Romanians and Bulgarians can now come and work here unrestricted and there are concerns about how some of them may abuse the benefits system and about the additional burden on our already creaking public health services. The Romanian Foreign Ministry has claimed that some UK media coverage was “racist” towards Romanian citizens. But we are all racists – at different levels – so said the American novelist John Grisham in a recent BBC Newsnight interview (click here to view). We all think our own ‘race’ is the best. With a bit of Romans 7:19 honesty Grisham also admitted that he struggles with racism every day.
Some people don’t appear to try to struggle. The European football governing body has a zero-tolerance policy towards racism and discrimination but racist remarks and chants continue at football matches throughout Europe. And as a previous PS…. reminded us racism exists in Ireland, south as well as north of the border (click here to view).
Amateur boxing in Northern Ireland has been affected by “incidents of sectarianism and racism” as a recent independent report into the sport found. No one in touch with current affairs in Northern Ireland can be unaware of the numbers of racially motivated attacks. An investigation conducted for Newsnight last year suggested that an individual is twice as likely to be a victim of racism in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales. (see http://www.embraceni.org/)
Could it be that our sectarianism also fosters racism? The two phenomema are closely related and hide behind class differences equally well. Respectable middle class sectarianism fosters working class sectarian violence and hides behind it. The same is true of racism. Though harder to spot, racism can be found in the leafy suburbs when neighbours come face to face with newcomers to our society.What does this all say of us and of how we live out our Christianity?
Lets face it we are all both sectarian and racist. Both appear at some level. I have to admit my prejudices. I struggle for example every time I visit a project for former street girls in Romania who are mostly from a Roma background and I deeply admire those whose love for them so obviously overflows.
Individual Christians and Christian churches should continually be protesting against racism and sectarianism – with no spurious justification, no weighing of economics, politics and morality in the balance. And the actions of churches must match their statements. Some are already doing this well but the work of para-church groups to challenge is still needed for we continue to create barriers to the gospel and the love of Christ.
So let us say to the stranger and alien: Welcome! Failte! It might be that they could enrich us. If not economically then maybe through learning from them how in past times they have coped when their countries have been carved up by vested interests from the West and the East. Their presence here might challenge our local preoccupations with what are, on an eternal scale, small minded ‘under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1:14) issues. In light of the positive view of cultural diversity in scripture we, as Christians, can expect benefits from the mixing of tribes, tongues and nations (Revelation 7:9). Their witness has the potential to make our differences pale into insignificance.
Noel McCune is Chairperson of Contemporary Christianity.
Noel, this is good. I strongly agree with your points on the link between racism and sectarianism and how both lurk amongst the leafy suburbs. However I must point out the common misperception reflected in your final para that migrants do not enrich us economically. On the contrary migrants have made a very significant contribution to our economy… a recent study by the Nat Inst for Economic & Social Research shows that the Tory proposals to limit migration will also impact negatively on our economic growth rate, public finances and net wages. See: http://niesr.ac.uk/press/long-term-economic-impacts-reducing-migration-11692
In one sense you are right, Noel, when you say that “..we are all both sectrian and racist.” The aim in both caes is the same: to separate oneself from and feel superior to the other. Yet, which one dominates ( sectarianism or racism) at any one time may differ. Here is my experience of living in NI since 1981. I had encountered racism—both overt and covert, but mostly covert) in England . So I expeted to face similar experience –at least occasionally. But to my great surprise, instead of being looked down uopn for having brown colour, i was greatly welcome by almost all the people I met. Some people even let me know that they considered me naively brave for willing to live in Ni of early 1980s—a land scared by overt sectrainism and continuous violence.
Things, however, changed AFTER the signing of the peace agreement in 1998. Very soon after that, there began to appear news about racist attacks , in the beginning on the Chinese, and later on people not only of different colour but also of different ethnic origins.
What this tells me is that there is an inborn tendency on the part of all of us to feel different from, and in many cases superior to, others who are different from us . On the Indian subcontinent, people are not discriminated on the basis of their colour but on the basis of their caste—-a religious-cum social concept which entered Hindu society thousands of years ago. The coming of Christianity in india did not eradicate class divide completely. Even today Christians in the State of Kerala, where 90 percent poeple describe themselves as Christians, practice caste divide—read Arundhati Roy’s “A God of Small Things”.
We Christains thus need to be on guard, moment by moment, in our attitudes and dealings with people who are different fropm us. But a word of warning. This does not mean that we should never criticise actions and behaviour which are obviously wrong and harmful—we do not have to accept all kinds of bevaiour and attitudes uncritically, though we must always remember the NT injunction—hate the sin, not the sinner.
Christ died for the sins of all of us—-all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. What ground does anyone has to feel suprior to any one—even the most degenerate of sinners?