A response to Joseph Harker’s critics: This is how racism takes root
OBV's Parmila Kumari looks into the criticisms of Joseph Harker’s article, 'This is how racism takes root'.
Joseph Harker wrote an insightful piece for the Guardian on Sunday, in which he compared the Rochdale case to a similar spout of cases in Derby involving child-abusers who were mostly White. He compared the media responses to both cases, to highlight how racism “creeps into the consciousness of an entire nation”.
In his article, Harker explains how whilst the Rochdale case attracted national media interest, the Derby cases were not reported on so widely despite the similarities. Even when some papers picked up on the cases, there was an absent focus on the offenders’ religious or ethnic identities. This is surprising considering the media’s emphasis on the Rochdale gang being Muslim and the victims, White. Harker argues this focus on race in the Rochdale case made it look like there is something inherently perverted about Muslim culture. This is despite the statistical insignificance of the defendants being Asian when compared to rest of the cases in the U.K. Therefore it is wrong to make generalizations painting Muslim men as groomers.
Harker argues that the Rochdale case, as in the Derby case, represents an instance where men have had the opportunity and seized it in terms of young vulnerable girls who are regularly out late and wind-up in late-closing restaurants and minicab offices. Race has nothing to do with it; these men did what they did because they had the opportunity. He claims that the media’s overemphasis on the men’s ethnic and religious identities has occurred precisely because minorities do not have a strong enough voice to deny such racist generalizations about their communities. The effect of such scapegoating and blanket generalizations is that it clouds the issue and deters us from understanding how we can prevent further sexual exploitation of young girls.
This article has already caused 10+ pages worth of comments on the Guardian site. Some comments have welcomed the article as thought-provoking and logical, yet a good few have claimed that Harker’s argument is unsubstantiated and flawed. It is important to understand these criticisms, for us to gain a hold on to why his logic has been rejected and whether it should be refused currency in this debate.
Some comments pointed that there is a difference between the two cases in that the victims in the Rochdale case were all White (a different ethnicity to the men) and in the Derby cases the victims and offenders belonged to the same ethnic group. Therefore the Rochdale case should have been seen as a racially-aggravated crime. The problem with this argument is it does not differentiate between intentions- within the Rochdale context did those men actively choose those victims based on their race and religion? Or was it because, like Harker says, they opportunistically picked up young, vulnerable girls who regularly stayed out late-and these girls happened to be White?
The last criticism of Harker’s piece relates to the fact that his argument comes dangerously close to blaming women for being out at that time of day, and being so ‘easy’ to attain. It removes the blame from men, who are seen as not able to control their urges. Instead, this viewpoint claims, it is the objectification of women and not women themselves that should be blamed. This is a decent point and Harker’s argument could be easily interpreted as such by someone bent on misconstruing what he says.
However, despite acknowledging that it is those men that the blame lays squarely on, such comments then bizarrely blame culture and religion instead. One commenter stated, “…And this is not because of random perverts, it is because of deeply-held cultural and religious norms…these communities badly need to be taking a hard look at how they think about girls and women.” I agree. Just as white western communities, typically patriarchies themselves, also need to be doing. So there is no case for picking out Asian culture or Islam as erroneous to the exclusion of other cultures and religions.
Harker’s piece –which has attracted a deluge of comments with mixed reactions - is relevant to the debate despite what some critics say. The questions posed are worthy of consideration; and even if the debate feels never ending with both sides firmly planted in their individual stances, at least like any good piece it has opened up space for discussion.