No Racist

A racist is a racist precisely because he can’t distinguish between a Jew and another Jew, or an Asian or West Indian or Chechen. The “out” groups are all made up of generalised amalgams and there can be no exceptions.

Thus to accuse Martin Amis of being a racist is to say that he can’t tell the difference between, say, one Irishman and another.

Christopher Hitchens, writing in defence of his friend and his friend’s opinions. His concept of racism is odd. It’s not hard to imagine that there are plenty of people who are perfectly capable of telling the difference between one American and another, or one Englishman or another, but who still harbour all sorts of ingrained prejudices toward blacks, Chinese, Mexicans, whoever. Such people are commonly known as racists.

He counters Ronan Bennett’s accusation of racism as follows:

Does he think Muslims are a “race”, or not, and if not, how can he trade down from the already vague and dubious word “Islamophobia” to the toxic accusation of “racism” itself?

As usual, it is the accusation of ‘racist’ that must be defended against, and not the moral outworkings of the individual’s particular views.

It is as though there is some genuine gold standard of criteria for identifying racism, and unless these criteria are met, then there is no need to pursue the matter any further. So if I advertise dropping a nuclear bomb on Mecca, there can’t be any racial motivation to it, since Muslims are not a race.

According to this gold standard, unless you accept the existence of race as a natural fact, as opposed to a human construct, and that there are different, identifiable races and we all belong to one race or another (in Hitchens’s world, the Irish are a race, whereas Muslims are not) , then you have no grounds for identifying racism. Or, it takes one to know one.


2 Responses to “No Racist”

  1. 1 dav November 22, 2007 at 10:15 am

    I was lambasted on the Irish Times letters page (by a right wing letters regular) (and elsewhere) for daring to use the term racist during the ‘cartoon controversy’:

    Madam, – The “cartoon controversy” has been dubbed the fight of the century – freedom of speech versus Islam. While the reaction emanating from some quarters – comprising a handful of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims – has been unnecessarily violent, the purpose has little to do with freedom of expression, just as the publication could not be considered such.

    The cartoons are racist. They suggest all Muslims as terrorists. In 2003 the same Danish newspaper rejected freedom of expression and turned down cartoons lampooning Jesus on the grounds that they were offensive. What followed recently was not a show of solidarity by fellow newspapers, it was a provocation. If one truly wanted to test the media’s solidarity with each other’s right to freedom of expression, then the same newspapers will presumably print the winning entry from the Holocaust competition run by Hamshahri, Iran’s leading daily – something, no doubt, we can all find offensive.

    In understanding, to an extent, why the violent outbursts have occurred it is first necessary to put the cartoons publication in context. Since 9/11, war has been waged against a vague entity known as “terror”, the targets being predominantly Muslim. Now it is deemed by the self-styled shapers of opinion, the media, to be acceptable to label all Muslims terrorists, in the interests of free speech, while the predominant views of ordinary Muslims are marginalised by extremist groups gaining support as a result of a “misunderstanding” of Western intervention.

    Without a significant change in attitude towards Islam we are destined forever to explain violent incidents committed by Muslims as proof of barbarity – the West’s use of torture, carpet-bombing and targeted assassinations as accidents, incidents and necessities. – Yours, etc,


    Madam, – “The cartoons are racist,” declares David Manning (February 9th). Perhaps he would care to state what “race” he is talking about.

    While we can pick and choose and chop and change our religious beliefs, each of us is stuck with his/her race, ethnicity, DNA. That is why lampooning someone’s religion is acceptable, but ridiculing his/her race is not. – Yours, etc,


  2. 2 Hugh Green November 22, 2007 at 10:54 am

    That letter is a good illustration: unless you’re talking about bona fide ‘races’ you can’t be expressing a racist viewpoint. Yet to speak of bona fide ‘races’ requires a racist standpoint.

    Dennis Perrin had an episode of All In The Family posted at his website a few days ago, featuring Sammy Davis Jr.

    Archie Bunker says to Sammy Davis Jr something like “you sir, are a credit to your race”, and he replies something like “why thank you, I’m sure you’ve done some good things for yours.”

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