Over Christmas, as usual, I got into some political discussions with my family. With my youngest son, Bob, the conversation went into the territory of multiculturalism and integration. Bob lives in London which I think gives him a rosier picture of multiculturalism than mine. Cosmopolitan areas of London are very different from highly self-segregated northern towns like Rochdale and Bradford. As usual we were probably both right and both wrong but later it got me thinking about a couple of things that to some people (including me to some extent) have become “dirty words”. These things are Multiculturalism and Political Correctness
I am old and I can remember some things that a lot of people can’t, here are some of them:
Once upon a time . . . .
- A comedian once told the following joke – on television: “Why do paki’s smell? – so blind people can hate them too”
- People routinely used the words nigger, sambo, paki, rag-head, mick, jock, poofter, homo, tart, bird, and many more and the people these words referred to were considered overly-sensitive if they objected.
- A taxi-driver told me an area where I was thinking about buying a house was a great place – and the local Liberal Club was a good place to drink “cos they don’t let paki’s in”
- You couldn’t buy spices, or curries, or Chinese, or even Italian food in supermarkets
- Eating out for “ordinary people” meant fish-n-chips, Wimpey, or (if you were a bit posh) a Berni Inn
- “Shirt lifters” used to meet in public toilets to “bum” each other – this was illegal
- Advertisements for jobs, any jobs, could specify if only men or women could apply
- Everyone on TV was white and spoke like the Queen
- Nobody on TV was gay – unless they were a ludicrously camp comedy character
- There was a BBC TV program where white men would black-up and put on a “minstrel show”
- Later, there was a BBC TV program where the white neighbor called his black neighbor “sambo” – this was called a joke.
I hope these things shock you, they should, they shock me and they are my memories!
I don’t bring these things up to ridicule the past but to show how much improved is the present. These changes were brought about partly through legislation but mostly via cultural pressure, through the twin concepts of Multiculturalism and Political Correctness. Yes – they used to be GOOD things, they really were.
I want to talk about how they used to be good things and how they have now been poisoned – and need to be replaced.
Multiculturalism used to mean that when immigrants came to the UK they didn’t have to transform themselves into carbon copies of the people who were already here. This was a good thing, it was progressive thinking, and it broadened the minds and horizons of the immigrants and the “indigenous” alike. It meant that when I walked up the street where I lived in Bradford I could hear reggae, prog-rock, sitars, brass bands, Irish folk songs and all sorts of other music coming out of the windows of the big Victorian terraces. I could also smell all kinds wonderful smells coming out of the kitchen windows, and hear many and varied accents and languages in the Upper Globe pub most evenings. It was here that you could find out which new, local, shops sold the spices to make the wonderful smells and which shops sold the imported LPs with the songs you had heard.
This all sound like some kind of paradise – it wasn’t. We didn’t all love each other, we didn’t really mix all that much, but we rubbed along OK. That it was no paradise is obvious if you look at the Upper Globe now http://www.closedpubs.co.uk/yorkshire/bradford_bd8_upperglobe.html it was burned out in the Bradford riots of 2001 and never re-opened.
But it was accepted by everyone who considered themselves “progressive” (before that also became a dirty word), which was basically everyone under 40, that progress meant more mixing, more mutual understanding – including mutual criticism, more learning from each other. In short progress was to be found in more integration and less segregation.
In parallel with the idea of racial and religious multiculturalism the ideas of Political Correctness meant, initially, that certain words shouldn’t be used because the people they described found them demeaning and insulting. Gradually this pressure to think about the language we used made us think more about the people who this political correctness was “protecting” and they became, to the open minded among us, just people, very much like ourselves. Also, the relative absence of these words from normal everyday language meant that children and young people were much less likely to casually pick up the prejudices of their parents.
All this has meant that, in what seems to me to be a very short time, we have gone from the “Black n White Minstrel Show” to “Luther”, from blackmail and court cases to joyous gay marriages, from Berni Inns to everyone knowing their balti from their biryani, from secretary to Home Secretary.
Everything in the garden is not, of course, rosy. There is still a way to go regarding equality for all sorts of minority groups but that should not blind us to to the huge progress that has been made, even in one lifetime.
But all of this progress is under threat from the very things that brought it about. Political Correctness and Multiculturalism. I am NOT saying, as the Daily Mail does with the regularity of a tolling bell, that it has all “gone too far”. I don’t think it’s gone too far – I thinks its gone to places where it was never intended to go.
I think these terms have come to mean that which they were never intended to mean, indeed almost the opposite of their original meanings.
Multiculturalism originally meant that all cultures should be open to, and influenced by other cultures so that people could be enriched by the best of all cultures and abandon the worst. It has lead to the opposite, a cowardly cultural relativism where all cultures are equal and cannot be criticized. Where each culture demands to be left alone to ignore all others and to insulate itself from “contamination” by others which might damage it’s purity and authenticity. The truth is that what started as a laudable attempt at genuine multiculturalism is rapidly becoming an excuse for it’s opposite – multiple, insulated, mutually suspicious, oppressive, monocultures.
