Okay. No more Benadryl for me. The hay fever was terrible, but this sleepiness is worse. I skipped a dose yesterday to ensure I didn’t sleep through the podcast, but I took one just before I went to bed last night, thinking that the effects would have worn off by the morning. They hadn’t. Holy crap! That’s either powerful stuff or I have a low resistance to pharmaceuticals. I’m struggling to wake up. My brain is fuzzy and every time I close my eyes I begin to dream. It’s taken me ages (and about two naps) to write even these few words, which won’t amount to much of anything. It’s a shame. I had things I wanted to write about today that wasn’t about Liverpool becoming champions.
What I did intend to write about was the Maxine Peake story yesterday and my response to it. It made me realise, again, that there really is no innocence in the world. There’s no room for it.
Maxine Peake said something that definitely slipped from being a reasonable point about the industrialisation of security training and became a barely disguised attempt to blame Israel for all the ills of the world. Even if ex-IDF soldiers are teaching security to American cops, it doesn’t mean they created, perfected, or disseminated the knee-on-the-neck technique that killed George Floyd. This little nuance needed to be picked up, but it wasn’t when Long-Bailey praised the interview, which she only did because it was supportive of her version of Labour. Not that any excuse mattered. It was assumed that she was amplifying an antisemitic voice. She issued a retraction and apology, but it was too late. The toxicity leaked everywhere. It never becomes anything less than harmful.
I too had picked up on the militarization of police force angle, which interests me, yet does that mean I was also amplifying the antisemitism? I hope I wasn’t because I did also mention that there was a problem of tone with Peake’s original statement. Yet that didn’t feel enough at the time and perhaps it wasn’t. This is a problem of blogging quickly when stories pass before your eyes and you make quick judgements when rushing to go do something else. You have to be careful because leniency is rarely given, innocence never assumed. No matter how many times you preach moderation, there will always come a time when you don’t say the right password. You skip the all-important qualifying word or sentence: “No animals were harmed during the making of this film” or “This game represents a diversity of ethnic and religious views and was made by a team representing a variety of cultures and backgrounds.”
This doesn’t just happen around antisemitism, of course. It’s racism, sexism, ageism, trans-ism… The list of isms seems to grow by the year. Purity tests become endless. Every day you’re expected to derive from first principles that you’re not a bad person. Yet there’s always a moment when you’ll slip and say something that can be read the wrong way. That’s always problematic when it comes to comedy but especially cartooning. Was that body-shaming when you drew somebody too large? Draw a nose the wrong way and you’re engaged in antisemitic tropes, even if you didn’t realise that your subject was Jewish. You end up checking people’s heritage before you draw them, assuming by that point that you still want to draw them. Often, it’s just not worth the trouble. Because take a skin colour a tone too far one way or the other and you’re either erasing black culture or pushing your cartoon into the awful backwaters of historical racism. Don’t mock an accent. Don’t mock a class. Don’t mock anything about the person. Ad hominem is no longer permitted beyond this point.
Yet the simple fact is that I’ve never liked Raheem Sterling. Never liked him when he played for Liverpool, where he was a disruptive presence, clearly pushing for a move to a “bigger club”. Never liked his swagger. Hated the huge M16 tattoo on his leg. Didn’t like the way he squared up against Joe Gomez when on England duty. Yet he becomes a high-profile figure in the fight against racism. I support that. I think he’s done good things. Yet I still don’t like him. And even as I write this, I sit here wondering how I parenthesise that to again point out that it’s still entirely a Liverpool thing. He’s not booed because he’s black. He’s booed because he was always a deeply selfish player who put his own ambitions before those of the club.
The constant need for qualifying clauses becomes exhausting but I also wonder how sensible debates can ever be had in this world of hair triggers and perpetual offence. The Black Lives Matter sparked a conversation about systemic racism that disappeared the moment somebody attacked Churchill’s statue. We rarely have serious debates about our electoral system without it eventually turning into a debate about the monarchy. America won’t even address the fundamental problems with its Constitution because it will be seen as an attack on gun ownership. And, of course, there’s no way peace in the Middle East will ever come about so long as the language of settlement is wrapped around the totems of religious identity on both sides of the divide.
I’m not sure what the answer might be; not in a world where J.K. Rowling can be demonised by trying to tackle one of the most difficult conversations of the day in words that were carefully chosen, life experiences that were painful to recount. Is it just a case of choosing our words more carefully or might it be that the words have already become toxic that our path to any solution is blocked off to us?
Starmer undoubtedly did the right thing on Thursday and it does prove that he takes the problems of antisemitism inside Labour seriously. Yet I can’t help but wonder where is the growth that follows? When does Labour have that difficult conversation about the language it uses when discussing Israel? When do they learn to debate without using the tropes of antisemitism? How do they stop this happening again?
The answer is: they probably don’t. Nobody does. People are rooted in their belief that others are deliberately misinterpreting what they say. And it’s not just Labour who have this problem. This is everywhere where issues are polarized. There’s distrust everywhere and it now feels like that’s all we have: the purity tests failed, reputations defiled, and points scored. I’m not even sure what these scores amount up to. There’s no growth. No prizes to be won. Just hollow victories to be claimed by everyone.