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By Marcia Hutchinson

Wednesday, April 1, 2009.

(Nottingham, UK)

The postmaster sacked for refusing to serve customers unless they spoke English is being feted in some sections of the media.  At any given time there are many incidents of this kind happening all over Britain.  What makes this one different is that the postmaster in question is Asian and an immigrant himself.  Presumably he learned English when he came to the UK and expects everyone else to do the same. 

What is unusual is not the story itself but the publicity it is receiving.  I have my suspicions on this one.  When some sections of society want to express views that might be considered racist it is very convenient to find a member of the ethnic minority they wish to criticise who shares their views. 

Had Deva Kumarasiri (main picture) been white he would probably still have been sacked but he may well also have been prosecuted under the Race Relations Act.  The fact that he is Asian is a boon for the right wing media (He was pictured in the Telegraph holding a British flag).  He is saying what they would like to but dare not for fear of (rightly) being called racist. 

He is demonstrating the difference between the ‘good’ integrated, assimilated immigrant who learns English as soon as they can, and adopts British customs and dress; as opposed to the ‘bad’ immigrant who fails to learn English (or to learn it fast enough), continues with their own customs and dress and does not mix with the host community. 

It is outrageous that a postmaster should refuse to serve people who don’t speak English.  It is not his job to decide whether they are not learning the language fast enough, or as he seemed to think, not even being bothering to learn it. 

When on holiday abroad I have been to post offices trying to buy stamps to send postcards back to England.  The staff have always tried to serve me, I would, rightly, be offended if they refused on the grounds that I did not speak the local language.  Would those who are lauding Mr Kumarasiri be willing to criticise Brits in Spain for example, who have lived there for donkey’s years but not ‘bothered’ to learn Spanish. 

He reminds me of the speech by a black councillor to the Conservative Party conference in the 1980s when she accused young African Caribbean women of getting pregnant so that they could get council houses. She received a standing ovation.  There seems to be some strange logic going on here. If a black person says it, it can’t possibly be racist. 

Of course ‘it’ can.  There are many who seem to leave their critical faculties at the door when discussing racism.  Just because something is said by a member of an ethnic minority that does not mean that you should fail to judge the comment (or action) in the light of common sense.  A related misconception is that a white person who is married to (or dating) a black person cannot be racist. 

So when the black cloakroom attendant who was assaulted by Cheryl Cole (nee Tweedy) alleged that Ms Tweedy made racist remarks to her at the time, this behaviour was subsequently deemed ‘not possibly racist’ because Cheryl Cole later married a black footballer. 

Now I am not saying that Cheryl Cole is (or is not) racist. I am saying that the fact that she is married to a black footballer does not mean that she cannot be racist.  I have known white women who dated black men because they believed myth that black men are well endowed.  Is that racist?  Well probably yes if that’s the main reason they were dating the man in question.

Where issues of racism are concerned, we cannot absolve ourselves of the responsibility simply by finding a black person who agrees or disagrees with the action.  White people are perfectly capable of working out for themselves whether something is racist.  It is the ultimate cop-out to feel the need to find a black person who can give them the definitive answer.   The answer is working it out for yourself.

Marcia Hutchinson is the managing director of Primary Colours, a learning development company specialising in cultural diversity. Her organization provides high quality, culturally inclusive resources, theatre in education and INSET training, helping schools to embed cultural diversity within the Curriculum while broadening their teaching and learning. Its website is at www.primarycolours.net


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