Reporting on Race

by Joseph Harker in the Guardian

The Issue

It is basically a response to Trevor Phillips’ questioning why we can’t say things about race even if they are true.

Although I understood the objections Harker raises and the reasoning he provides for them, especially when talking about crime and race, I don’t understand what he is arguing for or proposing in the article overall:

  • it is ok to talk about facts regarding minority social groupings (as defined by ethnicity/race/culture) if they are likely to be interpreted positively, or are trivial/mundane/unlikely to cause controversy? (e.g. Chinese and Indian kids do best at school)
  • Talking about facts regarding minority social groupings (as defined by ethnicity/race/culture) and crime should be avoided?
  • Talking about facts regarding minority social groupings (as defined by ethnicity/race/culture) should be avoided in general?
  • Talking about facts regarding social groupings (as defined by ethnicity/race/culture) that are likely to be interpreted negatively is ok so long as it is not limited to minority groupings?  (e.g. “White Crime Shock)

Shortcomings

Firstly, Harker raises no objections to the mundane unsayable examples about the Irish, Chinese and Indians you list in the opening. This suggests he sees no problem with statements regarding ethnic/racial/social groups and it is fine to talk about such things.

Secondly, he states that he doesn’t have a problem with facts and these are not racist in themselves. The problem, as he shows, is not the facts but the way they are interpreted and used for political, ideological and commercial (here I am thinking of tabloid headlines) ends.

The problem that Harker identifies thus shifts from facts about racial/cultural groupings in themselves to the way they are used.

Therefore, what really needs arguing for is how to stop facts becoming “racialised” (which is something that appears to succeed because of public prejudice and ignorance among white people in England, to limit its scope to your discussion in the article—- and this is a problem representing that culture in general, as you  argued before in “Of course all white people are racist”) . Surely this can only be countered by a more informed and aware public who are provided with an array of facts that are fully contextualised.

An Alternative

The argument or proposal could then be for:

Establishing and reporting facts about social groupings (as defined by ethnicity/race/culture + gender/class and other social demographics) is ok provided it is done properly (i.e thorough contextualising, rigorous analysis, etc.)

Perhaps I am wrong, but in the context Harker is specifically addressing–UK’s anti-islam sentiment gaining momentum along with rising hostility to immigration from “borderless” EU, especially Polish workers, and widening public support for the populist political response to this offered by UKIP under Farrage–adopting speech codes to effectively repress the possibility of extant and growing racism being given expression will only result in furthering dissatisfaction and resentment.

I will leave it there…..

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