I am indebted to the blogger drinking from home for this post, which comes via the pub philosopher. It refers to a piece on the Black Information Link (BLINK) website, written by Shirin Aguiar-Holloway. Ms Aguiar-Holloway is a lot more significant than she knows in the history of the Free Expression Rally. But more on that later.
Here's how the piece starts:
A sea of white facesEh?
by Shirin Aguiar-Holloway
FREEDOM FOR WHO? That was the question being asked after an all-white 'Freedom March' took place in London.
Ms Aguiar-Holloway telephoned me twice in the run up to the rally. So I thought I'd return the compliment, and telephone her. I was put through without any problem, but she was audibly taken aback by the fact that I'd called her. I explained that I thought her article was the most racist thing I'd seen since that drunken night when a series of know-thy-enemy links led me to the website of White Aryan Resistance. And I said I'd like to ask her a couple of questions.
She said that she normally asked, rather than answered. No kidding? But I wanted to ask anyway. She told me there was someone in her organisation who fielded press questions. But then, I'm not a member of the press, so I persisted.
Are you aware that the rally in London was a lot more racially diverse than the counter rally in Birmingham?Answer:
So, that's your first question?True. Was she going to answer it?
There's someone here to answer questions. I can't speak for BLINKI'm not asking you to. You wrote the piece.
[silence]So you're not going to answer the question?
No. What's the next question?Will you answer it?
She wouldn't. So I was put through to the person who does answer questions, Lester Holloway. Lester turns out to be the editor of BLINK. I asked him question one again, but he wouldn't answer. He did, though, offer me a right of reply. I am going to take that up, but will drag this out over two posts, so it can wait. There is even a reason for this.
Notwithstanding, I asked Lester my second question:
Does the validity of what someone has to say depend on the colour of their skin?Lester did answer this:
No.So why the emphasis on skin colour - to the exclusion of all else - in their article?
Lester wouldn't answer. OK, Last try:
Is "All white on the day" a racist caption? (It accompanies a photograph of the rally)And Lester did answer:
No, because it reflects the racial composition of the march.He added, apropos of the whole piece:
I deny it was racist.You will, perhaps, have noticed how much, during this conversation, we discussed the issue of free speech and the statement of principle. Nor did the BLINK piece. It was ONLY concerned with the racial composition of the rally. Oddly, they were less concerned with the racial composition of the Birmingham Rally, one of the most racially homogenous assemblies ever seen in this country. Even the clothes of the attendees were the same colour.
Why does this matter? After all, we can dismiss black bigots as readily as white ones.
Because I don't think the Holloways are bigots. I know that seems like a bizarre piece of self-delusion, but I have actually talked with them. They seemed like very nice, courteous, educated people who care very much about issues of race and equality, and might also care about freedom of expression. That's why Shirin was more important than she knows. She was one of three journalists (the others were from the BBC's Asian Network and Sunrise Radio) who made me ask people not to bring the cartoons to the rally. It had bugger all to do with MAC, who have just been using what they have perceived as my weakness to dig themselves into the most astonishing crater, for no very obvious reason.
It was instead these clever, cosmopolitan, accomplished young women for whom it just didn't compute that the cartoons might not be a hideous racist, BNP attack on Muslims in particular, and every other person with a better than average suntan in general.
Shirin, when she wrote the second piece, knew that I had asked people not to bring cartoons solely to help include Muslims who might have otherwise felt intimidated, because I had told her this on the telephone during our second conversation, but this knowledge failed to penetrate the carapace of her paranoia and her racist assumptions about white people. She knew that of nine speakers, only five were white, yet she still called that Rally "all-white". She knew that there were lots of people there who were not white, yet she still called the rally "all-white". She knew that the Birmingham Rally was entirely racially homogenous, but she drew no attention to that fact because the race in question was not white.
There can be no more pure and complete an example of racism. But I remain convinced that these two people are decent.
They are the type of people we need to get on board, somehow, sometime. Because Freedom of Speech and Expression have nothing at all to do with race or culture. They are universal. And the people the Holloways are tacitly supporting would remove these freedoms from them, as well as from us.
It is going to be a long haul, though.