Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Letter from Butiama: Racism should not be allowed in today's society

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 21st January 2007. 
There is an on-going debate in the United Kingdom and India sparked off by offensive comments made by one participant of a reality television programme against another.

Jade Goody, a former dental nurse and currently participating in Big Brother UK, is reported to have made racist remarks against fellow contestant Shilpa Shetty, a famous actress from India.

Goody is apparently also not a very well informed person. A while ago, she thought Saddam Hussein was a boxer. So perhaps it is no accident that such an ill-informed person will make racist comments without considering the consequences of what she says.

One consequences of her foul language has been the decision by a company called Carphone Warehouse to suspend its sponsorship of Big Brother. Another company, The Perfume Shop, has decided to withdraw Goody’s perfume, “Shh..,” from its stores.

She was also sacked from her position as a spokesperson for an anti-bullying campaign, a responsibility that she clearly does not have the character to uphold.

By most standards, both the victim and the perpetrator are extremely wealthy; these are not individuals who go to bed today with worries about whether they will have a meal tomorrow. Shetty is an actress with over 30 films to her credit, while Goody has made a fortune simply from being famous after participating in an earlier episode of Big Brother.

There are far more serious problems in the world than the racist sentiments of a Big Brother contestant: the threat of Global warming to human survival, the threat of another possible confrontation between Iran and another coalition force, and the problems brought upon the world’s poor by malnutrition, incurable diseases, and unhygienic water supply.

Why should we care? It’s simple: when we allow bigoted attitudes to prevail unchallenged within society, we provide space for them to grow and we can risk allowing them to mushroom into dangerous mutations, especially when they find sympathetic supporters in politics.

It is noteworthy that British leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, have condemned the racist remarks.

If you hear a bad record long enough, it gradually becomes acceptable. Racist remarks, heard repeatedly, can change attitudes and the attitudes can sometimes become strong convictions. When a large enough group of people adopt those convictions, it is only a step away before desperate politicians step in to represent those convictions.

The basis for racist attitudes is the belief that there is a link between a person’s inherited physical qualities and certain features of personality, intellect or culture. The ultimate conclusion of the racist mind is that some races are superior to others.

One of those minds from the 19th Century was of Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau, a French writer and diplomat. He taught the superiority of the white race over all others, advancing the hypothesis that the fate of civilisation would depend on preventing “contamination” of that race by others.

Joseph-Arthur had some admirers, one of whom was an Englishman called Houston Stewart Chamberlain who expanded his mentor’s theories and generated such a huge following in Germany that even Adolph Hitler praised Chamberlain for providing the “scientific” basis for the superiority of some races over others.

A part of Hitler’s policies were founded on the extermination of “inferior” races, and singled out the Slavs as a first step towards achieving his objectives. If successful, his extermination campaign would have moved to Africa.

In more recent times the Apartheid policy in South Africa, based on racial segregation, shut out the majority of South Africans, restricting their access to land and economic opportunities, as well as political representation, because of the colour of their skin.

So we have many good reasons to condemn what has happened to Shilpa Shetty. While condemning racism, we should also be aware that sometimes what appear outwardly to be racist attitudes can, in reality, be more a reflection of the perpetrator’s insecurity than a statement about her preferred skin colour.

The photos I have seen of Shilpa depict a beautiful woman, who has a black belt in Karate and speaks several languages.

Even with her hands tied, by looks alone, she beats Goody.

Relevant links:
Shilpa Shetty images

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