in the Department of Education.
Here is the full text of the question and answer:
1271. Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science the information available to him since the second report on homophobic bullying in schools was published on the number of whole school evaluations conducted in second level schools, Youthreach centres, Traveller training centres and in special schools in which inspectors have explicitly identified problems with homophobic bullying; the number of schools in which adequate and effective policies and practices are in place to deal with homophobic bullying; the number of schools in which inspectors recommended the school should make improvements or introduce effective policies to tackle homophobic bullying. [34428/09]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): As the Deputy is aware the board of management of each school is required to prepare a code of behaviour in accordance with the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. My Department further requires each school to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, developed through consultation with the whole school community and properly implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.
My Department has issued guidelines as an aid to schools in devising measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness among school management authorities of their responsibilities in this regard. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of their school. My Department has also been working with the Gay Lesbian and Equality Network (GLEN) on the development of guidance material for school leaders in supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual students in second-level school. “Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students in Post-Primary Schools: Guidance for Principals and School Leaders” produced in association with the education partners and published jointly by GLEN and my Department, will be launched next week [by Minister of State Sean Haughey TD] and circulated to schools.
As part of a whole-school evaluation each school’s code of behaviour is requested and reviewed by the inspection team, along with other key school policy documents. The extent to which the policy is in line with the Department’s published Guidelines on Countering Bullying is considered. If a school does not have a legally required policy, inspectors will recommend that the school’s management address this as a matter of priority. In addition, where policies are found not to be in line with Department guidelines a policy review is recommended. This advice is given orally to the staff of the school and the board of management, as appropriate, and included in the published report of the inspection.
The review of anti-bullying policy during a WSE does not focus explicitly on any single category of bullying or harassment such as homophobic bullying. The WSE reports published by my Department in 2008, and 2009 to date, have not explicitly identified problems with homophobic bullying, nor have school policies and practices to deal with such behaviour in individual schools been identified by inspectors as causes for concern. The reports for the period, therefore, do not make specific recommendations to schools regarding improving approaches to tackling homophobic bullying.
Racism in Belfast June 17, 2009Posted by Garibaldy in Northern Ireland, racism.
I have this post up at my own blog, but seeing the amount of publicity the situation has been getting, and the importance of the issue, I thought I’d stick it up here too.
Shocking news that over 100 Romanians have fled their homes after a series of racist attacks in the Lisburn Road area over the past week. There have been a lot of racist attacks in Belfast over the last number of years, leading to it being labelled as Europe’s capital for racist attacks. Most of these attacks have taken place in south Belfast, where most of the immigrants live. This area is near Queen’s University, and most of the previous attacks were in the loyalist village area. The recent attacks were not in the Village, but the attackers seem to have come from there.
While there has been some Combat 18 graffiti in the past, the recent attacks seem to have gone beyond previous ones in the extent to which they were openly Neo-Nazi. The BBC reported that the attackers shouted Combat 18 slogans, and pushed a letter containing text from Mein Kampf through the letterbox. There was also an attack made on a protest rally on the Lisburn Road, although this may or may not have been the same gang. The BBC report linked immediately above suggests that the attackers were heckled by the demonstrators before the attack.
It’s good to see the community stand against the attacks. What is less pleasing is the police response, and the response of unionist politicians, who have been largely silent. The police have said there is no evidence that the attacks were orchestrated. Now, the police may may right; or they may be downplaying the situation to try and keep tensions down. But the idea these attacks were unconnected does seem to stretch credibility a little too much.
Given the fact that the BNP’s call centre is based in Belfast, and that there have been repeated attempts to organise here, it is possible that the recent European elections emboldened the people behind these attacks, although I suspect it is nothing that sophisticated. Whatever the situation, the politicians, police, and community must act to isolate and convict the people responsible. And gaol them for this hate crime.
UPDATE: Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson have visited the familes, a welcome development. There has also been condemnation from unionist politicians and others. Details here and here.
UPDATE 2: The ICTU has released a statement calling for a structured response from politicians, community leaders and statuatory bodies, as well as the allocation to police of resources to deal with the problem.
UPDATE 3: Splintered Sunrise has some thoughts picking up important points I missed, and an issue raised the comments here, namely geography.
Morrissey: The Pleasures of Reaction May 1, 2008Posted by smiffy in Books, Culture, Media and Journalism, Music, racism.
