Monday, 29 September 2014
Diversity, Variety and Division
Currently my church has a display set up promoting ‘Black History Month’. I will freely admit that I haven’t looked at it, but that is because it’s an institution of which I thoroughly disapprove.
The reason for this is that as someone who strongly believes in racial equality, to me this serves to encourage the idea that black people are somehow different. After all, if this is ‘black history’, then it obviously isn’t ‘white history’. I’m not black, so it can’t be my history. It’s theirs, not mine, and if it’s theirs, then they must be Them, not Us. We can get along of course, ‘some of my best friends…’ etc, but we’re getting along with Them, and they’re getting along with Us.
I have the same objection to ‘Music Of Black Origin’ festivals. There was a MOBO society at university, and I was uncomfortable about it then too. Again, it’s Theirs, and We’re allowed to listen to it if We like. But we must remember that it isn’t Ours. Nor should we try to claim it, to steal it from its rightful ‘owners’.
To me, anything that tries to clearly divide us into Us and Them is undesirable, but I need to qualify this by stressing that the last thing I would want is a grey, bland, flat homogeneity, in which everyone is the same, and therefore no-one can possible argue about anything. I occasionally wonder if this isn’t what the government would like. Grey, bland people with no opinions and nothing to form opinions about would be very easy to rule.
Unity in diversity is the call of many churches and political parties. I am a Christian. Many of my friends are not. I am a writer and a roleplayer, British, Methodist and a fencer. I am white, straight and male. Any of those things could make me Us and not Them. Happily, most of the people I know (in fact, none of the people I know, as far as I can recall) fall into all of those categories. I am not the same, I am different. But I (hope that I) am not Them. I am Us, I am We. And so are you. So are they. We are all Us, and some of Us are Christian, and some of Us are Muslim, or Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic, male, female, gay, straight, black, white and all shades, shapes and stages in between. Even (and I say this with grated teeth) those people that dunk custard creams in their tea are Us. Just about. I suppose...
There is no ‘Black History’, because there is no ‘White History’. There is no male or female history, gay history, working class history. There’s not even any British history. There is only history, and some of it involved black people, and some of it involved white people, some of it occurred in Britain, but it is Our history. I am well aware that in the past certain groups have been mis- or under-represented in history books, and this is clearly something that needs addressing. The answer though is to ensure a more equal representation going forwards, not to try and make up for it by over-representing these groups at the expense of those who were previously ascendant. That just reverses the problem rather than solving it, trying to right a wrong with another wrong, making up for exclusion with exclusion.
I forget who said it (and my weak Google-fu isn’t telling me) but this is a sentiment I can heartily get behind: “There are no us and them, only us and those of us who haven’t realised it yet.”
And I’ll freely admit that I sometimes forget it; I forget that the people I dislike are not Them, the people that, despite myself, I look down on are not They, and the people who agree with me or seem similar to me are not Us. I do forget it, far more frequently than I would like, but I do try to remember, at least when I remember to.
But then, that’s exactly what my sort would say isn’t it?