Tag Archives: Racism

Racist or just interested?

I’m going to break one of my rules now (I know!  They didn’t last long did they?) and talk a little about the BIB I’m reading.  So if you want to read I Am Pilgrim as a BIB (I would recommend it) read no further.

English: No racism Lietuvių: Ne rasizmui

English: No racism Lietuvių: Ne rasizmui (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cards on the table.  Talking about racism is hard.  We can’t understand it or our own attitudes better without talking about it, and saying things that make us uncomfortable.

I had a long conversation with a good friend at work about racism that he had experienced, and it was excruciating for me.  I think he found it equally difficult.  He’s Indian.  We’ve had lots of conversations about family, children and looking after your parents as they need you, and I think we’ve both enjoyed those conversations and learnt a lot from each other.  We didn’t shy away from differences in attitude acquired from our culturally different backgrouds, but these were obliquely approached.  This particular conversation was overtly about racism, no getting away from it.  I wanted to know so I could empathise and be more informed.  I was practically silent because I didn’t want to make any racist statement, give offence, make assumptions or upset him.  But in the end we came to the conclusion that in order to think about racism on a personal basis you can’t pussyfoot around.  You just have to say these things that make you uncomfortable like “Has anyone called you a paki?”, otherwise you’re in danger of trying to deal with the unpleasantness of being a human by ignoring it and hoping it will just go away.  We agreed that we’re all different and that the extent of differences had little to do with race, we could both find people from our home towns who were far different to us than we were to each other, and that differences between any two people were far fewer than the similarities.

So back to the book.  Similar to What do I know about anything?  Help me please! I would like to know what to think of this book.  This book is partly about a Muslim radical, and I would really like to get a view of a Muslim on it.  I’d like to know whether this book offers any insight into a Muslim world (it’s not all about muslim radicalism, parts are set in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Turkey), does it present a world that my colleagues at work and Muslims in my community would recognise.  Is this book offensive?  Is it patronising?  Is it worrying?  Does it make you mad?

But I’m uncomfortable about this.  Is that patronising?  Am I being racist?  I’ve talked about books with my friend before, but what would I say if I handed this book to him?

I tried to think about it the other way around.

I’ve read thousands of books set in a world I recognise with characters who have a similar cultural background and they’ve been serial killers, murderers, lovers, heroes, brave, arseholes, fun and average people.  If someone came up to me and said

“Read this book about a mass murderer, he’s from your religion, does this ring true?”

how would I feel?  It probably depends how they were portrayed, with sympathy or as an embodiment of evil.

I’m also visually impaired.  I initially thought I’d really like to read a book about a visually impaired character, but then, the one’s I’ve come across haven’t been serial killers or murderers (If you know of any visually impaired characters in books I’d love to know, don’t worry I’ve got Blind Pew from Treasure Island).  So again it depends how they are depicted.  I loved Rhubarb – Craig Silvey, which made me want to march up to a blind person and ask them whether this is what it’s like to be blind?  I thought the depiction in Rhubarb was very convincing.

So the character in I Am Pilgrim, the Saracen (which is probably offensive in itself), how is he depicted?  I haven’t read the whole book yet, but so far from my position of ignorance, his story seems to have been treated with some sympathy.  There are credible incidents that lead to his acts in the book and I am at some level convinced that he is a real character, not some archetypal baddie with only one dimension.

So what should I do?  I feel like I’m on thin ice with this?  I feel like I need to say something and then end it with “don’t take it that way” or “I don’t mean it like it just sounded”.  But I want to know, I want to get more out of this book than entertainment.  I want to understand more.  Discretion, on the other hand tells me to keep my mouth shut, sweep it under the carpet and try to remember it’s only a fiction book and not to read too much into it.