Is O’Reilly A Racist?

oreilly.jpgAmerican radio host Bill O’Reilly has been under fire this week, after comments he made on his show. The show in question was about racial prejudice. All hell broke loose after the media picked up on some comments he made about black people, based on a dinner he had attended with Al Sharpton at Sylvia’s soul food restaurant in Harlem.

He has been called a racist for saying things such as: “I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. They’re getting away from the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the people trying to lead them into a race-based culture. They’re just trying to figure it out. ‘Look, I can make it. If I work hard and get educated, I can make it.”

Is Bill O’Reilly a racist? It’s an interesting question and I could see why that would be the first thought on reading the press coverage on this matter. However, having listened to the show I genuinely don’t think so. He actually states “there is no difference… nothing to do with the colour of anyone’s skin”. His actual message, which is made very clearly throughout the show, is that there are no differences between people of different races.

If you listen to the show, O’Reilly actually makes some insightful comments and is clearly someone who has thought about this issue in some detail. He says, for example, that he doesn’t believe that most black people like the hip hop and rap music that is being played currently and that it is not reflective of black culture. He says that there is so much to admire in the black community, yet it’s the crazy gangsta orientated stuff that gets the media attention. He even points the finger at the media and organizations – who he says are run by white people – who are obsessed with focussing on the worst aspects of black people.

People need to listen to the entire show because many of the comments have in fact been taken out of context. For example at one point he says that nobody in Sylvia’s restaurant was shouting “M-Fer, I want more iced tea!”, but in the context of the show the preceeding comment was that many white people believe that black culture is all about Twista and Snoop Dogg and using profanity – so his point was in defence of black people, pointing out that most black people do not swear and act crazy in the same way that rappers do.

I can see why people thought his comments were patronizing. However, you have to listen to the whole show before branding O’Reilly a racist.

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Barack Obama Rally in NYC

barack.jpgThis week I attended a Barack Obama rally in Manhattan…

It was a great event. Thousands turned up to watch this man speak. What struck me was the diversity of the crowd. There were white people, black people, old, young, students and professionals there. Even some homeless people! (lol) It was wonderful to see that although Obama is a black man, people really are genuinely interested in him for his politics and what he can do for America.

Obama is a man of the people. He is friendly, affable, and approachable. He is using what critics describe as ‘inexperience’ to his advantage, saying that all it means is that he has not yet been sucked into the worst parts of the Washington system. He is not going to continue to play the already-tired system, but will introduce some much needed new eyes, and fresh blood into American politics.

He wants to set up a national healthcare system. As I posted recently, this is a very important pledge. I was somewhat sceptical, however, of his somewhat optimistic (and perhaps unrealistic) promise to introduce it within his first term of office. I was also slightly irked by his talks of setting up schools in the Middle East to teach them about American ways…

However, Obama is sensitive to the world’s perception of America, and its foreign policy. He says America must talk instead of starting wars. He has been opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning, and is under no illusions that the invasion had much to do with oil.

It will be interesting to see how he fares… I wish him much luck. I would be happy to see him in office.

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Immigration, Immigration, Immigration

[This post is taken from my weekly column on www.tmponline.org]

Last week Chief Constable Julie Spence from Cambridge entered into the immigration debate, giving her views on how migrant workers – particularly those from Eastern Europe – are placing a heavy burden on the resources of the police force. Language, cultural and social differences are all, according to Ms Spence, costing her community – and no doubt others – dear.

Of course the media loved that! They might as well have shouted: “See! We knew we were right! Immigration is bad for our beloved country! Forget what the government says, here is a senior police officer telling us what we’ve always known!” Lo and behold, the newspapers – from The Daily Mail to The Telegraph – played up to the hysteria.

Ross Clark in the Times wrote the following piece of well-investigated journalism (please note my sarcasm): “That our murder rate has doubled since the 1950s, for example, is not entirely unconnected with our having absorbed a great number of migrants from cultures much more violent than our own.”

I would love to ask Mr Clark from where he gets his evidence that a) Eastern Europeans (or anyone else for that matter) are more violent than Brits, and b) that the increased murder rate in the UK since 1950 has anything whatsoever to do with immigration.

