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January 23, 2008

Theodore Dalrymple is outraged to be asked his ethnicity by officialdom - but remembers that it is our social duty to grin and bear insults

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple explains why it is our social duty to grin and bear insults.

It is strange, is it not, how the more strenuously we deny the importance of race in human affairs, the more obsessed with it and the touchier on the subject we grow. Casual insults are turned into major incidents; people are, or claim to be, traumatised by less and less. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that they almost enjoy victimisation.

Far be it from me to sit in judgement on the question of whether or not the Indian cricketer really did recently call the only non-white member of the Australian team a monkey: an incident, or alleged incident, that almost brought a great sporting contest to a premature end. (From the photos I saw in my newspaper of the injured, or allegedly injured, party - that admittedly revealed only his forearms - he seemed to me to be non-white only in some severely apartheid-scientific taxonomical sense.)

The question of whether the Australians are themselves completely without racial prejudice, that is to say have been completely cleansed in mind and spirit by a few years of political correctness, is strictly irrelevant.

What struck me most forcibly about the affair was the way grown men, sportsmen at that, ran immediately to the authorities, as a child runs to his mother when his brother has pinched him or appropriated his toy. Good god, I thought, I've been called a lot worse things in my career, and (what is most galling) sometimes with justification. But a fragile ego maketh a glad authority.

Not long ago I received a letter from the General Medical Council asking me to tell them my ethnicity. The letter said that the GMC had this information on 30 per cent of doctors, but not on me. It was trying to increase the percentage.

My first inclination on receiving this outrageous and disgraceful enquiry (which would not be the less outrageous and disgraceful because of the good intentions of those who sent it) was to write a letter of protest. However, by now I could fill a pretty large volume with letters of complaint that I had never written, and of course my fury lapsed.

If I had written that letter, however, I would have pointed out that one of the reasons so high a proportion of Dutch Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust was because the Dutch kept such good records of people's religions. And one of the reasons the genocide in Rwanda was carried out so efficiently was that every citizen was forced to carry an identity card stating his ethnic group.

Of course, I do not wish to imply that the GMC has anything like this in mind. (I have been asked the same question, incidentally, by other organisations to which I belong.) But since prudence and an awareness of the worst that can happen seems to be the beginning of political wisdom, it seems to me that, at the very least, the collection of ethnic data should serve an extremely important end that might possibly offset the perils. What could these extremely important ends be?

The supposed purpose of ethnic monitoring is to bring about perfect racial equity in the division of society's spoils (if I may put it like that). This is to assume, of course, that the only possible explanation of differences in outcome between racial or any other groups is the operation of prejudice against some and in favour of others: in other words, that all tastes, ambitions, abilities and so forth are equally distributed among different groups. This is wildly improbable, indeed so wildly improbably that I doubt whether any of the organisations that have asked me for my ethnicity believe it themselves. The worthwhile end of ethnic monitoring must therefore be sought elsewhere.

On several occasions, the reason given to me for filling in the forms is that the government requires it. This argument has never persuaded me, and I have thrown the forms straight into the bin. As far as I am aware, no person has suffered as a result of my failure to fill in the return, nor has the government machinery become even more inefficient as a result.

Still, this justification - that the government requires it - intrigues me. When one considers that even in Nazi Germany no one ever suffered severe punishment, beyond a failure to advance in his career (admittedly a severe penalty for careerists), as a consequence of his refusal to obey orders to kill Jews, how much less excuse do the servants of organisations in our own country have for not refusing to obey idiotic and possibly wicked orders? When all is said and done, our own government is still a comparatively mild one.

I think one is forced to conclude that the most important end that weighs against the dangers of ethnic monitoring is the employment of people who do the ethnic monitoring. That is to say, ethnic monitoring is Keynesian demand management.

It is here that one sees the advantage to the government of inflamed sensitivities such as that displayed by the Australian cricketer. It needs the intervention of officialdom to calm them. The more such inflamed sensitivity there is in society, the greater the locus standi of those who seek, at least ostensibly, to assuage it.

The more complaints there are from the people whom administrators administer, the more there is for them to do and the greater their power over those people. That is why, in many public services, the definition of a racial incident is an incident that one party perceives (however unreasonably) to be racial, and bullying occurs whenever anyone feels bullied. It can be a full-time job sorting out these complaints.

I hasten to add, lest I be taken as being in favour of racial and other forms of abuse, that I prefer politeness to rudeness and good sportsmanship to bad. Politeness is a virtue that I myself practice with intermittent success; but the attempt to produce a virtuous population by administrative means appears to me to be destined to fail. And if we go running to the authorities every time someone calls us a name, it will in the end be our own freedom that we undermine. It is our social duty, within reason, to grin and bear insult.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and worked for many years as an inner city and prison doctor.


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The man concerned, Andrew Symonds, is half white, half black West Indian. He is a fine fieldsman, but as a batsman and a bowler (he is considered to be a batting all-rounder) his skills are not quite good enough for the highest level. When originally selected, he was played as a batsman (one of the selectors admitted as much), but this meant that he was played in preference to 5 batsmen of much greater ability who had been dropped for varying reasons. Ponting, the Captain, has always defended his position in the side on the basis that his fielding along justified his place in the side. Indeed he is a good friend of the Ponting's and this probably has a lot to do with his selection. He has made two scores of note, one against England, and one against India, and in both cases he was ruled not out in what may be charitably described as "ordinary" umpiring decisions. He also whereas his hair in dreadlocks, and smears so much white zinc cream on his lips he actually looks as if he's from the Black and White Ministerial show - I don't know if this had anything to do with the Indian player's jibe.

Much of this is down to the ICC's promotion of "anti-racism". This, itself, encourages people to "take offence". The ICC has been playing such games for sometime, and I suspect the decision to change the rules to legalise Muralitheran's "doosra" is largely based upon this racial victimisation theory. There are several sources of this storm. One is the idea that the Indians, a "non-white" team, can be accused of racist abuse. The "logic" of anti-racism seems to be that whites are "racist" that non-whites are the "victims". This simplistic mindset seems to be the source of much of the acrimony, particularly amongst some commentators. Another one is that it is claimed that in India that monkey isn't considered a term of racial abuse. This is something which must give those who enact these laws something of a dilemma. Is a term offensive if the person hearing it considers it offensive, or if the person saying it intends it to be offensive? The Indians then embarked upon tit for tat. Frankly I think that "sledging" is bad sportsmanship, and should be banned. To simply ban "racial abuse" shows an ideological bent which claims that a particular form of abuse (or more particularly, a particular ethnicity of player) is wrong but all other forms are. For example, if the Indian had called into question Symonds parentage, or abused certain members of his family, or questioned the morality of his mother, it may not have been "racial" abuse, and therefore not been subject of special sanction under the ICC rules - but Symonds may well have found it much more offensive (as I certainly would).

I wonder if part of the reason for this is that since White South Africa has fallen, it is in such ridiculous laws and regulations that "the white man" shows his "repugnance" at racial prejudice, and absolves himself for past sins (support for Nelson Mandela, the ANC and opposition to Apartheid South Africa were the favoured means before).

Posted by: PT at January 24, 2008 10:41 AM
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Theodore Dalrymple makes some excellent points about racial monitoring and Nazism. The paradox is that Jewish organizations in the UK are firmly in support of racial monitoring and the equality-sniffing it serves, not to mention the remainder of our ever more intrusive and counter-productive anti-racist policies.

Posted by: FatherFred at January 29, 2008 08:12 PM
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