What are you doing today to challenge bigotry?

I’m back from a wonderful, blissful and restorative two weeks in my favourite place. Thanks to the team who have worked so hard to keep the site running while I’ve been away.

I’m catching up on all the things I’ve missed while I’ve been reading utter trash and walking up and down the wonderful Rosemarkie Beach with the dog. This story from the Dundee Courier caught my eye.

Lib Dem Councillor Ben Lawrie described a vicious racist verbal assault on his girlfriend, Scottish Environment Spokesperson Mariam Mahmood:

“Mariam told me about incidents of racism that she’s faced growing up – how after 9/11 people threw bricks through her house window in what they must have thought was some sort of revenge attack,” he said.

“I witnessed it for myself earlier this year when the two of us were walking through Dundee and a young woman approached us and screamed the n-word in Mariam’s face.

“It broke my heart. I was even more shocked than her because, sadly, she’s used to it by now.”

Mariam said: “I’ve grown up with this throughout my life when people would use racial slurs almost as ammo against you but Ben had never witnessed it so the bus station incident was shocking for him.

“This girl was standing with a group of friends and just walked over and screamed it right in my face.

“Her friends didn’t look that impressed – but none of them called her out. It’s very disheartening.

“While I thought I was ok at the time, when we got back to the flat I was really quite upset.

“I have a little sister who is just ten years old and I don’t want her to have to endure this sort of thing.”

Ben added: “We can use this experience to shine a light on this sort of thing and in my comments to the committee I was trying to emphasise that if we are to teach our young people to respect one another, we have to start by leading by example.”

I don’t know one single person of colour who doesn’t have to put up with this sort of crap. And when people in the public eye – I’m looking at you, Boris Johnson – make ill-advised comments, the people who carry out this abuse on the street feel legitimised and emboldened.

It breaks my heart that Mariam thinks that this incident is unexceptional. Nobody should have to deal with that sort of abuse in a civilised society.

In the wake of the Boris comments last month, I had my pre-holiday hairdo. Along with my caramel and copper highlights, I was served up a generous helping of casual racism and Islamophobia as stylists and customers alike voiced their agreement. I decided to speak up and challenge the assumptions they were making. I told them how the views expressed by Boris put any woman of colour at risk of verbal attack or worse. How would they like it if they were in that position?  Quite often, we’ll keep quiet in these situations for fear of causing an argument but it is important that we push back against this stuff in a respectful manner.

Every day, immigrants, people who need state benefits to survive, disabled people, transgender people are on the receiving end of bigotry. As liberals, our job is to challenge the attitudes that underlie that prejudice on every occasion. We can’t stand by and see our fellow human beings picked on. We have to try and change minds away from the poison dripped so irresponsibly by media and politicians alike.

Each of us has a role to play in that as we go about our everyday lives. It might be useful to share in the comments examples of when we have managed to challenge those sorts of attitudes to give others confidence that it can be done.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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7 Comments

  • Congrats to Caron for taking on attitudes in her hairdressers – it is important to do and of course really, really easy to shirk from – we have all probably shirked from it at some point in our lives and then regretted it in retrospect.

    I think though we need to be careful of being too censorious of people who criticise powerful religions, how religions interpret their religious texts and national governments and their leaders – often themselves big sources of misogyny, misandry, homophobia, islamophobia, anti-religious sentiment, racism etc. etc.

    Let me try some analogies – criticism of Donald Trump or perhaps stereotypically Americans as loud and brash is important. But that does not give me the right to harass Americans in the street. Harassment of individuals is wrong, violence is just wrong per se. And we should differentiate the two.

