Utopian (Euro) Visions? by Tom Jennings

, 2007-07-29

commentary on implicit bias and explicit prejudice

Utopian (Euro) Visions?  by Tom Jennings

[commentary on explicit prejudice and implicit bias, published in Freedom, Vol. 68, No. 14, July 2007]

Good to see Dave Douglass writing in FreedomPit Sense Versus the State (Phoenix Press, 1994), after all, is a touchstone for class-struggle anarchism, and I’ll always be interested in what he has to say. Appreciated the crack on Terry Wogan’s xenophobia, too (2nd June issue), but it was a little disconcerting to then read the suggestions for a more participatory Eurovision Song Contest. Sadly, Dave’s inclusive non-competitive “international folk and rock concert” would leave not only me, but many millions, out in the cold.

I daresay there was no intention to exclude soul, reggae, R&B, bhangra and hip-hop, for example. ‘Rock’ was presumably meant to imply something like ‘popular music in general’ (minus the purely commercial). Trouble is, thanks to ‘progressive’ media like the NME and stars such as Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Morrissey (among many others), as well as official cultural institutions and music corporations, the dominant ideology of pop lionises folk and rock as serious and authentic. Other contemporary formations (along with their exponents, especially those marked ‘black’ and/or ‘working class’) tend to be dismissed as frivolous, degraded, corrupt and dangerous – until they can be incorporated and later safely relegated to a mythical golden age and retrospectively respected after all. The upshot being, therefore, that those at the sharp end now, marginalised and stigmatised (and worse) by such bullshit, know exactly what ‘rock’ means from their perspective. Consequently, it quite easily follows that ships pass in the night …

                It just goes to show how otherwise irrelevant, harmless variations in everyday expression can become loaded with whole different realms of connotations, depending on your position and experience. Plus we’re all prone to minor unthinking lapses from time to time (I certainly am, anyway), whereas wankers like Wogan leak whoppers like colanders. Yet while we don’t want to quibble over trivial distinctions and nit-picking recriminations, this does seem a frustratingly tricky kind of subject to tackle publicly without being sidetracked by clashes of taste or having to wade through all that right-on PC crap. And that’s even before wider discourses are taken into account, such as the current vogue for misconceiving ‘racism’ as merely a problem of white working class ignorance, conveniently overlooking how situations are set up and manipulated to start with, in particular historical contexts and with certain interests at stake. Then, hey presto, the only apparent solutions are either outright denial or spurious debates gloating over, humiliating and hammering anti-social culprits (as in the recent Big Brother debacles). Still, without the myriad forms of low-level implicit bias, explicit prejudice wouldn’t succeed in dividing us – and the Wogan piece just happened to include what looks like a hint of the former while forcefully exposing the latter.