Laugh and the Prejudiced Laugh with You

by padraigcolman

In 1981, I was in Brixton the night the riots started. At the time I was living and working in Manchester but had travelled to London to attend a friend’s wedding. I was staying the night at his sister’s  house.

One  of the causes of the riots was the Sus law. The Metropolitan Police was dealing with the problem of street crime and mugging by stopping and searching. Those stopped for searches were predominantly young blacks.

My boss in Manchester was in many ways an admirable fellow. I liked him a lot. He inspired great affection. He was very funny and warm-hearted. One down-side was that was very prejudiced. He was a strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher, was strongly opposed to immigration and, disliked, as a group, people with dark skins. Strangely, he had great affection for individual black people and went out his way to help black people who worked for him.

He thought it was quite legitimate to target young blacks and search them in the street, in spite of the resentment this caused in the black community. He argued that the facts showed that young blacks were the main, perhaps only, culprits carrying out muggings so it made practical sense to be pro-active in targeting them.

Although I had myself been robbed at knife point by a black man in Moss Side, Manchester’s West Indian district, I argued that even if statistics showed that 99.9% of muggings were perpetrated by black youths, it was a terrible injustice to discriminate against one  innocent  black youth.

When I said I could empathise with  black immigrants because of the discrimination encounter by my own immigrant father he snorted ed and launched into a “humorous” diatribe against the Irish.

St Patrick’s Day always brings out  a good deal of sentimentality about Ireland and the Irish. It also brings out a lot of casual racism.

Ruth Dudley Edwards writes about the casual anti-Semitism of Agatha Christie. This was common among English writers in the 1930s. Did it contribute to the holocaust?

A Muslim business in Sri Lanka was attacked by a mob which included Buddhist monks. On Facebook someone tried to explain that it was not a racist attack but was a reaction to the sexual molestation of a Sinhalese girl by Muslims. Malinda Seneviratne, editor of The Nation newspaper countered that argument  thus: if “ the issue is about a minor being abused. underage Sinhala girls are abused by Sinhala adults too, just as underage Muslim girls are abused by Muslim adults. It is a crime and therefore should be investigated and acted upon LEGALLY. Similarly allegations of abuse by Muslim employers. You can’t conclude that all Muslims are like this (even if this were true) OR that there is some concerted plan by the Muslim community to do this. The option is to seek legal redress. The option is to be vigilant.” Not to be vigilantes.

Prejudice means pre-judging, making the world fit into the schema that you have already set in stone. This means that every individual Jew you meet is a cunning Shylock, every Roma a thief, every young black a mugger, every Irishman a drunk or a terrorist, every Colombian a drug baron.

Do these pre-judgements lead to killings of black youths like Stephen Lawrence? To the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six spending 15 years in prison for crimes they did not commit? To Roma being beaten up and driven out of town?

Sure it’s only a bit of an old laugh!