Let’s say you used to be an employee in a workplace where all kinds of discrimination were commonplace. Let’s say you had a colleague, Paul, who, late one evening some years ago, to everybody’s horror, survived a racially-aggravated murder attempt by another colleague. In the years that followed this murder attempt he received some financial support from the organisation to get back on his feet, as well as a lot of goodwill from colleagues. The workplace bigotry was inadequately addressed with a single Equality and Diversity Officer for the entire organisation.
Paul’s unit became embroiled in compulsory redundancies and things got particularly nasty with a number of employees seeking preferment in ways which attacked other colleagues. People had been foul to each other but in your view Paul surpassed everybody because some of the comments he’d made were racist. You felt compelled to speak out: you accused him of trying to have his colleagues axed because of who they were, and then, to make your point as strongly as you knew how, you compared his behaviour with the attempt on his life.
When he hit the roof, you retorted “It’s ironic, don’t you think, after all you’ve been through, that you could be reproachable in this respect. Didn’t you learn anything from your ordeal? Shame on you.”
You were greatly surprised to find that you, as well as Paul, received a visit from the Equality and Diversity Officer the following week. She told you that the particulars of this case were new territory for her, but over the course of your conversation she asked you the following questions.
“Do you think that survivors of a racially-aggravated murder can be assumed to have special insights?”
“Are the reasons you shouldn’t be a bigot the same reasons Paul shouldn’t be a bigot. Or do you think that Paul has different or more reasons not to be a bigot than the reasons you shouldn’t be a bigot?”
“How do you think a person feels when somebody else uses an earlier attempt on their life as a stick to beat them with?”
“Do you think that Paul, out of everybody here, should have special insights and wisdoms that he didn’t have before he was attacked, and that because of this we should expect different things of him than we do of anybody else in this racist, sexist, homophobic cesspit of a workplace?”
Here’s the L.A. Times picking its way through difficult terrain, only to cop out on similar kinds of questions.
Update – from David T, another analogy about bad analogies.
Whereas my scenario illustrates that the best possible motives can have a bad impact, David T emphasises the flaws in the argument that Israeli military attacks on Palestinians are a Jewish issue:
“In my neighbourhood, there are a number of women working as prostitutes, on the street. I don’t have a profound problem with people selling or buying sex, but streetwalking is a little anti-social. Therefore, I attend a local meeting at which a campaign to end street prostitution is being set up.
When I arrive at the meeting, I discover that the central committee of the Neighbourhood Watch have produced an anti-prostitution poster. The poster shows a prostitute being assaulted by her pimp. The pimp is black. The slogan reads:
Irony: This Descendant of Slaves is Now Sexually Enslaving White Women
We debate the poster. Most of my black neighbours are horrified, and argue that the poster uses racist stereotypes about black people, and employs the legacy of slavery as a weapon against black people.
However, there are two black people in the meeting who approve of the campaign. As one of them explains it:
“But there ARE black men who ARE pimps and who DO rape white women and turn them into their slaves and it is both important that we tell the truth about that, and are not silenced by spurious complaints of racism.”
A number of white people at the meeting are initally uncomfortable about the juxtaposition of accusations of rape, slavery, and ethnicity. However they are reassured that these sentiments are not racist by the arguments of their two black neighbours. After all, they think, we’re not saying that ALL black people are rapists and pimps. It is just that there are SOME black people who seem to be taking their revenge for slavery by turning our women into their own chattels. Thank heavens that somebody has had the courage to say it.
The campaign takes off. It has nation-wide resonance. All over the country, people express relief that it is now acceptable to talk about sexual violence, the sex industry, and race.
One of my neighbours is a celebrated playwright. She is a National Council member of Liberty and a Patron of Refuge, the charity for women escaping violence. She is best known for having written a play which draws a direct link been Thatcher’s “swamping” speech, and a racist attack on a young Asian student. She is a member of the liberal Great and Good.
The play is called Seven Black Boys. A collection for rape victims is held after each performance.
The playwright is accused of racism. It is pointed out that most rapes of white women are not committed by black men, that most men in the sex industry are not violent black pimps.
Nonsense, say the play’s defenders. Black people DO rape white women, and there is nothing wrong with pointing this out. Or are you in favour of rape? In any case (a) the play stars Derek Laud and (b) it is a fantastic work of art and should be judged on that basis.
The Guardian’s theatre critic describes the play as a ‘bold exposure of the way that black boys are bred to rut’.
The playwright defends herself. She explains that the ‘Race Relations Industry’ is using bogus complaints of racism to distract attention from the epidemic of black rapists who even now are violating the purest of white virgins.
So, this is where we are. It is now generally agreed, among people who describe themselves as feminists and anti-racists, that central to the problem of sexual violence, and the exploitation of women, is the need of sexually incontinent black men to turn white women into their playthings. Any black man who disagrees, is openly accused of harbouring a desire to rape, while using false claims of racism to allow him and his bretheren to continue raping.”