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How British Racism Differs to Racism Around the Rest of the World

A conversation with comedian Jamali Maddix, who travelled the world meeting racists and bigots for his new VICELAND show 'Hate Thy Neighbour'.

by Joe Bish
21 November 2016, 2:11pm

Even though we're edging towards the second quarter of the 21st century – i.e. The Future – we still don't have flying cars or robot butlers, and, somehow, racism is still rife. If anything, it's actually getting worse, or at least plateauing on a steady straight line of international bigotry.

Stand-up comedian Jamali Maddix is intrigued by this continuing phenomenon. Why do we love to hate each other so much? And what can be done to cure this worldwide epidemic? The east Londoner travelled the globe to meet people whose hearts are filled with contempt to discover what makes them tick and see what he can learn in the process, for his new show, Hate Thy Neighbour, on our TV channel, VICELAND.

We sat down with him recently to discuss the EDL, Black Israelites and the supposed black-on-white slave trade (which, btw, did not happen).

VICE: First off: is racism funny?
Jamali Maddix: Yes. Well. Yes, but not racism. Not the actual act of racism. But what I find funny is the ignorance. I think it's the ridiculousness of it, because ridiculousness is funny – and the idea of judging someone purely based on their race or heritage or whatever is ridiculous to all non-racist people. Obviously young black dudes getting shot in America is not funny.

How do you think domestic prejudice – home-grown, classic British racism – squares up to American racism?
Everyone's got their own type of culture with race and their own type of history with race. English racism, I find, comes from a different place. It comes from England at one time having the biggest empire and starting the slave trade, in some senses, and, you know, going over to countries and saying their culture is inferior. Going over to India and Kenya and all these places and putting a fucking flag in there. England's racism is different, England's racism is soul.

What do you mean?
If someone goes up and says, "nigger" or "paki" we get horrified; it's like, "What the fuck." Even people who are UKIP supporters would be horrified with that shit. But we don't appreciate our subtle racism. We think subtle racism is OK. So English racism comes from subtlety, while American racism doesn't. American racism is more open, because I think they've also sort of had an admittance to their faults. They had the trans-Atlantic slave trade and all of this shit. I don't know if it's because I'm a British dude or what, but we always compare the struggles of racism [with America] – but they're different. England's still in this "Empire was good for the world" mentality.

Do you think the subtlety makes it easier for British racists to say it isn't racist?
Of course. I prefer honest racism. I think subtle racism has become ingrained in society. It's the idea of the upper classes baiting working class people to hate those who have more of a similar life than they do. It's like, "Don't blame us, blame the fucking guy – blame Raj, who probably has the same fucking life as you," you know? But they can do it subtly, and we give them this pat on the back, like, "You're not racist, you're a fucking patriot, you're nationalistic, you love the Queen and country, you're trying to preserve this false idea."

So of course it makes it much easier to be racist. And we've mainstreamed our racism. We've had political parties and undertones, and we've shifted the whole country's idea on racial undertones. Look at Brexit. Not everyone voted for Brexit on immigration, but a fuck-load did, man. And people who say that ain't true need to get their heads out of their fucking arse. If you ask the majority of people why they voted Brexit – yeah, they have some other reasons, but most of it is immigration. That's just a fact of the matter. But you can have a debate about immigration; that's OK. The issue is that we are blaming all of our problems on that shit, because we're missing the real points and what is really fucking up this country.

In the UK episode of Hate Thy Neighbour you seem to get on with a guy from the EDL pretty well. You say you prefer more open racism; do you think that's why you could tolerate him?
I respect honesty on all levels. Even if the honesty is against my views, I respect it. But at the same time, in his mind, he was being subtle. Though, for him, being subtle isn't subtle.

Yeah there's a strange point in that episode where he's said so many clearly racist things while telling you they're not racist, to the point that you have to ask him what he thinks racism actually is. There are a lot of strange mental gymnastics when it comes to justifying these thoughts and behaviours.
But do you know what? He's not justifying it to me at that point; he's justifying it to himself. He's a racist – it is what it is – but there's levels to this shit. Even to him racism is a dirty word, because over here we've dirtied it, and rightly so. He knows it's a bad thing, but he's trying to find someone to blame for his situation. Again, it comes down to someone who is in a better position telling him, "Don't blame people in my position; it's that fucking guy over there you don't even know." In his head he's built up this character, the worst case scenario of a person, or a Muslim, or this and that.