    Criticism of obesity as causing disease, even criticism of obese individuals as not doing more to try and conquer their obesity (which is more difficult than giving up smoking) is allowable IMHO. Harassment and name calling of fat people is not. Discrimination against fat people is not. Not using plus size models is not. Not celebrating the beauty and diversity of the human form in all its shapes is not.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Sep '18 - 3:28pm

    Actually, Michael, I think you are very wrong. As an obese person, I have to say what right do you think you have to criticise me for not “doing more to conquer my obesity.” How do you know what I’ve done, what I’m doing and what pressure I am under. How dare you think you have the right to have a go at any individual on the basis of your judgements about their weight. And where is the boundary between the right you think you have to criticise me and harassing me and intimidating me? Also, someone might take your criticism of me as encouragement to harass me in the street or attack me because of my obesity.

    I certainly don’t think that religious beliefs should be exempt from criticism but, as an atheist, I am always very conscious that I should do so in a sensitive manner. Religions are far from the only sources of the prejudices you mention and it is important to tackle those prejudices where they arise and threaten to impinge on people’s rights and not the religions themselves.

    And why on earth would it be ok to suggest that all Americans were loud and brash? Stereotyping an entire nation is not in any way acceptable. Donald Trump is far from being a typical American.

  • John Marriott 2nd Sep '18 - 4:25pm

    I had a chat over the fence with one of my neighbours last week. He’s ex RAF and comes from Scotland. He’s about my age – over 70 – and we normally steer clear of politics or social issues. This time we got on to the subject of the housing shortage. Of course, he stated, it’s all the fault of “the immigrants” – and this from someone whose elder sister married a Dutchman and has been living in the Netherlands for many years. Of course, I reminded him that the real problem was the shortage of social housing made worse by the ‘Right to Buy’ policies of the 1980s.

    The way that some people use ‘immigrants’ as a convenient hook to hang their prejudices never ceases to amaze me. The local businessman who sold me most of my uPVC double glazed windows and doors, sold his business some years and moved with his family to Canada. His reason for quitting the U.K. was, he told me, “too many immigrants”!

  • Thanks for your comment, Caron. I speak as an obese person myself who has probably lost the equivalent of his body weight over time! The difficulty is maintenance! My point is not that I should be “fat shamed” as an individual. And of course my point is SPECIFICALLY NOT about individual criticism as you will CLEARLY see from my comment. My point is that people on LDV have pointed out the GENERAL point that we all bear some individual responsibility for smoking, rock-climbing, driving dangerous, our weight – one I would PARTIALLY AGREE with even being obese myself. I would not disallow that to be expressed as “the greedy pigs should just learn some self-control” even that’s insensitive. I would point out the myriad of biological factors, hormones etc. that contribute to regaining weight after famine or dieting.

    Clearly religions are not the only source of bigotry. But increasingly it seems that many now say that Islam and Judaism should be beyond criticism.

    Of course we should all be nice reasonable sensible rationally arguing liberals! But to take one example Spitting Image in the 80s was a raucous, vindictive stereotypical commentary on British life but a valid and interesting one nonetheless. And such discourse should be allowed.

    The argument that no (ok if you like insensitive but who’s to judge?) criticism of religions etc. should be allowed so that members of that religion are not harassed or feel unsafe is seductive. But wrong IMHO. As liberals we place create emphasis and trust in the individual. In the past criticism and challenge to the teachings of the bible and church were banned as blasphemous and would condemn as all to eternal damnation of hell fires. As a result of that for too long, women’s and LGBT people’s lives were made a misery. We have rejected the notion of censoring plays, literature. like “Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover” because they would morally corrupt the weak and feeble. We should highlight harassing people, calling them names,l throwing bricks through windows is wrong.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Sep '18 - 2:59pm

    Sometimes the best thing to do with bigotry is to ignore it. The idea that any action can reverse the impact is false. The cat is out of the bag and cannot be returned. Many people know that it was an unwise remark, immediately it has left their mouth.

  • Jayne Mansfield 6th Sep '18 - 8:54pm

    @ Peter Hirst,
    In my view, to ignore such remarks makes one complicit.

    Individuals who are racist are too dumb to think that they have made an unwise remark. They really do think that the person with whom they are communicating agrees with them. I prefer to disabuse them.

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