“My Tram Experience” is an ugly snippet of life in the UK. It is an example of unashamed racism that we should all be eager to condemn. Sunny Hundal (editor of Liberal Conspiracy and comments is free columnist) was quick to join in this condemnation, that was until he saw the ferocious backlash from the tweeting masses. In Sunny’s words, “Piers Morgan was calling for the woman to be deported, some asked for her to be locked up, while others said her child should be taken away. And those are only the printable responses”.
First on Twitter and then through a comments is free article Sunny made a valuable effort to counter this moral outrage. I won’t try and simplify his arguments but suggest you read his article in full here.
His argument though has a series of holes. Firstly, he claims the law is “an overbearing ass”. Which is true, and it is why I commented that I support this government’s move to remove word ‘insulting’ from the Public Orders Act. In light of this, I would be happy with a law that protects people from “threatening or intimidating” behaviour – not simply ‘insulting’. Sunny it would appear is not.
Sunny seemed to suggest that it was OK to be intimidated and threatened in public. I could not disagree more. I think it is right and proper that victims of aggression be afforded the protection of the law in such a situation. In this specific circumstance, the woman was clearly intimidating. Sunny’s argument that because she was sat down she didn’t pose a threat is a weak one. This argument would suggest you cannot be verbally intimidated. This is clearly not the case. Shouting “fucking paki” in the face of a Muslim (intimidation does not need to be accurate or PC) or “fucking fag” in the face of a gay man is verbal intimidation. To suggest otherwise is to undermine the terrible experiences that people have to endure on a daily basis.
This has to be separated off from simply holding unpleasant views. I can write all sorts of rubbish, as can our friends in the BNP. Their views play into a dangerous culture of hatred but should not be outlawed. My views play into a dangerous culture of self-righteous woolly lefties but should certainly not be outlawed. When I start sitting on trams and screaming abuse at anyone who reads the Daily Mail –that’s when my views become intimidating and are illegal. This is an important distinction.
Sunny asks in his article, “Do you really want to give police the willingness to arrest people simply for having an argument?” The answer is clearly no – but I do want to be protected from intimidating behaviour.
Secondly, he suggests the law does not help us challenge the wider problem of racism. Again, I would broadly agree – it is a blunt tool at best. What it does do however, is provide victims with recourse to justice. It can (or at least holds the potential to) give the victims as sense of closure. Although rock against racism (and the plethora of other social movements which have successfully changed attitudes) is as important as ever, suggesting a victim of race hate crime should go to a rock concert or join hope not hate is simply not sufficient. Victims, rightly or wrongly, look to the law to feel justice has been done. We have a responsibility to provide victims with the appropriate legislation. When Sunny point to the Race Relations Act and that it has only had a handful of prosecutions, we know this is a failure of the system and that legislation, not because the crimes are not being committed. The state has let down those who the Race Relations Act was designed to protect.
Finally, Sunny comments, “My fourth argument is simply this: I would rather a world where such incidents didn’t exist but the world will never be perfect. I would much prefer such racism to be open and visible because there are still far too many Westminster commentators who think racism is a thing of the past.” Again, I agree, but this does not mean we have to encourage it! I would rather these issues were in the open – but I am not going to put on a racist poetry evening for racists to come and express themselves at. In the same way, when a racist has clearly broken the law I am not going to go out of my way to argue they shouldn’t be arrested. For some reason Sunny will.