Do you think there comes a time when we have to stop blaming hatred and racism on economic stature, and instead people have to start taking responsibility for their own attitudes?
It's not an excuse, but we can't negate the reason. This idea that all working class people are racist is fucking bullshit; rich people are way more racist than working class people. I think Akala summed it up once: "It goes from the top down, not the bottom up." Frustration can send you far left-wing or it can send you to the far-right. And the problem is, these young, disenfranchised white working class people, if we're going to take them as their own bracket – we shouldn't do that, but if we are, just for argument's sake – what happens is someone who is charismatic and is well educated and is relatable comes to them and goes, "Hey, you see all the problems in your life, you see why you're angry and frustrated, why you're not getting what you think you're owed? It's because of this." And they build them up and give them these straw man arguments and fake statistics and give them "evidence". So we got to try and get people who speak his language, who counteract the intelligent dude who comes and gives him bullshit.

Did you ever feel yourself coming round to the ideas these guys were espousing?
No, I'm pretty well set in my ideas. I went in there with somewhat of an open mind, to be like, 'Okay, I'm going to hear what you have to say.' The correlation of the same sort of arguments and ideas is scarily similar. After the first couple of times you kinda go, "I'm hearing the same thing, and none of you have solved it. So how can you be right? Your whole politics and all of your ideas are about judging someone based on race." I don't understand it, even now. No one convinced me, like, "Yeah, maybe it's because someone's skin colour's different that their inner workings are different."

One of the most shocking moments is when the EDL guy tells you he believes there was a black-on-white slave trade that predates the Atlantic slave trade. Did you ask him where he heard that?
Yeah, and he just didn't fucking know. That's it, though, innit? No one is educating this dude. But I bet you whoever told him that told him in his language. Whoever told him that tapped into his frustrations to make him believe an altered version of history. And that's worrying – that someone can make you believe in an altered version of history. To be so sure of it. That's terrifying, to have conviction in a fallacy.

READ: Dear White People, Please Stop Pretending Reverse Racism Is Real

I suppose that's how all prejudice throughout the history of the world begins, right?
That's it – the fact you can believe something like that, and it's to negate someone else's struggle. He was like, "You know, black people always go on about slavery," because I genuinely believe no one has told him the reason why black people still bring up slavery. That it was 300 years of slavery, people were born and died slaves, and then they are free, but they aren't really free, and they have to go through all that, and its civil rights, and then its like, "Now be a part of society and have wealth and have self and do the normal thing." These people have only been free for one, two generations, really? And even then, shit didn't really get good before the 80s. So it's sort of like using falsified evidence to try and take that from someone. Like, "Stop complaining, I have my struggle too."

His problem is that there's the left-wing who tell him that he has white privilege, and he feels like he hasn't seen any of that, because no one has really explained to him what white privilege is. Someone sold him this idea of white privilege where he could walk down and say, "Give me a job." We both know that's not what white privilege really is, and so he's like, "I've got struggle" and has to find this evidence of white people being black people's slaves. "I'm struggling, too" is what he's really saying. So it's just a shame that he can't put it across in a more positive way. Because I think it's OK for him to feel that he's not getting a fair crack, and he's not getting this and that, and for me to try and do something for him – but he's got this whole "white lives matter" thing because he needs a struggle and he needs to justify his struggle.

Do you think modern discourse about race is alienating people with impenetrable language – stuff like "white privilege"?
That goes back to my point that no one is telling him in his own language, and when I say "language" I don't mean English. I mean there are certain ways, there are certain things. Like me and you can have a conversation – where are you from?

South London.
I'm from east London, so we can have a conversation – but there are certain nuances we can have that someone from Oxford don't understand. It's cultural, and I think that's a good point you're making.

Lastly, you're a quarter Italian – did that heritage help at all in getting into the mind of a fascist?
[Laughs] No. I never grew up with my Italian side; it's just a genetic trait. I have no affinity with it, no cultural affinity with it. So I'm not the next Stalin, no.

Phew! Thanks, Jamali.

Catch 'Hate Thy Neighbour' this Wednesday at 10PM on VICELAND, Sky channel 153.

@joe_bish