In an age when racism is alternately defined as disagreement with Emperor Obama or the simple misfortune of being white, I dare to proffer a radical and reactionary description: racism is, simply enough, treating a person or a group of people in a particular way on sole account of their belonging to a  particular race.

I have some proposals for the University. I will let the reader decide whether or not I mean these seriously, which itself is something of a clue. As part of the next rollout of honorary degrees, I suggest the University committee whittle down the finalists by one and introduce an ‘honorary black degree’, to be awarded to a person of colour.

Furthermore, following the indubitable success of this scheme, the University could start awarding regular ‘black degrees’ to graduating students from ethnic minority backgrounds. This will promote greater understanding of cultures and highlight the benefits of equality and diversity. How better to celebrate the success of minority students than by ceremoniously highlighting this totally superficial difference?

Please tell me, if you have figured out by this point that I do not mean any of this seriously, why any of these ideas are bad and yet Black History Month, which the University is about to finish celebrating, is not? Can we celebrate the achievements of ‘blacks’ at any time of the year and not just October or February? I’m pretty sure we can. Should the achievements of minorities be given a different platform than those of everybody else? As we used to segregate their physical presence, should we now segregate their history too? I think not. Should we treat everybody the same, regardless of their race? I think so. Radical and reactionary, I know…

How despicably condescending and inadvertently racist is it to attempt to delineate the entire history of a group of people – who form a vital and brilliant part of our cultural history – as though it can be identified uniquely, in utter isolation from all other equally inappropriately designated groups, on the basis of a characteristic that people are unable to choose? What’s more, we grant this nebulous concept of ‘black history’ one month out of twelve, for the other eleven months of the year are, by implication, a celebration of exclusively non-black history.

I take great pride in celebrating such figures as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Homer Plessy, James Meredith, Marie Foster and many, many others; not as blacks, but as Americans; not because we differ in accidental pigmentation, but because we share passionate beliefs; and not for one month, but always, forever and whenever racism surfaces and it bears upon me to invoke the memory of their sublime words and noble deeds.

Am I expected to cease at 12.01 on November first? What happens then? Is it Hispanic History Month? Or White History Month? Or White History Eleven Months? Or do we split up the months to reflect current demographics? Do I as a white male get something like 7 and a half months? What of people of multiple ethnicities? What about Obama? How many months does he get?

To be honest, I would rather eschew Black History Month and celebrate Black History Always. If possible, I would like to make a further distinction, celebrating, on the one hand, the history of our racially diverse society and, on the other hand, the historical actions of individuals whose race is irrelevant: who are to be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.

The entire ordeal frankly reeks of guilt-ridden white liberals who have grown up in upper middle class suburbia and whose first actual encounter with ethnic minorities is during a class on Critical Race Theory at an Ivy League college. This University’s excuse for promoting this racist nonsense is that, “Black History Month promotes greater understanding of culture, celebrating the abolishment of slavery and equality of opportunities amongst people of different cultures and faiths.”

Our culture is comprised of many races. Strike one. Abolitionism was driven by people of all races. Strike two. Equality of opportunities amongst people of different cultures and faiths is best achieved, in my radical and reactionary opinion, by ignoring their race and treating them as individuals. Strike three: common sense closes in the bottom of the ninth.

In reality, though, the ball game is rigged. The University wholeheartedly embraces Black History Month, unwittingly condoning a racist and flagrantly patronizing ‘understanding of culture.’ Nobody dares to object lest they be publicly flogged with the sensitivity whip until deemed by the diversity committee to have been fully politically corrected.

But you should object. Racism, even thoughtless, banal and fashionable, is evil.  Nobody deserves to be treated in a particular way on sole account of their being a particular race. Even if they are treated better, even if the treatment falls in line with contemporary and moronic cultural trends, a person’s race should be off the table. But the University disagrees. To them, it seems, there is nothing quite as racist as ignoring someone’s race.

21 COMMENTS

  1. since I know you read these:

    I imagine you disagree with affirmative action too? I’m not a black history month apologist (and frankly, I think the idea is a bit ridiculous), but to play devil’s advocate–the idea probably runs something like ‘if we don’t encourage people to celebrate black history they will ignore it altogether’. certainly the high-school history classes I was subjected to (in the US) were guilty of being overly eurocentric.

    I wouldn’t go as far as to call it racist. Some of the outfits at the Bongo ball were racist. (not yours, Allen). The idea behind affirmative action is that, due to various historical and cultural societal undercurrents, an entire demographic in society has been marginalized and subjected to abuse. There exists considerable inequality today; that much is evident. So affirmative action (and to an extent, cultural programmes such as BHM, which aim to make young black students proud of a cultural history that they otherwise might be ashamed of) seeks to redress these historical inequalities which persist to this day. No one is ascribing blame–but that oughtn’t stop efforts to alleviate the problem. I reckon you’re being overly harsh here.