In another piece of scare-mongering, the Telegraph says: “Society is fracturing, segregation growing, the dream of integration further away than ever. This poses profound problems for the country: funding adequate public services is probably the least of them.” Again, where is the real evidence for any of this?

Unfortunately, these are simply the ill-informed, un-researched personal – although presented as fact – opinions of supposedly intelligent, forward thinking and educated people. But blimey, if they feel that way, what must the average Joe Bloggs think?

Immigration is – and always has been – a controversial issue in this country. Whilst the government plays up the economic benefits, many remain unconvinced, believing instead that it harms ‘social cohesion’ and damages the fabric of British society. Ms Spence’s comments served only to reinforce this viewpoint. According to her, people from Eastern Europe have ‘different standards’ and are responsible for a rise in knife crime and drink driving.

On the whole, media discussion of immigration tends to appeal to people’s fears of ‘the other’. Constable Spence, by positing Eastern European and British cultures as being fundamentally different and at-odds with one another, does the same. The hysterical and hyperbolic language used by the media leads to a sense of panic whereby the public is led to believe that wonderful, quaint British society will fall to pieces as uneducated, uncouth immigrants with non-existent moral values ‘swamp’ the country.

I find the fears surrounding immigration uncalled for and rather ridiculous. Ridiculous because they are age-old. Whether it’s blacks, Irish, Jews or Eastern Europeans, there has always been a public fear of those from other countries coming into the UK. There has always been someone, whether it’s a politician or a police officer, with ‘evidence’ to show how dangerous immigration is to the British way of life.

Back in 1968, Enoch Powell’s gave his controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Today it seems we are still hearing the same thing; the underlying notion being that migrant populations will overwhelm Great Britain and its people.

However, I do not see any real basis for this belief. The UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The economy is stable, unemployment is low, violent crime is on the decrease. On the whole, people from different countries live quite well side-by-side in modern day Britain.

Undoubtedly there are some tensions, and terrorist activities have increased public anxiety. However, we must not generalize based on the behaviour or actions of a few. There are bad apples in every cart – immigrants and British alike. We must not forget that the vast majority of violent crime and anti-social behaviour is committed by British people.

No doubt Constable Spence’s constabulary now has different and pressing needs. However, life is all about change and they will simply have to adapt. Interestingly enough, the Immigration Minister was today quoted as saying that, in real terms, funding is up by 20% in Cambridgeshire and crime is actually down in the region.

Let’s focus on the positive and look at the benefits of immigration. Let’s focus on just how much immigrants have contributed to British society over generations. It is a disservice to hard working, law-abiding people who have come to this country and made social, cultural and financial contributions to make gross disparaging over-generalizations about those who come to reside in the UK from abroad.

Isn’t it time Ms Spence and others look at the bigger picture and applaud immigration?

Thank goodness for the NHS…

nhs.jpgOn Saturday night, I had one of my fingernails ripped off… It was extremely painful and has been bleeding pretty much ever since.

Since there is no free healthcare in America (where I am currently based) I had to pay to be seen to by a doctor…

I found it strange that I had to pay before I could receive medical attention. Strange because I come from a land where we have a national healthcare system. It really got me thinking – what happens to Americans who cannot afford health insurance? Surely the present healthcare system in America set up in such a way that it benefits the rich and disadvantages the poor? Despite paying it’s not as if I had a superior service either. I still had to wait 2 hours to see the doctor, despite having an appointment.

I never thought I would long for the NHS but that changed after having to whip out my debit card and pay a hefty amount of dinero for medical care!

There are many things that I like a lot about America… but how they can continue to justify the current healthcare system beggars belief… There are some things that should be available to all on an equal basis. Healthcare is one. Education is another.

I never thought I’d be saying this, but here’s to the NHS. Despite it’s shortcomings, at least there is no elitism and inequality where that system is concerned….

P.S. I am hoping not to have any more accidents while I’m in the US!!

Some Justice for the Jena 6…

No doubt you have heard about the case of the Jena 6. Six young black school kids have been facing unnecesarily harsh criminal sentences (originally for second degree attempted murder!) for beating up a white teenager in an atmosphere of racial tension in the small town of Jena, Louisiana….A ridiculous situation that was exacerbated by a school that did nothing to abate the racially motivated issues that were taking place right under its nose.

