My maternal Grandpa was from Belfast. There would be very little to give that away among his children and grandchildren though. Obviously my uncles and cousins carry the Magee surname but none of us have a Northern Irish accent and there are no other characteristics to give away our origins. Meanwhile my Great Grandfather was from an Italian family but changed his surname from Giuliani to Williams. We’ve speculated over the years as to why, was he on the run from the Mafia, did he prophetically want to protect his descendants from association with the former mayor of New York and his pro Trump antics. I suspect it was a lot more common place – the desire to avoid discrimination and to be able to blend in.
My point is this, white European second and third generation families can blend in and so avoid experiencing any racial prejudice but that does not mean that racism against Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants doesn’t exist. It just gradually becomes less and less visible to us.
I’m writing these words in the context of some remarks made by left-wing political commentator Ash Sarker about antisemitism
What Sarker is seeking to explain here, is why supposedly an anti-racist party such as the Labour Party and people who take anti-racism particularly seriously have not seemingly taken the problem of antisemitism seriously. Notice, despite what some people may have taken from the words, that Sarker is not endorsing antisemitism here. As I understand it, she is simply seeking to explain the nature of the problem.
In doing so, she does however expose one of the problems that we have. You see, whilst Jewish people are not currently subject to economic inequality because of their race and do not suffer from institutional and implicit bias from the police, this does not mean that their experience of racism comes without harmful consequences. For many Jewish people, their experience of antisemitism in the UK has involved threatening language and actions towards them and a hostile environment that has caused a number to seriously consider emigration. It means that they have to do something unthinkable for most of us and provide security guards and strict measures for their places of worship. Furthermore, the lessons of history are that antisemitism can very quickly blow up into severe persecution leading to confiscation of property, imprisonment and death.
That the Jewish community (along with a number of other ethnic groups) has found ways to overcome its experience of prejudice and discrimination does not mean that the prejudice isn’t there. It just means that they have found ways round it. The racism is still racism even if it is invisible and even if the intended victims overcome it.
Furthermore, I want to suggest that the discussion here highlights another issue to consider. It is possible if you are on the right to argue that there should be freedom of opportunity for all and to value courtesy and the rule of law meaning you would never endorse racially motivated violence or offensive language, whilst at the same time harbouring racial prejudice in your heart and enabling structural discrimination. We might however want to consider how equally, it is possible to be on the left and so opposed to economic inequality and police brutality whilst still entertaining racist attitudes. In the same way, I can be a Christian who is committed to cross cultural mission and so loves and welcomes people from other cultures into our church whilst still holding racist attitudes and enabling implicit bias in church.
It isn’t just the visible and actual consequences of racism which make it so ugly. Racism is a sin problem and therefore a heart problem so we all have a duty to examine our hearts.