There’s a country
You don’t live there
But someday you would like to
And if you show them what you’re made of
Oh, then you might do
Morrissey – “The National Front Disco”
Oh that Morrissey. He certainly doesn’t make it easy for a serious, conscientious lefty to like him, does he? Not content with displaying a rather venal – not to mention “devious, truculent and unreliable” – character during the court action over the distribution of royalties from The Smiths and a rather ambiguous attration towards the aesthetics of skinheads, he now intends to perform at a music festival in Tel Aviv. No doubt angry letters are already winging their way towards the NME.
Of course, the greater shadow hanging over him is the question of racism: is he or isn’t he? It’s dogged Morrissey since the demise of The Smiths over twenty years ago, with the questionable lyrics of songs like ‘Bengali in Platforms’ on his fist solo album, Viva Hate and his flirtation with National Front iconography at the Madness reunion concert in Finsbury Park in the early nineties. However, while many of his statements and lyrics over the years are rather ambiguous, allowing him the benefit of the doubt, his infamous interview with the NME late last year, where he expressed sentiments like “The gates of England are flooded. The country’s been thrown away” and “These days you won’t hear a British accent in Knightsbridge” when speaking about immigration into the UK are far more direct and, as a consequence, far more troubling.
Perhaps more damning than the sentiments themselves is Morrissey’s reaction to the accusations of racism. In the statement he released after the NME interview was published, and while also issuing writs against the magazine, he stated:
If Conor (McNicholas - NME editor) can provoke bureaucratic outrage with this Morrissey interview, then he can whip up support for his righteous position as the morally-bound and armoured editor of his protected readership – even though, by re-modelling my interview into a multiple horror, Conor has accidentally exposed himself as deceitful, malicious, intolerant and Morrissey-ist – all the ist’s and ism’s that he claims to oppose. Uniquely deprived of wisdom, Conor would be repulsed by my vast collection of World Cinema films, by my adoration of James Baldwin, my love of Middle-Eastern tunings, Kazem al-Saher, Lior Ashkenazi, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and he would be repulsed to recall a quote as printed in his magazine in or around August of this year wherein I said that my ambition was to play concerts in Iran.
Missing the point entirely, and failing to address the statements he made which raised concerns – he falls back on some of the most tired and well-worn clichés used when someone is accused of racism: the “Some of my best friends …” argument
Worse yet is his approach to far milder discussions of his attitudes towards race. In March, David Quantick wrote a review of Morrissey’s latest ‘Greatest Hits’ collection in Word. It’s scathing stuff, displaying a rather intense dislike on Quantick’s part for Morrissey’s recent output – both musical and political. However, with the possible exception of the suggestion that his views on immigration might be hypocritical given his provenance (to my mind, the child of an immigrant is just as entitled to a racist opinion as someone who can trace their ancestry to the Magna Carta, or to the Battle of Clontarf) it’s all fair comment. Morrissey’s reaction? Call in the solicitors and force Word to settle in court. Billy Bragg’s view of the legal action against the NME is worth recalling all the more in this context:
Had Morrissey claimed freedom of speech in his own defence, I would have supported his stance. Instead, we have the unedifying possibility that a man who once skilfully wielded his dazzling wit to confound his detractors and delight his audience has been reduced to relying on a writ in order to stifle his critics.
In my view, there’s no strong reason to think Morrissey is a racist, even if his support for anti-racism campaigns does seem a little pro forma. However, given the sentiments expressed in the NME interview, I think there’s little doubt that he’s anti-immigration and has a rather xenophobic streak. The only thing that surprises me is that anyone should be surprised by this.
The emotional landscape of Morrissey’s lyrics, from the earliest days of The Smiths, has always been characterised by an intense conservatism. The nostalgic obsession with 1960s icons like Sandy Shaw, Viv Nicholson, the Carry-On crew and the Krays suggests a yearning for a Golden Age of Britishness (which indeed the very act of nostalgic recollection helps to define). Quantick is right, to an extent, when he says that “once Morrissey made music that talked about the underdog, the victim and those in the minority”. However, it should be stressed that Morrissey only ever spoke to some underdogs, some victims and some minorities. Is it really that strange that such an Anglophile, and an Anglophile of such a particular type, should be less than welcoming to those he thinks are taking his England away from him? And should Morrissey really be given such an easy ride when he expresses views which – by any standard – are reactionary compared with the kind of reaction which one could envisage if, say, Boris Johnson and Simon Heffer made the same comments? Indeed, perhaps the greatest criticism that could be levelled at Morrissey is that the views themselves are pretty indistinguishable from what one might expect from Heffer or – worse – Richard Littlejohn (like Morrissey, a rich ex-pat who likes to talk about the decline of England).