Thankfully, yesterday one of the accused – Mychall Bell – who was tried as an adult despite being only 16 at the time of the incident, had his convictions thrown out. I pray that the others in the case will also be vindicated.

This case is a sorry example of the racial discrimination and prejudice that still exists in American society. A sad spotlight on the failings and weaknesses of the American criminal justice system and the inequalities that exist when dealing with African-Americans. I hope that this entire case will be thrown out of court and those young people will get their normal lives back.

Justice for the Jena 6!

Race Matters

trevormcdonald.jpg[This article was published on Friday 14 September in my column on political website www.tmponline.org]

This week Trevor McDonald was cleared of racism after he described the late comedian Bernard Manning as a “fat, white, bastard” on his television show ‘News Knight’. Ofcom said that within the context of usage, such language – although strong – was “clearly intended to parody Manning’s own comedy” and was “justified in the context”.

I am glad that Ofcom came to this ruling. It evidently used its discretion and common sense – unlike most when discussing racism – and an understanding that context plays a defining role in the meaning and significance of words. I’m pleased that Ofcom did not fall into the naive political correctness trap which deems that any mention of skin colour is racist.

In a year when a white contestant was removed from the Big Brother house for calling a fellow (black) housemate a ‘n****r’ (following the racist bullying of Indian actress Shilpa Shetty in the previous series), and the American radio presenter Don Imus committed career suicide when he was overheard calling a group of black female basketball players ‘nappy headed ho’s’, the debate continues to rage – and opinions are strongly divided – when it comes to deciding what constitutes racism.

Over 100 complaints were made by viewers to Ofcom and ITV about Trevor McDonald’s words. The comedian Jim Bowen was said to be ‘appalled’ and Manning’s partner ‘shocked’. I am rather amused that in a clearly satirical piece of television – please note that the actual segment was entitled ‘Racist and Dead’ – about a highly controversial comedian who would have used the very same language himself, some were unable to understand the irony behind what was being said.

However, I am not surprised that complaints were made. I am not surprised because whether we’re talking about Don Imus, Big Brother or Trevor McDonald, it has become virtually impossible to have a sensible, honest debate or discussion about anything to do with race without hysterical public reactions. The issue is further complicated in the public’s minds by an apparent double standard where it is believed that people of colour can use any language they choose, but white people are called racists if they use the very same language. The ‘N word’ debate, for example, is centered around this complexity.

People ask if a white talk show host would have got off so lightly if he had called Trevor McDonald a “fat, black bastard”. It’s an interesting question, but one that misses the point. If it were the case that a white talk show host had made such comments, one would have to find out the context in which it was said, and the intention behind it first before judging it to be racist.

It is dangerously simplistic to couch race issues in a polarized view that says it’s ok if a black person says it but it’s racist if a white person says it. Unfortunately racism is more sophisticated than that, and we must be able to be comfortable with the multi-faceted nature of race and race issues if we are to deal with them in any depth.

Since the McPherson report into the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, in which the British police force were condemned as institutionally racist, the UK has become increasingly aware of, and sensitive to, racism. I believe that these days most Brits would be deeply offended by being called racist.

On the other hand, however, the discussion about racism has become progressively more confused to the point where many simply appear to not understand what racism actually is anymore. Any mention of skin colour sparks cries of racism – on both sides of the colour line. Discretion, sound judgement and the understanding of nuances of language have been lost in the fray, and the term itself is becoming increasingly undermined and undervalued.

Race issues are intricate and multifaceted. The PC brigade would have us simplify them, but this cannot be done. And doing so only makes any related discussions more difficult.

Furthermore, I believe that when people are unable to discuss their views on racism openly, their real thoughts and feelings about race are transferred onto other issues such as immigration, asylum and even Islam.

This country needs to be able to discuss race and racism openly and as objectively as possible. This can only be done when we understand that we cannot simplify the debate. There are contradictions, and double standards – but we must be able to discuss these too. Cases must be judged on an individual basis because there is no one-size-fits-all yardstick on these issues.

Ofcom’s well-considered decision to clear Trevor McDonald was an acknowledgement of that. I whole heartedly support their decision and hope that we can all take a leaf from their book.