Saturday, 29 May 2010

Am I Racist?

For weeks now, I’ve been worrying that I am. It all started when I glimpsed Lewis Hamilton’s name in the paper. As I read the words, I visualised the attractive young racing driver -and instantly Barack Obama appeared beside him in my mind. The same thing happens whenever Sarkozy or Berlusconi are mentioned. Whichever one happens to be under discussion, the other pops up in my head as well. That’s because I keep the two of them in a folder marked Silly Mediterannean Men (yes, I know Sarkozy is in fact largely of Hungarian origin, but I think his is a clear case of nurture versus nature.)
But it gets worse – if Angela Merkel is ever mentioned in conversation, Kohl and Schmidt crowd in behind her into my brain. Surely that is racist – it’s certainly crowded. And yet, if I look carefully, I can, even with my poor eyesight, make out the label on their (bulging) file. ‘Frumpy Leaders who don’t Know How to Dress’ it’s got written on it – and, ooh yes, what a relief, I’ve just spotted Hilary Clinton and her hideous array of travelling pant suits in it, together with the Germans. So at least in this instance my problem doesn’t seem to be racism.
On the other hand, when I see Gael Garcia Bernal, I always think of Beneficio del Toro. They’re bracketed together in a folder marked Attractive South Americans, so I suppose that’s racist. And George Clooney goes everywhere in my thoughts accompanied by Steve Martin. Their folder is marked Attractive but Slightly Creepy Actors with Unusually Regular Features, (but, although it isn’t mentioned, the fact is the two of them are white.)
Which brings us back to Obama and Hamilton. They are in fact in the same file that the Mexicans and Clooney are stashed in. It’s marked ‘Men – Good-Looking’ so there’s nothing wrong there. The trouble is that, just as Bernal and del Toro fall into the sub-folder for South Americans, Lewis and Barack are in a sub-section marked nice-looking men who are, yes, I have to admit it, black.
And that’s the real question – is it racist to notice someone’s skin colour or merely not to like it once you’ve noticed it? If the Victorian Police force is any kind of guide, noticing is enough to condemn you. And mentioning skin colour is out of the question – they regard describing someone as black with the same horror Basil Fawlty reserved for mentioning the war. To put it bluntly (not something they approve of) they don’t and won’t do it. Which is why when they were hunting for someone the other day they told us all they were looking for 'a man with a very dark complexion, extremely white teeth and exceptionally curly hair.’ Only after the entire nation had exhausted itself looking for the lone survivor of the late unlamented Black and White Minstrels Show did they reveal they were actually looking for a Black African male.


  1. Benicio del Toro! I love that man. And Gael Garcia Bernal looks a lot like my younger son

  2. Not racist, but I think we do need to start getting used to the increasing meaninglessness of racial categorisation. Why is Lewis Hamilton a 'black' man...the one-drop rule? Ryan Giggs, who is precisely as black as Hamilton or Obama in terms of his parents, is generally thought to be white. Leona Lewis is perceived as being more white than Maria Carey... there's no objective genetic reasons for any of this.

  3. Nurse - Y tu Mama Tambien is v good, don't you think?
    Brit - I shall find out who Ryan Giggs and Leona Lewis are and get back to you.