Perhaps the real question that could be asked is whether any of this should make any difference to our appreciation of Morrissey’s music. If he really was a racist, would it mean that songs like “That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More”, “I Know It’s Over” or ”Every Day is Like Sunday” are any the worst for it?
There’s nothing to suggest that progressive political opinions of the part of any artist necessarily translates into good art, or that reactionary views diminish the work. If one looks at some of the great writers of the twentieth century – Yeats, Proust, Stuart, Pound, Céline, Waugh, Larkin – you find anything from snobbery and racism to outright fascism. In each case, the reactionary politics are not incidental to the work. In fact, they’re integral to the writer’s entire outlook.
On a lighter note, I’m a big fan of the Flashman series of novels, by George McDonald Fraser who died earlier this year. However, much as I might admire the writing (in some of the books more than others, admittedly), and enjoy the satirical presentation of the British Empire, it must be conceded that there is a very questionable political undercurrent running through them, particularly in relation to the depiction of the natives of the lands Flashman visits.
By the same token, while it’s undeniable that Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philantrophists is a hugely important book both for its depicition of working-class life in the nineteenth century and for its pedagogical value, it’s also a rather turgid read, smacking in places of the worst kind of Dickensian senimentality and, aesthetically, doesn’t compare to work of Eliot, James or Conrad.
Morrissey’s action against the NME is unlikely to be heard for some time yet, and it may well prove to be his undoing. He didn’t come well out of his previous appearance in court and, like David Irving, he could find that he’s made a huge mistake in voluntarily putting his opinions under the microscope of judicial inquiry. Whatever the outcome, however, I don’t think it should make any difference to how we listen to his music in the future.
Old habits die hard April 13, 2008Posted by smiffy in British Politics, racism.
In a time when the British Conservatives have, through the adoption of quasi-Green policies and the nomination of cuddly Boris as their mayoral candidate in London, softened their image to such an extent that there sometimes seems little to choose between them and Labour, it’s nice to know that there’s still some corner of the Party that will be forever Tory (that is, hateful, arrogant, backward-looking and reactionary).
It’s not often that racism is funny, but it’s hard to stifle a smirk when presented with the sheer, unadulaterated and unrepentant bigotry in this story, a journey back to the 1970s. In the course of a piece on how rampant racism remains in the House of Commons, Dawn Butler (one of only two black female MPs) is quoting as describing an incident which occurred in 2006 which is impossible to understand as anything other than old school racism.
In an article written for the Fawcett Society’s new collection of essays, Seeing Double: Race and Gender in Ethnic Minority Women’s Lives, Butler describes how former Tory minister David Heathcote-Amory confronted her as she went to sit in the members’ section on the terrace. ‘He actually said to me: “What are you doing here? This is for members only.”
‘He then proceeded to ask me: “Are you a member?” And I said: “Yes I am, are you?” And he turned around and said to his colleague: “They’re letting anybody in nowadays.”
‘This man could not equate the image he saw in front of him with that of an MP. It was quite upsetting for my team and so we had to take it further.’
Unsurprisingly, Heathcote-Amory denies any racist motivation behind the action, claiming that it was simply a case of his failure to recognise Butler.
Heathcote-Amory, MP for Wells, rejected the allegation that his remarks to Butler in September 2006 were racist. ‘It is quite absurd,’ he said. ‘What she is actually objecting to is that I didn’t recognise her as a new MP.
An understandable error, perhaps. But let’s remember that, by his own admission, Heathcote-Amory is admitting to an inability to recognise one of only two black female Members of Parliament over a year since she was elected. One might also wonder whether Heathcote-Amory would have challenged a white male on the terrace, or whether he would have simply assumed the person in question was an MP he didn’t recognise (not forgetting the corollary – on what basis did he assume Butler wasn’t an MP?).
However, nothing quite damns Heathcote-Amory as much as his own words in explaining why Butler took offence
I simply asked her what she was doing at that end of the terrace, and they are quite sensitive about this kind of thing, they think that any kind of reprimand from anyone is racially motivated
Any further comment would be, I think, superfluous.