More on race

Letter by Vida Henning, Bedhampton

ImageI look forward to receiving and reading my copy of Peace News. It is always interesting, often challenging and non-parochial, so you do indeed produce something well worth having.

However, the last few copies had me really puzzled with the phrase ‘people of colour’. What do you mean? The peace camp report makes this somewhat clearer as do the letters and your replies. While understanding where you are coming from with this, I find it clumsy, precious and offensive.

All humans have a coloured skin ranging from black to white; most humans have a full complement of limbs, eyes, noses, mouths; we all have similar internal organs and systems. So why is it necessary to distinguish on physical appearance?

Actually, I don’t think you really have. How many of your organising group, your speakers and co-ordinators would describe themselves as earning their living in industrial/agricultural or marine jobs? My guess is that they were mostly middle-class academics (not an insult) whatever the colour of their skin or cultural background.

I think what you were really trying to do was broaden the historical and cultural base away from western industrialised communities, so maybe non-European might serve? But any form of constructing a group based on anything at all – say, geographical, occupation, religion, gender, as well as being inclusive is then exclusive.

I think humans are much too complex to attempt any form of shared characteristics. A male bricklayer with a Caribbean ancestry living in Wolverhampton will have much more in common with his state school peers whose great grandmothers made nails in Lower Gornal than with an Eton-educated son of a Nigerian entrepreneur, and again will have little connection to a house mother at an SOS village in Zambia. The Wolverhampton bricklayer, the Eton-educated Nigerian and the Zambian house mother may all have black skins, but the only thing that really unites them is that they are human beings.

You may feel that you want to include more diverse people so could decide to practice positive discrimination, but that system also has its difficulties. It only works if there is goodwill all round and if you were to decide to appoint a Christian woman rather than a Muslim male because her qualifications are at least equal to, or better than, his, then that decision would be willingly accepted.

Whatever discrimination you choose to employ, there would be pitfalls. Better perhaps not to discriminate and to accept that British alternative movements tend to be middle-class, white and agnostic. Then possibly what we should do is to concentrate on the task instead of the guilt. As my grandson would say: ‘Live with it’!

Editor response: Thank you, Vida, for your letter. Could we try a thought experiment? How would we have reacted if someone had written into PN in 1972, saying that they found it ‘clumsy, precious and offensive’ that women had decided to set up a women-only magazine called Spare Rib? How would we have reacted if someone had written to PN in 1982, objecting to the women-only camp and demonstrations at Greenham Common, on the basis that ‘humans are much too complex to attempt any form of shared characteristics’? What if someone was to tell the women of Aldermaston Women’s Peace Camp(aign) that they should accept that British alternative movements tend to be led by men, and just ‘live with it’? We invite more thoughts from readers! – eds.
Topics: Race