Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

David Cameron, the UK prime minister, is a racist. I do not use the term lightly because it’s a big deal calling someone a bigot, saying that they are irrational and vicious. ‘Racist’ is one of those terms that you can throw around on the spur of the moment because it says very bad things about the person at whom it is directed but without much regard to what it actually means, like calling someone a pig or a moron. No, I am using the word with its proper meaning.

The UK PM stood up yesterday and announced that that immigrants ought to learn English if they come to this country to live, that not learning English caused a “kind of discomfort and disjointedness” that has disrupted communities across Britain. (Full text here)

Let me tell you some stories about racism to illustrate objectively my point about Cameron.

I was in the front garden of my home — the home I have bought and paid for myself in Japan after years of working in the country — when a kid cycled up to me in my driveway and demanded to know (in Japanese, naturally) what I was doing. I overlooked the attitude and the tone of the question on the grounds that this was a kid. However, I realized that I couldn’t give the kid a straight answer because I couldn’t recall the Japanese words for either grass seed or plant. I know I once encountered them in a language class, but that was years before and I had not had a reason to use either of them in the real world since. Knowing that it tickles some people to hear English, and since the neighborhood mums were often bugging me to use English on their kids, I answered in English. “I’m planting grass seeds.” The child responded in Japanese, “If they come here to live, they should learn to speak the language,” and immediately cycled off.

The kid was too young to have formulated this opinion himself. He must have got it from his parents or other adults. So, I thought, that’s how my neighbours see me: the immigrant who should learn ‘the language’.

Never mind that I have spent 20 years working, paying taxes, paying into a national pension scheme I shall probably never claim on and teaching language skills to Japanese people so that the country can compete in the international market place. I am the immigrant who must learn the language.

Next. I was on the commuter train home when a stranger who turned out to be Australian spotted me and decided to engage a fellow English speaker in conversation. While we were chatting, a Japanese gentleman adjacent to us said, in Japanese, naturally, “If you come here you should speak Japanese.” I wondered whether to say anything to the Japanese guy but decided that his mental problem was not my problem and ignored him.

One more. I was in an English-pub-themed bar in Osaka one evening chatting, in English, naturally, to my Canadian pal Nagaijin, when the Japanese people at an adjacent table started objecting to us, in Japanese, naturally, that we were speaking English in their vicinity. That was it. We were speaking English in their vicinity. The bar was themed on an English pub, the music was British with English lyrics, they were apparently drinking Bass and Guinness, but they didn’t like it that we were speaking English within earshot. We moved away without arguing on the grounds that their mental problem was not ours, etc. I later found out that these same two people had accosted our Japanese companions of the evening to complain that Nagaijin and I had had the affront to have spoken our native language, etc. etc. Yes, they bothered our pals about it too.

If I were to catalogue all the incidences of racism I have experienced in twenty years in Japan we’d be here for a week or two. I have chosen the above three because they relate directly to language as did Mr. Cameron’s speech.

I wonder if anyone finds the actions of the Japanese individuals in my stories to be on any level rational or reasonable. Really, I am to this day dumfounded by these people and if I am missing anything, please let me know. A

David Cameron in his speech was exhibiting the same kind of mentality as the complaining people in the stories I have related.

I would like to ask Mr. Cameron and anyone who agrees with him some simple questions. The government has imposed various tests on people wanting to live in the UK, so please consider this a test of clear thinking.

  1. Who precisely is not learning English? I personally have not met these people.
  2. How has someone speaking another language in your country degraded your quality of life? Give concrete examples.
  3. How has someone not speaking English in your country inconvenienced you in any way? Give concrete examples.
  4. What exactly do you mean ‘learn English’? What level of ability accords to speaking English? Elementary? Pre-intermediate? Intermediate? Advanced? As fluent as a native speaker? Just enough to do the practical things or good enough to discuss particle physics with a boffin?
  5. Mr. Cameron, have you thought this through?
  6. What about inarticulate or illiterate British people? I have met such people. Will there be remedial education classes or will they simply be deported?

You see, picking on language is on a par with complaining about ‘smelly cooking’ and ‘different ways’, the talk of twisted and bitter bigots in the pub over their Bass or Guinness.

Cameron tells us that people not speaking English creates a disjointed society. Again, I have to ask what exactly that means? How has the issue of language damaged the fabric of society? Give concrete examples, please.

The real disjointing comes from people seeing difference and seeing problems of race or culture where none actually exist. The disjointing comes from bigotry and arbitrary differences of ‘us and them’. The disjointing comes from people who get on the street and parade their prejudice in marches against Islam. The real disjointing comes from people who through word and deed marginalise communities.

It’s not just words, either. These words are allied to real policies that affect real people. See this Guardian article about how the policies of this government are having an impact on business (their beloved free enterprise): UK tells foreign students: ‘Speak English or stay out’ 

My friend C is British. He has been living in Japan married to a Japanese lady, with whom he has a son, for nearly twenty years. The family has decided to relocate to the UK. Once in the UK, she will, I believe, have to pass a language test and a citizenship test. In the meantime, the bureaucracy of obtaining permission to live in that land has literally reduced her to tears. C is a British citizen. He and his wife are a real couple in all the senses of the term. The obstacles to settling in the UK with a foreign wife are an affront to humanity. As a British citizen, C should be allowed to marry whomever he wishes and that partner should be given automatic clearance to settle there with the family. If I were to relocate to the UK, my family would have to go through the same humiliating rigmarole. After more than 20 years of marriage, how is that justified? Oh, and the citizenship test: I tried it. I failed. Take away my UK passport. You try it. Every UK citizen I know who has tried it has failed. Try it here.

The issues of immigration and racism are joined at the waist. The rhetoric of the politicians, the outrage of the press, the policies enacted by the government, the complaints of ‘uncomfortable’ citizens all stem from the same root: the irrational and tiny-minded belief that there is a problem with any ethnicity, language and culture other than your own.

If you want to discuss disjointing in society, how about discussing the disparity in wealth? Poverty amid plenty? How about discussing public bailouts of private banks, bloated bonuses for failed captains of industry and the destruction of public services to pay for them? Those are things that really strike at the heart of the national community.

Cameron is a low racist and so is every individual who nodded in grave agreement with his poisonous speech yesterday. And more shame on Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems for aligning themselves with this bigotry.

Immigration? Don’t get me started.

By chris page

Magazine editor, writer of fiction and non-fiction; exile; cat person; red wine for blood and cheese in his soul. Chris Page is the author of the novels Weed, Sanctioned, Another Perfect Day in ****ing Paradise, King of the Undies World, and The Underpants Tree. He is also a freelance journalist, copywriter, editor, cartoonist, illustrator, graphic designer, and consultant in the use and abuse of false moustaches (don’t wear them — you’re welcome — the invoice is in the mail).

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