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This article might prove interesting, if challenging:


april 26 2017, 12:01am, the times

Attacking Nastase hides real racism

 ‘Chocolate with milk.” These are the words that have caused a racism storm on both sides of the Atlantic. They have been described as “disgraceful”, “unforgivable” and “gut-wrenching”. Serena Williams, whose unborn baby was the putative target, said: “It disappoints me to know we live in a society in which people like Ilie Nastase can make such racist comments.”

But isn’t all this a little over the top? My father often refers to my skin colour as “cappuccino”. I have seen mixed-race kids in the US walking around with T-shirts proclaiming: “milk chocolate”. Nastase may be a nasty piece of work, who outrageously insulted Johanna Konta and Anne Keothavong on Saturday, but the response to his comments about Williams seems disproportionate.

And this is symptomatic of a deeper problem with the debate around racism. Too often, racism is positioned as a bad news story. A story where people shake their heads and purse their lips. Where trivial comments by Nastase are met with faux outrage. I noted that some people on Twitter, eager to berate the Romanian, needed guidance as to what they were condemning. “Why was it bad?” one asked innocently.

It is worth stepping back. When Nastase was born, black people were banned from competing in many mainstream sports. The United States operated a system of de facto regional apartheid, with black people south of the Mason-Dixon line living lives of tawdry segregation. Many scientists believed that black people were intellectually and morally backward due to some speculative genetic inferiority.

When Nastase was in his teens, interracial marriage was still illegal in 16 US states (“chocolate and milk” children were outlawed by statute). It was legal in the UK to bar people from jobs because of colour, a problem my father encountered when he arrived from India in 1965. It was a time when mothers of mixed-race kids, like my mother, were insulted on the streets. In my teens, I was called the P word when walking around suburban Reading. One of my teachers used the term liberally, along with incessant jokes about curry. When I played in my first World Table Tennis Championships in Delhi in 1987, some of my team (including the coach) called me “Punjab”. Any time I entered a new social group, I was acutely conscious of my colour and vigilant for signs of rejection. For a long time, I was ashamed of my background.

And this is why stories about racism should be placed in context. I struggle to find words to express the joy of living in a country where overt bigotry is being routed. Where I can walk into a room without having a single thought about colour, or exclusion, or being judged. Where I would never, not for an instant, worry that criticism (and I am pleased to report that I get my fair share) is racially motivated.

Can’t we congratulate ourselves on that? Can’t we, just occasionally, drop the pursed lips? Can’t we celebrate that the lives of ethnic minorities in this country have been transformed by this shift in attitudes? Indeed, far from leading to complacency, I am confident that this would inject overdue positivity into a debate (indeed, a world) that so often accentuates the negatives. Moreover, it would give a fillip to the fight that still needs to be won.

And this brings me to the other problem about the furore over Nastase: it obscures the deeper issue. The problem in much of the western world is not overt bigotry of the kind I grew up with. It is not people using the P word, or the N word, or older people, unsure of the nuances of political correctness, using inappropriate vocabulary.

No, the problem today is subtler. It is not overt bigotry, but unconscious prejudice. The way in which decent people — people like you and me — subliminally stereotype those of different colour. The way that, to this day, enlightened employers are less likely to invite “Leroy” than “Lee” to an interview, even if they have identical CVs. The fact that Leroy has an archetypally black name leads to him being judged differently.

It is worth emphasising that this discrimination happens at an unconscious level, in much the same way that if you are walking towards a black rather than a white man in an alley, your adrenaline and heart rate are likely to spike higher. These unconscious responses are now well studied, and have an obvious explanation. We tend to judge black people not as individuals, but as group members.

Black people are, on average, less well educated than whites (largely due to the legacy of institutionalised racism), so we deduce that the next black person we meet will be less educated than a white person with a comparable CV. Similarly, black people are 
more likely to be criminals, so we conclude that this black person might be a criminal. The tragedy is that these unconscious judgments exert real effects. Black people don’t get the jobs they deserve and are marginalised in other subtle ways.

I am not denying that prejudice of the old-school type exists (or that some of the remaining bigots support contemporary politicians), but this shouldn’t obscure the huge strides that have been made against the haters, the name-callers and the assorted pseudoscientists who still cling to the idea that variations in skin pigmentation denote profound genetic differences. No, it is unconscious racism that is the real barrier to the life chances of ethnic minorities, and which needs creative solutions rather than today’s synthetic outrage.

“Chocolate and milk”? We can get our knickers in a twist all we like, but it is, to use a phrase Nastase might be familiar with, to risk taking our collective eye off the ball.