At Question Time last week, a member of the public asked the panel about the racism scandal that has engulfed Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Fiona Bruce, in the presidency, invited Nazir Afzal, the former prosecutor, to speak first. Indignantly, Afzal replied, “The dark-haired person will answer first.” When Bruce asked if it was wrong to have asked him before the other panelists, he said yes, “I think so”. Later, Stella Creasy, a Labor MP, suggested that Bruce was “normalizing forms of racism”.
In only one case have we seen how far through the looking glass we have traveled. No one seriously thinks that Fiona Bruce is racist. And no one with an open mind thinks she “normalized racism.” If she had asked the white panelists to speak out on racism before Afzal, she would have been accused of ignoring her “lived experience”, and allowing others to respond from the point of view of their “white privilege”.
Afzal later explained his position, saying: “The reality is that people of brown color, black people… are tired of having to keep on describing how much racism we face on a daily basis. Mirroring the now famous book, widely promoted in schools, colleges and workplaces by equality consultants, Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race, the suggestion seemed to be that it was wrong – maybe. racist, if you are Stella Creasy – for whites to ask even minorities how to fight racism.
Ironically, the issue debated in Question Time was the failure of whites to listen to an Asian racism whistleblower. Azeem Rafiq, a former cricketer who testified before Parliament last week, exposed a culture of racism within Yorkshire cricket and the institution’s refusal to listen to victims and root out racist discrimination.
Complexity and controversy, and even hypocrisy and double standards, have since clouded the case. Shortly after Rafiq testified, stories of his own conduct began to emerge. First there was the anti-Semitic language he used when interacting with a friend on Facebook. Then came the news that he posted a meme denigrating Africans on Instagram. Then came allegations that he sexually harassed a sixteen-year-old girl.
In a way, the complexity should help us. The Rafiq case shows that victims of racism can also be perpetrators. And just because we know that Rafiq was racist himself does not excuse the behavior of those who were racist towards him. It doesn’t make Yorkshire’s failures any less serious, either.
More important than the double standard shown by Rafiq, however, was the double standard of his supporters and other commentators in the media. When Rafiq apologized for his racist posts online, those who would normally be skeptical of such statements rushed to defend him. His behavior was historic, they insisted, and he had shown remorse. Stella Creasy even congratulated “this poor young man”, for his “powerful, clear and convincing” apology.
Some have sought to justify his behavior, noting that his “teenage comments” could be explained by a lack of “social contact” and “dialogue” with the Jewish people. When the young woman recounted her story of sexual harassment by Rafiq, the reporter who first reported the Yorkshire allegations saw only a plot to punish Rafiq. “Weird that whistleblowers are so reluctant to come forward, isn’t it?” ” He asked.
What explains the double standard? This could, in part, be due to an understandable desire not to let Rafiq’s own shortcomings undermine his important disclosures. This could, as some Jewish commentators have observed, be explained by a hierarchy of racism, in which some care less about anti-Semitism than other acts of discrimination. But it is surely also due to blurred lines between different concepts: racial discrimination, racial inequality, institutional racism and the theory of structural racism.
Despite the progress made over the past decades, racism undoubtedly remains a significant problem. Clear acts of racist discrimination – such as those exposed by Rafiq – and decisions made because of unconscious prejudices – such as the abuse of police stop and search powers – must be tackled.
And inequality between racial groups may exist for reasons more complex than discrimination – economic geography, family structures or attitudes towards working women, for example – which must also be tackled.
The idea of institutional racism is controversial among many on the right, but the definition given by Lord Macpherson – “the collective failure of an organization to provide appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or their ethnicity, “seen in” processes, attitudes and behaviors amounting to discrimination through unintentional prejudice, ignorance, recklessness and racist stereotypes “- holds true of what we now know about Yorkshire .
The theory of structural racism, however, is something else. He claims, without evidence, that society as a whole systematically discriminates against minorities and in favor of whites, subjecting minorities to cumulative disadvantage. It is little more than a conspiracy theory inspired by French postmodernists and American sociologists, but its consequences are becoming clear.
Because when we judge a specific act of racial discrimination, we can determine whether an individual is guilty or not. When we judge an organization, we can decide whether it is fulfilling its responsibilities. But when we try to judge people by a theory that already holds some systemic discrimination complicit and others its victims innocent, all we get is a modern day witch trial.
No one thinks Fiona Bruce is racist, but she is convicted. We know Azeem Rafiq used racist language, but he must be innocent. Some see themselves forgiven what others face with excommunication. And the rules change, often in retrospect, to fit the theory, not the evidence.
Not only is it unfair, it is counterproductive. By pitting one group against another and convicting entire groups, we make it harder to tackle individual acts of racism, institutional racism and entrenched racial disparities. We have to ask ourselves, how did we end up getting stupid?