Racism is how you made me feel. At least, for an hour or so. Or until I’m satisfied that you are good and cowed, and maybe embarrassed
Coming soon to an area outside a “free-speech zone” near you, official policing of “racism” and intolerance, as determined by…airline officials, speech police, and people who just feel wronged.
In the UK, for instance, some things are just not said:
David Jones, the creator of the popular, animated children’s character Fireman Sam, was recently accused of racism and held by Gatwick Airport (United Kingdom) security for an hour. The situation, which Jones dubbs an “Orwellian nightmare,” occurred after he commented about a Muslim‘s woman’s clothing.
After noticing how easily the woman, whose face was almost covered in its entirety (she was wearing a hijab), was able to get through the security process without showing her face, Jones, 67, commented, saying, “If I was wearing this scarf over my face, I wonder what would happen.” It was this statement — a short quip — that landed him in hot water.
Here’s how the situation unfolded: When Jones entered the metal detector, his artificial hip apparently set off the alarm. He was subsequently searched and, though nothing was found, a security guard notified him that he was being detained because he had made an offensive comment. Jones, of course, maintained that he had done nothing wrong.
Once he made it to the other side of the checkpoint, officials allegedly accused him of racism. A Muslim security guard had purportedly overheard his comment and said that she was offended as a result. At this point, security staff, an airline administrator and a police officer spent the next hour trying to coerce Jones to apologize. He claims the group told him, “we now live in a different time and some things are not to be said.”
Not that I wish to bring up yet again my longstanding, though “fundamentally unserious,” observations about language, interpretative assumptions, and the idea that what it is we think we’re doing when we claim to be interpreting creates the very foundation of our reigning epistemological paradigm, but, well, the world (in particular, those who would presume to run it in a way that diminishes the individual and works to balkanize populations into identity groups in order to better corral), keep getting in the way. So I really have no choice.
In this instance, kernel assumptions about who gets to determine, and so control, “public” meaning is precisely behind Britain’s move to redefine what comes to count as “racism”: the receiver of some utterance or set of signifiers “interprets” them and then claims that those signifiers, turned into the receiver’s own peculiar signs, made them feel uncomfortable, or offended, or uneasy; and recall that Michelle Obama herself is an eager adept of just such a move to turn claims of discomfort (whether real or potential and hypothetical) into official intolerance, with the onus on the utterer to prove he or she isn’t, in fact, racist.
This is the path we’re on here, and I’m going to keep pressing the issue, because I can see all the preconditions for just such a move not only tolerated at the linguistic level (where, despite the claims of textualists, they remain incoherent), but institutionalized.
And that way leads to tyranny. It really is that simple.
(thanks to Darleen)