No, anti-Welsh bigotry is not the last acceptable form of racism
Rod Liddle’s vile commentary on the Severn Bridge renaming debate has seen a backlash of justified outrage, as well as practical actions to try and make him and his paper accountable for it (such as PCO Arfon Jones reporting it to IPSO, not that they took it seriously).
There’s no doubting the connection between the UK Government’s disregard for public consultation and strength of feeling, and the tired tropes wheeled out by Cymrophobes like Liddle.
Prejudice and a hamstrung form of self-government that leaves Wales marginalised in the UK mean, in my view, that anti-Welshness has real-world impact, and comments about Cymraeg and Wales are not harmless.
This is real, it needs a light shone on it as often as possible and it should be combatted robustly.
However, there’s this curious argument that keeps popping up in defences of Wales and the Welsh Language.
It is that anti-Welsh bigotry is the “last acceptable” kind of bigotry or racism. It’s often paired with the invitation to thought experiment: “can you imagine the outrage/legal consequences if Welsh/Wales were replaced with x group/minority/language?”.
This seems unhelpful in my view, even before you consider whether BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Welsh people experience these sorts of debates as exclusionary or dominated by White people’s ideas of what it means to be Welsh.
Conversations I’ve had give me a pretty clear sense that many do.
There’s a larger and more difficult conversation we need to have, in my view, about the relationships between Welsh identities and race, and what we choose to understand race to be.
I suggest, for example, that accepting mainstream and anglicised dictionary or legal definitions of “race” or any other form of forced social hierarchy isn’t necessarily a good practice for revolutionaries or seekers of justice.
This is especially true if the real experiences of oppressed people and communities, not to mention the weight of history, actually add nuance or outright contradict those definitions.
It’s unfortunate it even needs to be said that anti-Welshness is not the “last acceptable form of bigotry” (which is a line we’re not the first or only ones to use anyway; it’s sometimes employed when discussing normalised anti-Gypsy and Traveller sentiment).
In her piece on this site Elen Roberts imagined the outcome if Liddle had suggested a theoretical bridge between China and Japan be named something that mocked their languages as he did with Welsh.
She also offered an example of what that suggestion may be, rather than leaving it to the imagination.
Ironically, there hasn’t been an awful lot of backlash to that, but is employing offensive language about a group of people in order to make a point really acceptable when you’re not from that group?
Either way, few (White) people seem to have thought there was any problem with it.
Elen also suggested that such actions would face far more severe consequences, legally, than anti-welsh abuse.
I don’t want to give the impression singling Elen’s piece out here; I’ve seen these comments made pretty widely. The reality doesn’t necessarily stack up to these views.
Islamophobia has been described as “passing the dinner table test”, BAME people are constantly told their experiences of racism aren’t that serious, that they’re playing the race card and that no offence was meant so they should stop being so sensitive.
And, as I’ve already touched on, anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller sentiment could be one of the least talked about forms of bigotry in our country.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call out anti-Welshness, or rally, or petition. We should.
One of the most annoying derailments of this debate is the suggestion that there are “more important things to focus on/spend your time on”.
Not only is this patronising – language and names hold real power – but, well, humans can multitask and care about many things without it being a competition for most important issue.
And that’s kind of the point. We don’t need anti-Welshness to be uniquely “acceptable” for it to be wrong and to oppose it.
If anything, it surely validates our complaints to acknowledge that when it comes to Rod Liddle and other bigots, they’ve got form and regularly get away with abusing all sorts of people and groups (assuming we realised that. I have to admit I’d never read anything else he’s written).
But nor do we need to try and equate it with other forms of bigotry. The Welsh language, its heritage and modern life, and all Welsh citizens deserve defending on their own merits, and with as much awareness of their complex needs and diversity as possible.
There are plenty of people and struggles around the world this work can find common cause with, can ally with.
The trick is to stand shoulder to shoulder with and show up for other groups rather than misuse or misrepresent their struggles as a means of legitimising our own, especially when our own relationships with various other groups can be complicated.
Solidarity is a bit of an art, and we can do it right if we try (sign the “Windrush Generation” amnesty petition for starters).
It’s very important to state that the argument I’m making here is being made in other spaces by other people, especially by BAME people.
I’m making it too because I don’t believe enough of us are listening and reflecting, and I hope we can imagine just a bit from our own experience of Wales being marginalised and dismissed just how exhausting it must be to continuously have to remind people you exist.
I hope we can rethink our ideas, language and methods so that those who go unrepresented whenever we’re on the march for our idea of Welshness feel like their realities and voices – as well as their doubts and criticisms – are held as equal.
They too must be part of building a transformed and modern idea of Wales and Welshness that’s really worth defending.