    • I’m pretty sure I disagree here, but I’m not really sure where to draw the line. I regret that I didn’t have greater scope in the article to explain that I do not doubt the intentions of those involved with the celebrations, nor do I at all claim that ‘they’ in any sense, are racist – and apologies to anybody who got this impression – I mentioned at various points that the racism is ‘thoughtless’ and ‘inadvertent’, among other things, but should probably have been firmer on this point.

      The key for me is that the idea is racist. It is lessened, perhaps, by the good intentions that go behind it, but it is, at the end of the day, treating people in a particular way on sole account of their being a particular race. If that is inaccurately applied here, I am yet to read a commenter who has demonstrated why this is so. Evidently, I therefore don’t think it is harsh, it is just sadly true.

  2. It’s very easy to say that race isn’t important and relevant, that it should be ‘off the table,’ if you are from a racial background which has not been oppressed. I think it is insulting to people’s life experiences to argue that race is irrelevant, and the point of black history month is to ensure that greater prominence is given to a group of people historically sidelined. The truth is that for the 11 other months of the year it is white history month, because we still exist in a society which prioritizes this side of history.

    • I wish I had your easy and lazy sense of gaining my personal traits purely from the qualities inherent in the society I live in, but unfortunately I do not; I make my own decisions and I am responsible for my own actions. I do not consider any time of the year White History Month because I am not a racist, even if ‘society’ is, whatever you think that means; the same reason that I do not consider any time of the year to be Black History Month. I have never sidelined anybody, nor am I guilty or responsible for what sidelining has occurred in the past. That is not to say that we should recognise such sidelining. Of course we should. It is tragic and there are obvious lessons to be learned. But it is offensive to limit this to one race, and to one time of the year.

      Also, I absolutely did not say that race isn’t important in some general sense, and I agree that this statement, had I made it, would be insulting. I said it ‘should not be’ important to ‘how we treat people’. There is a world of difference to the effect that your objection amounts to some hypothetical question such as, ‘I am (race x) – are you saying that is not important?’ – Of course I am not; I am not saying that your race is not important, I am saying it should not be important to how I treat you.

      • I have no idea what you mean by my ‘easy and lazy sense of gaining my personal traits purely from the qualities inherent in the society I live in’. If you mean that I take responsibility for the actions of the past, the implications this has for the present, and acknowledge my privilege, I’m proud to do so. We do not live within a historical vacuum. It is all very well for you to say, as a white man, that you do not consider the rest of the year ‘White History Month’ but your wishful thinking reveals the fact that you are blinkered.

        You said we should celebrate people “whose race is irrelevant,” thereby implying that one’s experience of race is irrelevant. This is insulting to people of colour who have made great strides in civil rights and equality movements, whose position in society (due to their race) directly influenced their actions. Race should not be important to the way you treat or judge someone, but it is an important and valid part of identity.

        • If you want me to take responsibility for things I had nothing to do with, then I’m afraid I will not. Nor will I feel guilty for things the actions of people who share my race. As it happens, I have no White Guilt because I did not chose to be white. I would, however, have chosen to side with ANYBODY who was making strides in civil rights and equality movements, regardless of their race, because I agree passionately with their ideas; with things that they, as individuals, have chosen.

          Once again, I make no claims about identity. A person’s race is obviously important, as I have said repeatedly. Your final sentence, ‘Race should not be important to the way you treat or judge someone, but it is an important and valid part of identity.’ may well be a deliberate paraphrasing of my last paragraph.

          What is interesting, however, is that in your case, my race is clearly important to how you treat me. Is it all very well for me to say things as a white man? What if I were not a white man? What if I were anything else you like and I said and thought exactly the same things? Would you treat me differently? Would you treat me in a particular way on account of my race? What does that amount to, I wonder…

          You will get no such ‘privilege’ from me I am afraid.

  3. The standard of opinion piece on The Saint has been absolutely abysmal of late, and this is yet another in a sorry line of misconceived, and for the most part misinformed, articles. I realise that no-one who actually had any talent would be writing for The Saint (why would you after all, when the internet and social media offers you far better alternatives for showcasing talent), but do we really need to scrape the bottom of the intellectual barrel quite so much?

