November 1st, 2013


Relating To Minorities

Pratting around in a war bonnet in front of bona fide Native Americans is bad manners. But so is doing the Fawlty Towers goose step in front of the Brandenburg Gate. We should extend courtesy to all our neighbours.

There are times, though, when courtesy is craven. If something is bad it's bad even if its the time-honoured custom of a cultural minority. How about female genital mutilation? Honour killings? The KKK are also a minority. Should I  respect their regalia? Oh, look a pointy hood- how quaint!

Nice story about the British in India. The Governor General (or whoever) outlawed the practice of suttee- the burning of widows on their husbands' funeral pyres. A delegation of elders went to protest, "But it's our time hallowed cultural tradition". "Fine," said the GG, "Carry on, but I've got to inform you that we British have a time honoured cultural tradition of hanging men who burn women."

Not everyone who claims to be a spokesman for ancestral tradition or a community leader has a legitimate mandate. Some are chancers, some are oppressors. Why should I accept the authority of a beardy Imam any more than that of a kiddie-fiddling Christian priest?

Holy books are a ball and chain. We're not doing anyone a favour in the long run by bowing and scraping to prophets and popes and sons of god.

We need to guard against sentimentalizing the other. Human nature is a constant. The noble savage and the magic negro (and the gay best friend and the wise old lama) are patronising and insulting stereotypes.

No-one should be discriminated against or given a free pass just because they dress funny. 

The Stranger's Child: Alan Hollinghurst

We move through the last century in jumps of ten or twenty years- dropping in on significant moments in the continuing reputation of a minor poet of the First World War. (Hollinghurst- a poet himself- serves up some soupcons of wonderfully convincing fake-Georgian verse.) It's shocking what time does to people. Fascinating how manners change.  Hollinghurst acknowledges the influence of Forster- and maybe this is the sort of book Forster himself would have written if the times had permitted him to be frankly queer.