Anders Sundnes Løvlie’s blog about locative media, computer games and electronic text

Black, white and blue

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I just read a disturbing story in my good old friend Dagsavisen. Maybe this was naïve of me, but I just never thought of it before: What happens if you call a Norwegian police officer a racist, to his/her face? Surprise surprise: You’ll end up in court. According to an evaluation from the government prosecutor, “racist” is ranked above (i.e. gives a stronger punishment than) good old Norse classics like “hestkuk” (horse dick) and “drittsekk” (bastard). (Commonly used terms in the colourfull north, which last week gave a 17-year old from Senja 60 days of civil labour.)

Trust me, I have no problem seeing the entertainment value in this, and I really hope I’ll be able to get hold of a t-shirt with a black horse penis on it before I go down to the police station to renew my passport. In the shape of a rebus, I think – or would that be too subtle?

However, I also find my internal “hipocrite” lamp flashing uncontrollably. Apart from the occasional (but thankfully infrequent) beating up or killing of black suspects, we know how much the police still love the n-word, even in their official files. At the very least it seems that the two are equally precise in their descriptions: the black person calling the police officer a “racist” and the police officer logging the other as “negro”. The difference is of course that in court the racist will be in the witness stand, whereas the negro will be in the defendant seat. Apparently the cases are frequent, but normally “solved” with a regular fine.

So if your working for a racist institution, or at least one that still has not been able to convince a large portion of the population that that is the case, do you have a right to be offended if someone calls you a racist? To me this just illustrates that the greatest taboo we have in public discourse currently is not to express racist sentiments, but to point it out when someone does. Calling someone a racist is much more risky – at least legally – than calling someone a negro. (By the way, it would be quite interesting to see how the prosecutor would handle it if someone called a black police officer “negro”…)

“Racist” is the most tabooed word in the Norwegian language, and I suspect in the English as well. To me that is highly ironic, as I have a hard time understanding how one could be human without being a racist. As far as I remember from my first-semester introduction to philosophy class, prejudice (pre-judgement) is a prerequisite for thought. And though I know Gadamer (and ultimately Kant as well, I guess) used the concept in a wider sense, I just can’t see why racial prejudice should be excluded from that formula.

But then again, maybe thought isn’t a prerequisite for being a lawyer/police officer… Ok, that’s just me being childish.

Let me rather finish my rant by pointing to todays nice article in the Guardian about race politics in the American presidential race (nice pun, huh?). For those of us who are for once a little bit excited by Barack Obama’s surprise victory in Iowa (and for the record: I am primarily happy because I don’t want la casa blanca to turn into a family mansion – and if I could vote, I’d probably be rooting for another white, old male (Nader, Chomsky or any other obvious loser)), it’s apt to be reminded that “he has the role of an inadequate and ineffective balm on the long-running sore that is race in America. His victory would symbolise a great deal and change very little”, in the words of Gary Younge. And if you thought (like me) that perhaps this was the first time a black (ok, mulatto) candidate wins a nearly all-white state in the democrat nomination, apparently it’s not (Jesse Jackson took Michigan in 88).

And, most importantly, the Guardian piece gives an important contribution to the world’s collection of ‘simple yet kind of nice Karl Marx one-liners’ (no, I’m not in that Facebook group yet, but please invite me): “Men make their own history. But they do not make it just as they please.”

Written by Anders Sundnes Løvlie

Monday, January 7, 2008 at 11:42

Posted in Rants

Tagged with , ,

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