The problem with prejudice – another perspective (part 2)

Last week, Sarah Champion was forced to resign from the Shadow Cabinet. What did she do wrong? Well she wrote an article for the Sun in which she said

“Britain has a problem with Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.”[1]

She was writing in response to another set of convictions against a gang that had been involved in grooming young teenage girls. There have been a number of such incidents in recent years including notably in Rotherham. These gangs include, although not exclusively, men from the Indian sub-continent.

Champion had to step down because in her political context such remarks were seen as unacceptable because they were potentially racist reflecting a bias/prejudice against Pakistanis and Muslims.

One person responded by saying:

“’Britain has a problem with men raping girls is a statement that better describes the situation.”[2]

Now one of the concerns expressed was that a broad statement that we have a problem with “Pakistani men” implicates all Pakistani men as potential rapists.  A quick response to that from a number of quarters has been that Champion’s statement no more implies that all Pakistanis are rapists than Abi Wilkinson’s statement implies that all men are rapists. Implicit in the statements is that the writers mean “some Pakistani men” and “some men.” Effective communication depends on an awareness that some things are implied and within certain conventions don’t need to be stated explicitly.

This is true -but by simply recognising that the statement implies “some” not all may leave us missing the point that the writers were saying something significantly more than “some men cause a problem.”  They were not saying that each and every man is either a rapist or a potential rapist but they were saying that men as a whole and the Pakistani-male population as a collective are in some way complicit in the actions of the few.

In other words, it is not just that there is a correlation between who commits these crimes and the community or gender they are from but that to some extent there is a cause.  The implication is that there are things about what a group in society values and prioritises that make it more likely for members of that group to behave in a certain way.

Let’s talk about men in general.

  1. If men live in a culture where pornography and violence are accepted norms, where women are treated as mere objects to possess and control and where even young girls are sexualised then that creates the environment in which some men act beyond even the accepted boundaries. Some people will move from eyeing up and commenting on to acting on.  For those reasons I agree with Abi Wilkinson’s comments. It is not just that some men rape, it is that much of male culture has a wrong, sinful attitude to women, girls and sexuality.
  2. There’s also a link to implicit bias here because within those values that dominate male attitudes, communications and actions are implicit attitudes towards what women and girls are like.
  3. But there’s also implicit bias towards men. We are running under assumptions about what it means to be a man and how we demonstrate our masculinity.

So, then we come to the more explosive issue. What about the possibility that there is a problem with men from specific cultures?

  1. The reason why this is controversial is the risk that the statement is caused by implicit bias and also that it will fuel implicit bias. There is after all something fearsome that plays intot he hands of headline writers for certain parts of the media and the political agenda of others when we identify a danger with one section of the community.  It isn’t just about the statement itself but that in context it may be bound up with belief that people from certain backgrounds are not part of the wider British society but are an outside predatory threat come with intent to harm and rob from the indigenous population.
  2. But as we saw with the previous post, just because there is a risk of implicit bias does not mean that there isn’t truth in the statement. If we stop and say “you can’t say that, it’s racist, sexist, classist” then we may never get to the truth.  It is legitimate to ask, just as we have with men in general whether or not specific groups have attitudes and values that increase the risk.  That’s a conversation that is needed but probably needs willing participation from within the community.
  3. As with the example of men in general, there is the risk that implicit and in this case overt prejudice against a section of the community can contribute to the risk.  If others see you as not belonging and a threat, if that actually leaves you isolated and vulnerable then the temptation is to conform to that perception to see yourself as in a battle.

Linked to the question about men is the attitudes that young white girls -and particularly those from estate background might have towards themselves.  What is their identity?  How do they get on in life, what do they look for in relationships? What has been modelled for them by their fathers and brothers.  Note as well that here again we run the risk of implicit bias.

Finally, we can talk about contexts, causes and risk factors but none of this takes away from the individual responsibility that each person has for their sin and for crime.  None of this excuses the wicked choice that each of those men made to exploit, abuse and harm for their own selfish gratification. This helps us to think more deeply about our doctrine of Sin.  A biblical doctrine fo Sin recognises that we all sinned in Adam, that this means our human nature is to sin and that the environment we live in teaches us how to sin but also that we have personal responsibility for our actions so that God judges and punishes sin justly.