    So I take your premise, black history (I suppose we should be grateful we no longer call it negro history…see the Journal of Negro History for example) should be good at any time of the year. Few, leaving aside the odd white supremacist crazy, would argue against that. But it does not then follow as a corollary that the University is wrong to celebrate black history, or that by doing so it is somehow evidencing an inadvertent racism, or a culturally patronising agenda. If we followed this argument through we would never celebrate or focus on any neglected area of history. Women, the disabled, black people, gypsies (we could go on and on) would never have a focus week or focus month or any form of exposure whatsoever. The very suggestion of special treatment reeks of political correctness, and of course we can’t have that. Better to remain neglected, keep quiet, and let the enlightened few who know better smile wryly in the corner.

    The main flaw with this article however is that it betrays its own deep-seated cultural myopia, the sort of racial angst typical of white middle class college Americans. Reading your article I almost forgot I was in the UK, and not in some leafy liberal arts campus. But of course you know nothing about the history of black people in Britain, or even about the writing of that history in this country, or the teaching of black history here, and so on. This is why this crucial content is completely missing from your article. All the black historical figures you can think of are american.

    The very fact that the first thing you reach for when thinking about race is Obama is telling. Fortunately, most people in St Andrews don’t think like you.

    • Can’t we for once manage to debate the opinion expressed without attacking the publication (or for that matter, the writer)? I disagree with most viewpoint pieces on here but that doesn’t mean I feel the need to vituperatively criticise the paper for publishing them each time. Doing so just looks petty and snide.

  4. No, no, no.

    Black History Month is a RESPONSE to the marginalisation of non-white races which has led to the vast majority of the history we’re taught being about white people – usually, white men.

    Black History Month provides a space for the history of POC – a space which, due to the racism ingrained in Western societies, NEEDS to be created in order to exist.

    Like you, I look forward to the day when we no longer need to do this, and attain true equality.

    But for now, the celebration of Black history just doesn’t happen on the main stage unless we push for it.

  5. I see you were at Bongo Ball. If we had Black History Always, perhaps the ball would have a less simplistic and, let’s say it, less racist, theme.

  6. Did you actually go to Black History event this year (or last year for that matter)? You would’ve realized that your point on delineating “the entire history of a group of people” is not what BHM is about. Nor is it about the skin colour of human beings! It’s celebrating and highlighting cultures, histories (plural!) and peoples.

    More importantly to your ‘argument’ is that it shows that questions of how we define identity are often still embedded in racial discourses. When you say that we shouldn’t focus on ‘race’ but focus on the individual because otherwise we reinforce notions of ‘race’ discriminations, then you completely cover up the reality in which we live in: PEOPLE ARE NOT TREATED AS EQUAL HUMAN BEINGS.
    The reality is, you allow those power structures, institutions, discourses, language use, symbols, icons to continue to oppress, silence, marginalize certain groups of people! Is this complex? Well, YES. That’s how the world is. Complicated. It won’t get any simpler by not addressing it.

    There’s so many more issues in your article… can’t even. But I hope I got my point across: your polemic outburst of overly generalizing, simplifying, ignoring ‘racism’ and all its children, is the very reason why BHM is important. We gotta LISTEN, EDUCATE OURSELVES, LEARN. Nothing will change by closing our ears and shutting our mouths. For me at least, in this world, there’s A LOT that ought to be changed.

    • There is a very subtle point in this comment which I had hoped to go into in the article was forced not to by the word limit, but I thank you Tina for raising it. The intent behind BHM is entirely righteous and the people who get involved are obviously not racist in the slightest. It is the presentation of the issues that I object to. You say that ‘questions how we define identity are often still embedded in racial discourses’. And you are right, but I didn’t do any such embedding; I noticed that the event, rather unsubtly, is called Black History Month.

      And even this addressing of race is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course we shouldn’t try to cover up that certain people are of certain races, or pretend that race doesn’t exist. And of course there are issues prevalent in our society. One of which is that, again, as you say, ‘PEOPLE ARE NOT TREATED AS EQUAL HUMAN BEINGS’. But is the answer to this to drive the divide even further? If ‘A LOT ought to be changed’, should be start by implicitly confirming differences between races such that one race (or group of races – defined by ‘race’ regardless) gets one month to celebrate its history in isolation from others?

      I strongly think not. Addressing the issue of racism does not mean addressing it for only one race, or some group of races. There is no reason it could not be called ‘Racism History Month’, or, if that sounds too depressing, ‘Cultural History Month’ or something of the like. But in the current format, the message is that ‘racism against blacks is wrong’. This is absolutely true, but it is not as strong or important as ‘racism is wrong’.

      • Ok… how shall I put this most simply… ‘Black History Month’ has become something of a brand, that is, the three words together are denoting not necessarily only what they mean (by definition and separately from each other) but much more: they refer to a history of this movement, a history of its establishment first in the US, then the UK. The historical context in which it was founded explains its choice of name because at the time ‘racism’ against ‘blacks’ and the ignoring/neglecting/erasing of ‘black history’ was part of the common discourse.

