Anti-Racism: An Industry in Decline

Damian Thompson, Telegraph (London), April 12, 2013

Like coal mining in the Eighties, the anti-racism industry is in decline. Governments can no longer afford to subsidise “diversity workshops” for which there’s no demand. Especially from young people.

On both sides of the Atlantic, teenagers and students are giving the finger (as they might put it) to the hypersensitive race relations ideology drilled into them by their teachers. They laugh at jokes that, a decade ago, would have been regarded as racist. If, after a few drinks, one of their friends crosses the line into ethnic stereotyping, they’re more like to argue with them than to notify the campus police.

The disintegration of traditional anti-racism was brought home to Americans this week when Brad Paisley, a young country music star, and LL Cool J, a black rap artist, released a song entitled Accidental Racist. In it, Paisley clumsily tries to explain why he’s attracted to the Confederate flag. He sings: “I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done/And it ain’t like you and me can rewrite history.”

Cool J replies: “Just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good /You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would… If you don’t judge my gold chains/ I’ll forget the iron chains.”

Cue melodramatic gasps of horror from progressive columnists. But what’s interesting is that most fans of Brad Paisley and LL Cool J (and there isn’t much overlap between the two groups) aren’t offended. A white singer takes grudging pride in the Confederate South? A black singer makes fun of his own sagging pants and refuses to harp on about slavery? Cool. Or at least, like, whatever.

This nonchalance confuses the elderly activists who, until recently, lumbered from one workshop to another, pocketing wads of cash in the process: “racial sensitivity” doesn’t come cheap.

I put those words in quotation marks because these bores did nothing to promote harmony. On the contrary, ethnic minorities were taught to be ultra-sensitive towards unintended slights (as opposed to real racism, which they didn’t need lessons in identifying).

As for white people, it was all about guilt-tripping. Chief executives booked themselves on reprogramming courses, patting themselves on the back. (One of the benefits of austerity, in my opinion, is that firms can no longer afford these feelgood exercises.) In schools, lessons focused relentlessly on race, with risible results. “Our English teacher would read poems by black authors in a Jamaican accent,” recalls a young colleague. “No one could keep a straight face.”

This readiness to mock pompous anti-racists isn’t evidence of hard prejudice. Old-style “racialism”, as it used to be called, is pretty much dead, in the sense that fewer and fewer of us are interested in the colour of people’s skin. The word “darkies” is antiquated as well as nasty. On the other hand, if young people of any background want to tease members of another group for its annoying or anti-social habits, then they go right ahead. And if they feel threatened by aggressive behaviour – for example by Islamists trying to segregate men and women at London University, as happened last month – then they won’t be silenced by right-on quangos.

I’m not denying that, in the heat of the moment, horrible things are said. This is what happens in a (mostly) colour-blind society that allows free speech, as opposed to one governed by the phoney etiquette of the grievance-mongers. But, in the words of the song, racism is increasingly accidental rather than intentional. Surely that’s progress.

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