An open letter signed by 700 UK music industry professionals has become yet another instance of the cultural elite telling regular people that they know the solution to all our problems. Again, this time it is racism. That the open letter even exists shows the motivations behind it are misguided. No longer is it enough to not be racist; proclamations of how anti-racist one is must be made – thus engendering the George Bush maxim of ‘you are either with us, or against us.’ This is a serious problem because the primary causes of racism, and the scope of the problem, are very different from what is asserted by these music industry warriors. Celebrities have long indulged in making grand gestures towards supposedly fighting various social ills, all the while failing to develop meaningful analysis.
‘All forms of racism have the same roots – ignorance, lack of education and scapegoating’, the letter declares confidently. But this only describes the variant of racism in which a person somehow genuinely believes that a person of another race is inferior because of their skin colour – demonstrated exactly by America’s Got Talent host Nick Cannon in a recent openly racist rant, the anti-white elements of which went largely unreported. Racism is much more complex than the letter reports – suggesting those 700 people believe that simply stating they are anti-racist, and telling people not to be racist, will somehow be sufficient to adjust attitudes among perpetrators.
The wording reveals signs of this being the case. ‘Scapegoating’ is an interesting choice of word. A lot of racism stems from people feeling society is leaving them behind, and lashing out at the nearest potential target. Years ago, I was in school classes taught by an old Irish gentleman, who described the anti-Irish xenophobia he experienced at school having moved to the United Kingdom as a child after the Second World War. He talked about how he came to realise the abuse directed against him was the result of the anger felt by other students who saw their fathers’ wages and opportunities being seemingly depressed by a wave of migration. Crucially, they felt nobody was listening to their concerns. Nothing justifies the abuse, but to solve the problem it is most important to understand how racism and xenophobia form; abandoning the assumption that the abuser must automatically be a horrendous human being is essential. The letter indulges in the opposite idea.
Instead of making such gestures – which smack of being primarily motivated by a need to secure status within the industry – creating art that attempts to understand where and how racism comes from could have a positive impact upon society. Empathy, however, must be directed at the very people the signatories have adjudicated to be ignorant and uneducated. With the exception of Roma and Irish traveler groups, white working-class males now under perform educationally and attend universities at a lower rate than every other ethnic group. Suicide is also the single largest killer of men aged under 45-years. Circumstances which create such social problems generate simmering anger, and it is that anger that is a major contributory factor to racist attitudes. Solve other social problems, and that of racism will reduce. But, alas, the music industry appears more interested in cheap point scoring than discussing what is an enormously complex and multifaceted problem.