Letters to the Museum

Rock Against Racism

Dear Dr. Pilgrim,

I'm sure you're very busy, but I'm writing on the off-chance that you'll have time to read this. My name is Thomas Birch and I am a 28 year old white man who lives on the outskirts of London, England. I want to thank you for the work you do. I just watched your lecture from Grand Rapids in February and was reduced to tears by the foul artifacts and the lies and hatred people continue to spread through them.

My wife and a friend of ours have arranged to put on a concert for the charity Rock Against Racism since a particularly nasty group of racist bullies, calling themselves the EDL, have started demonstrating in towns around the UK -- supposedly against 'radical Islam', but in reality against pretty much anyone who isn't Anglo-Saxon. And these 'demonstrations' tend to just turn into race riots -- they'll show up outside a mosque chanting offensive slogans and then indulge in what is genuinely referred to by the disgusting epithet of 'Paki-bashing'.

A St. George's Day parade in Ruislip, a town just three miles from me, degenerated into street brawls when the EDL showed up. One of the people who lives down the road I live on is a candidate for the National Front, who I'm sure you know are a white supremacist political party. The racism is getting more and more widespread as the monetary crisis deepens. So today we three were walking around Ruislip distributing flyers for this concert we are putting on. We make, it has to be said, an almost comically 'other' trio -- I am a disabled wheelchair user, my wife Tala is an Arab and our friend Steven is homosexual. Needless to say, none of us are entirely strangers to mindless prejudice. The thing is, I said to Steven that I genuinely hoped that one day, I might convince a card-carrying, National-Front -- supporting, EDL-demo-attending racist that their views are wrong. To, as it were, 'convert' them. By talking. Steven thought I was joking. I found this very disheartening and descended into something of a slough of despond. Steven's right, I thought, the best I can hope for is to maybe make a few fence-sitters come down on the right side of the fence. I felt like a fool for thinking I could change such people -- for even trying to.

Then I watched your Grand Rapids lecture. It made me cry. It made me realize there is hope, that there must continue to be hope. You spoke of the progress of white disgust at racist images. You spoke of the power of talking openly about our fears, feelings and prejudices about race, about wanting to create a society where people could actually discuss these things in the open. I realized that is exactly what I am trying to do. Bring it all out in the open and lance the boil -- because, to take the metaphor to its conclusion, if one doesn't it will eventually burst of its own accord and that is far, far more messy and dangerous. I want to share the disgust I feel at racism. Maybe I never will persuade that dyed-in-the-wool racist that they are wrong, maybe I'll only coax a few fence-sitters down. But I'm not going to stop now. I owe it to everyone who's been a victim of racism -- and more importantly I owe it to everyone who has yet to come along so they don't have to be victims.

Thank you again, Dr. Pilgrim -- I was faltering and your courageous work has put me back on track.

Thomas Birch, London, UK

P.S. This is a very long shot, but If you just happen to be in Ruislip, Middlesex, England at 7.00 p.m. BST this Sunday, 25th July 2010 -- do drop in to Sweeney's Bar for our Rock Against Racism gig!

-- July 21, 2010


BACK