        To some extent, I can agree with the problematic of pointing out ‘racial differences’ and by doing so perpetuating that same discourse of ‘race’. However, you also have to see that BHM is not about ‘race’. (Yes, it’s called ‘Black’ History Month but, see above, for the origins of this name.) BHM in the UK is about ethnic minorities, their cultures and histories, and realizing that these are an integral part of what constitutes Britain. Taking it beyond the borders of the UK, by recognizing ethnic minorities as an integral part of ones society, the marginalization and exclusion of these very people can be avoided. It is thus a unifying action while simultaneously recognizing diversity.

        And on a final note, all of your points (at least the ones that are worth discussing) fall apart when looking at the actual realization of the particular event that was hosted in St Andrews, as well as, of other events as part of BHM in the UK.

        • I am no longer certain we disagree about anything; I have said elsewhere in the comments that I was not criticizing the event in St Andrews, but the idea as a whole – that this was unclear in the article was my fault, but even so, your final paragraph here is moot. (and more importantly, probably entirely true – I just wasn’t talking about this particular event)

          You praise that by ‘recognizing ethnic minorities as an integral part of ones society, the marginalization and exclusion of these very people can be avoided’. So do I. That is arguably the main point of the article. My gripe was specifically that ‘Black History Month’ marginalises and excludes by definition, and that it does so unintentionally is irrelvanet. I do not doubt that the aims of those involved are entirely worthwhile and I suspect that, at the foundations, their beliefs and mine are the same. Our only difference seems to be that you (and they) are tolerant of, as you put it, ‘the problematic of pointing out ‘racial differences’ and by doing so perpetuating that same discourse of ‘race’. However, you also have to see that BHM is not about ‘race’.’ – Whereas I am not.

          If the worthwhile aims can be disentangled from this problem, then they should, and I would approve wholeheartedly. In fact, I think the way forward is that they must, because, at their roots, these problems are problematic on account of their being subtly and patronisingly racist.

  7. Mr. Farrington, your white guilt doesn’t entitle you to blinker yourself to hundreds of years of systematic oppression, or ignore the fact that your privilege that is the legacy of that oppression. I think you’ve entirely missed the point.

    • One cannot be responsible for things one has not done, and one cannot be guilty for things one has not chosen. I did not choose to be white, so I have no white guilt. I recognise hundreds of years of systematic oppression for what it is: individual racists oppressing individual victims on the despicable grounds of identifying their belonging to a certain group. Not racial groups oppressing other racial groups, because individuals choose and behave, whereas groups do not. Hence this is not something for which I am responsible, regardless of what group you choose to identify me as belonging to. Such oppression anywhere and everywhere is evil, which is why I am so anxious to distance myself from it, and to oppose it wherever I see it appearing.

      In trying to remedy an oppression that is rooted in the necessary identification of individuals with groups to which they did not act or choose to belong by further employing this exact identification in the opposite direction, you, Mary have entirely missed the point. You are fighting racism with racism, and that you are doing so unintentionally may be unfortunate, and that your aims are righteous may be valuable, but neither are a suitable excuse.

  8. “One cannot be responsible for things one has not done”

    “One cannot be guilty for things one has not chosen.”

    “I did not choose to be white”

    “I recognise hundreds of years of systematic oppression for what it is: individual racists oppressing individual victims on the despicable grounds of identifying their belonging to a certain group.”

    “Not racial groups oppressing other racial groups, because individuals choose and behave, whereas groups do not.”

    “Hence this is not something for which I am responsible, regardless of what group you choose to identify me as belonging to.”

    “Such oppression anywhere and everywhere is evil, which is why I am so anxious to distance myself from it, and to oppose it wherever I see it appearing.”

    “In trying to remedy an oppression that is rooted in the necessary identification of individuals with groups to which they did not act or choose to belong by further employing this exact identification in the opposite direction, you, Mary have entirely missed the point.”

    <I would think even the author of those words would, in the sober light of day, concede that they are fairly incoherent; but read in different ways, the sentence could either be trivially true or dead false. If you meant that it is wrong to blame (or hold accountable) all white people for the historical oppression and mistreatment of black people, that is obviously and trivially true. But if you mean that it is wrong to promote the teaching of black history (which is, after all, what BHM is all about) or wrong to promote laws and other measures to fight the continuing stain of discrimination, then you are just plain wrong.

    "You are fighting racism with racism"

    “I dare to proffer a radical and reactionary description: racism is, simply enough, treating a person or a group of people in a particular way on sole account of their belonging to a particular race.”

    “and that you are doing so unintentionally may be unfortunate, and that your aims are righteous may be valuable, but neither are a suitable excuse.”

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