Tuesday 4 April 2023

Karen hates bikini wax


It is reported today that an SNP MSP called the police because she received an unsolicited invitation to a bikini waxing at an Edinburgh salon. The police did investigate and discovered an administrative error.

There was also an administrative error when at one point someone at the SNP used the Twitter profile of a Kate Forbes from Canada rather than the Kate Forbes from the Highlands. But luckily the Canadian Kate Forbes merely pointed out the error and laughed the whole thing off. Imagine if this Canadian had turned out instead to have been an opponent of the SNP and had declared a hate crime because of the misidentification.

Let’s imagine that it had not been the case that the salon made a mix up with a common enough name. Suppose that an opponent of this SNP MSP had made an appointment for a bikini wax in the name of the MSP. Let’s even imagine that the person given the unwanted bikini wax invitation was a transwoman. It would still hardly merit calling the police.

I have received vast numbers of unsolicited invitations to buy double glazing. I have also been invited to take part in numerous competitions that guarantee huge prizes. But at no point have I been tempted to call the police. I just put the junk in the bin. If a salon sent me an appointment for a hair cut that I didn’t want, I would either simply not turn up or I’d make a phone call to point out the mistake.

But this all illustrates a wider problem with the concept of hate crime. It has itself become hateful. Someone was probably very frightened to receive a call from the police that they were being investigated for a hate crime. That person may have spent some time worrying about the outcome even though they knew that they had done no wrong. They must have felt hated by whoever instigated the investigation. So, who is the victim of hatred and who is the hater?

Recently we have learned that Michael Vaughan the former England cricket captain was cleared of using racist language to Azeem Rafiq a former colleague at Yorkshire. Some years earlier in 2009 Vaughan was accused of saying to Rafiq and some other Asians that there were too many of you lot. Naturally enough no one could quite remember what was said or wasn’t all those years ago.

The consequences for Vaughan, Rafiq and others have been devastating. Vaughan lost his job, Rafiq has moved abroad and been the victim of further racist insults and intimidation online.

If Vaughan had been found guilty of racially abusing Rafiq it would have meant he never worked again in any job related to cricket. Rafiq too was discovered to have described Jewish people online in a way that he should not have.

But the lesson from all of these cases is the same. Even if the SNP MSP was the victim of an unpleasant practical joke about bikini waxing, it hardly merited calling the police. Even if Michael Vaughan described some of his colleagues as you lot it hardly merits him losing his job more than a decade later. Even if Azeem Rafiq said something stupid about Jewish people it hardly merits him having to move abroad.

I grew up in a school in rural Aberdeenshire. There were no ethnic minorities. We routinely used words like “poofter”, “lezzie” and racist words beginning with N and P and W. Everyone did.

When I first lived in a city where there were some people from ethnic minorities, we described the P shop and going for a C when we should have said Chinese.

The point is that everyone I knew as a child and a teenager and young adult sometimes used homophobic and racist language. Should we all be punished and cancelled for it decades later?

Let’s look at society in Yorkshire. There are large numbers of Asian people whose families came from places like Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many of these people live in streets and areas of cities where others of the same origin are the majority. It may be that they do so because they fear the racism of white people. But I wonder if these people ever use unpleasant words about their white neighbours. There no doubt exist unpleasant even racist words about non-Muslims, Hindus, Jews and white people. I wonder if these words are ever said the privacy of people’s homes. I wonder if white people are ever refused jobs in certain shops and businesses because of the colour of their skin and their religious beliefs.

Racism homophobia and other hate crimes have become the unforgivable sin in modern Britain. But they are unforgivable sins of which we are all guilty. Which of us has never said something that might constitute a hate crime at home or among friends? I doubt there is a single British person of any race or religion who has never made a dubious joke or said something insulting or unpleasant about someone else. If you are without sin, then throw the first stone at me because I am a sinner.

Yet despite the modern tendency to classify an unwanted bikini wax appointment as a hate crime and to dig up conversations from more than a decade ago that no one can remember clearly, Britain is a far less hateful place than it was when I was young.

Most of us try to get on with people of all races and religions when we come across them. I haven’t witnessed a single racist or homophobic incident at work or during leisure in recent years. I don’t hear people using racist language. Homosexuality is accepted by nearly everyone. It’s the business of homosexuals who they live with not me.

Despite large numbers of people of different races still living separate lives, Britain is demonstrably less racist than it was. The First Minister of Scotland, Prime Minister of the UK and Mayor of London are all South Asians. The leader of the Labour Party in Scotland is too.

If we were all as hateful as the SNP MSP appears to think this would not have happened. Instead, I suspect rather a lot of SNP supporters have said hateful xenophobic things about England, Britain, or Westminster.

We are all just human beings who make mistakes and say stupid harmful things out of ignorance and malice. But because we are human beings we need a bit more forgiveness rather than cancellation.