Political Correctness is perhaps best summed up by the phrase “you can’t say that” and it was meant to stop people casually, and sometimes not so casually, using words and phrases that were insulting and offensive to the people they described. It was meant to stop people talking about paki’s, sambos, and chinks. It was also extended to include words used to describe other groups like homosexuals – queers & poofs, and derogatory words for women – birds & tarts. There were those who attacked this political correctness by saying that these words were not derogatory, that those who objected were being overly sensitive, that shows like the “Black and White Minstrel Show” weren’t insulting to real black people at all. The response to this was to say, quite rightly, that it is up to black people, not white people, to decide if the word sambo is offensive or not.
Over time this worked well, members of various minorities became known by the names they chose, and this affected how people thought about them. They became individuals who were given the respect, or at least the politeness they deserved as human beings. To the point where a Conservative led government passed a law to allow gay people to marry just a few years after their kind of love had been against the law
Sadly however Political Correctness, like Multiculturalism, also went to a place where it was never meant to go. It has now reached the point where some people define anything they disagree with as offensive and claim that “you can’t say that”. It is now used to suppress all kinds of free speech and legitimate criticism of ideas and ideologies.
This poisonous coupling of Political Correctness and Multiculturalism has given birth to some pretty vile bastard offspring too, such as:
- Islamophobia: Originally meant to describe anti-Muslim bigotry. Prejudice based on religion rather than race. Now used to facilitate the suppression of the criticism of the ideology of Islam itself.
- Safe Spaces: Originally meant to protect vulnerable people from verbal or physical attack. Now used to protect certain groups from hearing anything they might disagree with
- No Platforming: Originally meant to deny an amplified voice to those encouraging or promoting violence. Now used to prevent everyone else from hearing what certain groups might disagree with
- Native Informant: Originally meant as an academic version of Uncle Tom, a traitor who sells out to the oppressors of his people. Now used to describe anyone who thinks his own culture may not be perfect and is open to ideas from other cultures. The native informant can then be safely deemed “inauthentic” so their ideas can be safely ignored without actually thinking about them.
All this has lead to some pretty awful real-world consequences:
- Jewish, Muslim, and Evangelical Christian schools where children either learn nothing but their religion or learn everything through the distorted lens of their religion. This leaves them hopelessly unequipped for modern Britain. But that’s OK they say because they won’t be part of modern Britain, they will live in their own little bubble, insulated from everyone else who doesn’t live their way
- Blind eyes are turned to backward, illiberal, and sometimes brutal and illegal practices such as forced marriage, segregation in public spaces, honour killings and FGM
- Groups of Islamists, including veiled women, openely campaigning against democracy itself on British streets
- People seriously campaigning for blasphemy laws in 21st century Britain
- People who want their culture to change, who think it can be improved, people who are genuinely progressive (another word which now means almost it’s opposite) are condemned as “porch monkeys”, “native infromants”, “inauthentic”, as some kind of “traitor” to their in-group.
- The insanity of a young student refusing to share a platform with Peter Tachell and calling him a trans-phobic bigot
- The feminist and LGBT societies of a university voicing their support for a group of Islamist thugs who tried to break up a talk by Myrayam Namase and intimidate her into silence
- A black female student telling a white male one that he can’t wear his hair in dreadlocks because they are part of HER culture that he has no right to “appropriate”
So what can we do about this? What can genuine progressives as opposed to the “regressive left” do about it?
I don’t have a simple answer I’m afraid but one thing we must NOT do is be quiet. We must speak up in support of others who still believe in what Multiculturalism and Political Correctness were originally for. We must support those people whatever colour they are, whether they are on the left or the right of politics.
We can no longer use the terms Political Correctness and Multiculturalism, they have become too poisoned. There are many alternatives though, words and phrases that still represent the ideas that can lead to the kind of world that most of us still want, and believe in. Here are some of those words:
Freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of and from religion, liberalism, democracy, equality, the rule of law – with one law for all, universal human rights, secularism, honesty, rationalism, politeness, tolerance.
OK they’re all a bit old fashioned right? Maybe but at least they still mean what they used to mean and they are our our only hope. So speak up for them and support others who do the same. Especially the minorities within the minorities and those brave souls who speak up in countries where it can cost them dear, even sometimes their life.
Some of them are here, there are many others. Find them – support them:
- Muslim Reform Movement
- Quilliam Foundation
- Sam Harris
- British Muslims for Secular Democracy
- National Secular Society
- Ekklesia – Transforming politics and belief
- Khudi Pakistan
- Baba Brinkman (rational rapper)
- The Rubin Report