Racism and Lewis Hamilton

It's hard to think of any racists who aren't pathetic physical and mental specimens, proving beyond

There has been some more furore about Spanish racism towards Lewis Hamilton. I hate racism and everyone in Spain is racist and so I hate them all. Which isn't racist, because the Spanish are not a race. What I am is xenophobic and generalising and wrong.

But not as stupid and wrong as ALL Spanish people. All right, let’s be fair – SOME Spanish people.

The recent Spanish stupidity has meant though that the papers have reprinted this unbelievable picture of some Spanish people cleverly mocking Hamilton with a sophisticated satire.

It not only confounds me that anyone could be allowed to do such a thing and not be stopped by the people around them, but it also demonstrates how stupid racists are. In fact it's hard to think of any racists who aren't pathetic physical and mental specimens, proving beyond doubt that the idea of white supremacy is bogus. They prove the opposite of what they believe just by their own existence.

I mean, look at that picture and consider what must have gone through these Spanish idiots' heads. "Hey, I hate Lewis Hamilton. How can we satirise him?"

"Hmmm, hang on, he is a black man. Why don't we dress up as black people, by painting our faces, but nothing else including our necks, black? That will show him!"

"But how will he know who we are meant to be?"

"Let's all wear T-shirts that say "Hamilton's Family" on them."

"Yeah, brilliant. But let's make sure that they look pathetically home made and that we spell family with two l's"

"Yes. But what will be saying exactly by doing this?"

"We'll be saying that Lewis Hamilton is black and so are his family. That will show him."

"Is that really enough? I mean surely he would know that he is black and in any case, isn't his mother white?"

"You're right, it's not enough. For the satire to work and to make him, not us, look stupid, we'll have to put some real effort into the costumes. All the money we have saved on T-shirts and an English dictionary we can spend on getting some authentic wigs to give us the appearance of black people. Now what kind of wigs should we get?"

"Let's get a load of grey wigs. That's the kind of hair that black people have. They all have grey hair."

"Yes, brilliant. That will show him. We will have successfully satirised him then. It will be like him looking in a mirror and seeing his family staring back at him."

"Oh wait and let's get some thick spectacles as well...."

"Why?"

"Because it will make Hamilton look stupid. Not us. Him."

What is truly incredible about this is not just that they thought this was a good idea, but not one single idiot amongst them was a clever enough idiot just to take one step up the ladder of idiocy and say, "For our brilliant joke to work,shouldn't we really at least get some big, black Afro wigs so we look like we're in the Jackson 5. Rather than these grey ones, which are a bit confusing to be honest. Are we just saying that all Hamilton's family are old?"

"Not just old. They have very bad eye sight too."

"Do they? I mean if we want to be racist and funny, surely we have to do a bit better. I mean, for example, we could wear monkey masks, implying that black people are monkeys, rather than just implying black people are black.... with grey hair.... and bad eyesight. Which I don't think I've ever heard anyone say."

"No, no. Just painting our faces black is a much better satire. Lewis Hamilton is going to look like a right prick now. Don't forget we've got "Hamilton's Familly" written on our T shirts. We're really showing the world who the worst fucking idiots in the world are."

"Hamilton and his "familly"?"

"Yes, exactly. I can't wait to see the photos of this. We are going to look brilliant."

The fact that I, a non-racist, can immediately think of "better" racist jokes to make, shows how ignorant and pathetic all racists are. They are a subclass of morons and I really think the world would be a better place if we could gather all the people who are stupid enough to think that their race is superior to any of the others and make them go and live on an island somewhere. Entertainingly there would be racists of every different colour on this new Eden and they'd have to fight things out between them. Whilst the rest of us, who don't think that just having a different coloured skin to someone else is worth remarking on can get on with trying to resolve more important issues.

My favourite racists though are the people who use religious justifications for their bigotry. They believe that God, despite creating all peoples, actually favours their race above the other ones. They essentially think that God is racist, which is quite an insult. That he created all the different people, but they are the ones that he actually likes and supports. Or maybe they believe that different gods created the different races, each preferring their own kind, all in competition with each other. Yet the gods all managed to put aside their differences for long enough to agree to design a basic template so that each separate race of human beings would be sexually compatible with the others and genetically almost entirely identical.

Anyone who thinks that any all powerful all-seeing God would be petty and pathetic enough to prefer one race or nation above all the others is a fucking idiot, as ridiculous as these fools in their misspelled T-shirts. Really it should be enough to make them realise that gods were created by different races and nations as talismans rather than the other way round.

Don't use an imaginary man in the sky to justify your own stupidity. And if you think that the colour of someone's skin, or their hair or their eyes or where they live is an indication that they are inferior to you, then alas it is you who is the inferior one. And so you should dress up as a poor satire of yourself, wearing a T-shirt saying "I am mee".

But then after Hamilton’s incredible and mesmerizing victory I saw that my anger was not justified. When Hamilton's family came out to congratulate him, it turned out they had ridiculous grey hair, comedy thick glasses and some kind of skin pigment condition where their faces and nothing else were black as boot polish. They were also wearing home-made, mis-spelt T-shirts saying "Hamilton's Familly" and waving their arms around in a stupid fashion.

Those people in the crowd in Spain hadn't been racists at all, merely impressionists and they had got the Hamilton familly off to a tee. How could I have judged them and their country so unfairly. There’s a lesson for us all there. Somewhere.

Richard Herring began writing and performing comedy when he was 14. His career since Oxford has included a successful partnership with Stewart Lee and his hit one-man show Talking Cock
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.