A couple of days ago, I was unfriended on Facebook. This is not a unique occurrence; on more than one occasion I've been a casualty of someone clearing people they don't talk to very often out of their friends list. It's never a big deal - hell, most of the time I don't even notice. This one was different though, this time it's because someone decided they really, really didn't like me anymore.
A little backstory is order. This person, who I shall refer to as "G," is an acquaintance from the amateur theatre group I belong to. Quite by chance I learnt that his view of the world - and particularly of ethnic minorities - falls somewhere "skewed" and "deeply paranoid." According to G, "tinted people" - yes, that was the expression he used - are taking over Britain, and something needs to be done before it is too late. He also posited that the legal system of the UK was biased in favour of ethnic minorities and that judges would bend over backwards to let them off. (It's worth mentioning that G was a police officer during the 70s, so he claims to have seen it first hand. albeit, 40 or so years ago.)
I've never been a police officer, and I'm not as old as G, but even so, his claims sounded a little far-fetched - which is a nice way of saying, "crazy and racist" - but not wanting to get into a argument with him (we were doing a volunteer shift on the theatre bar together at the time) I politely told him I disagreed with him, challenged him a little, but largely left the matter alone.
Kinda like I should have done when he started saying things about Diane Abbot.
If you don't know, Abbott is the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and has been since 1987. She has a history of voting based on her beliefs rather than the party line. She also recently made a couple of comments that got people rather steamed. The first was this tweet: "white people love playing "divide and rule". We should not play their game #tacticasoldascolonialism." People were up in arms, making the case that had the race roles been reversed - ignoring for a moment that that wouldn't *quite* be the same thing - then we'd be after the unwitting tweeter's head. This is probably true, and there's no denying that Abbott could have phrased her remark better. In fact, she probably should have done, considering that she is an MP, and therefore a public figure.
What the remark wasn't, however, was racist, particularly not when looked at in its proper context. It was a reply to another tweet about black people feeling disenfranchised and disillusioned with their leaders, who, in the Tweeter's eyes, didn't properly represent their black constituents. Her second comment, which suggested that black people find it hard to get taxis is again, not racist. Uncomfortable to hear maybe, but not racist.
So, when G said that these comments were "blatantly" racist, I piped up an noted that they'd been taken out of context and she'd since apologised. He responded saying that he supposed her comment about taxis had been taken out of context as well, to which I said no, but that is wasn't really a racist comment anyway.
And that, gentle reader, is where I should have left it. Unfortunately for me, he replied with how he thought she had an agenda unbecoming to her position and posted a quote that Gordon Brown had made about a voter, calling her a bigot. I knew what he was getting at, but I wanted to get a reaction out of him, to hear him express his views - which he is well aware are unpalatable to most people - out loud in his own words. So I asked him what he thought this agenda was, and pointed out that the quote he had used was not about Abbott at all, something that he hadn't mentioned in his own post.
I wanted to get a rise out of him, and boy did I succeed. This is the response:
"I'm fully aware of that Logan - it was a simile and that you should think that I was not aware of whom this comment by Brown was made about is an insult to my intelligence. Her position is that of an MP - she is to serve the people, without bias, no matter what their colour, race, creed or religion. Her comments have been found to be deeply offensive by many people - whatever their colour, race, creed or religion. I find your obvious 'defense' of this woman to be offensive against my colour, race, creed and religion - does that make me a racist - or you? My suggestion to you is that you keep your obviously Labour-orientated nose out of my business and my freedom of speech! When you have grown up and realised just what this world is about then we may be able to have a sensible, adult, discussion - until then - go away!"
That's quite the rise. For the record, I don't think I'm the racist, especially not if he's saying, as he seems to be saying, that he's upset that I sided with the blacks against the whites. Maybe I'm reading that wrong, but that's what "I find your obvious 'defense' of this woman to be offensive against my colour, race, creed and religion - does that make me a racist - or you?" says to me. Unfortunately, the impact of this rant was rather lost on me because he unfriended me before I had a chance to read it. I only have it because I asked another friend to grab it for me so I could have a look.
So yay me, I win - I guess. I got him mad and he posted a long huffy rant for all his Facebook friends to see. Mission accomplished, right? Well no, not really. What have I actually achieved? I've vindicated G's world view that there are liberal thought police, for one. I've also precipitated a really awkward moment in the theatre if and when he and I are there at the same time. Oh, and I managed to upset my girlfriend who was completely baffled as to why I was picking fights with people who weren't going to change their minds.
What I did was the equivalent of arguing about evolution with someone who is convinced that dinosaur skeletons are a test from God for the faithful. That is not an argument you are going to win. At best, the person you're talking to thinks you're deluded because you believe that giant lizards roamed the earth, and at worst they try to banish as the demon you very clearly are.
I will say this though, I have learnt at least one important lesson. I really need to pick my battles better. I am in no way sad that I have upset a paranoid, near-delusional, racist, but if I'm honest with myself - something I should strive to be a little bit more often - I've not really made the world a better place. I whole-heartedly believe that people should think about issues of race and gender more often, and I think that now we've largely eliminated overt racism and sexism, we've got the much harder and less pleasant task of tackling the more subtle stuff. That said, attacking people who, as I mentioned before, aren't going to change their mind, is a fool's errand. It's like triage, you focus your attention on those you can actually help.