The customary brilliance of A.N. Wilson took an acerbic turn in the diary column of Saturday’s Financial Times. Wilson was travelling to Germany by train, enjoying the tranquility of the carriage in which he was sitting, when the arrival at Cologne brought passengers Wilson was not glad to see:
The quiet murmur of German conversation is broken by the barks of Chicago and Cincinnati. Huge-buttocked tourists, their bare arms trembling like blancmange, wander bewildered into the carriage, trundling vast suitcases on wheels. Probably these waist-high Brobdingnagian items of luggage are simply their lunch-boxes. I try to tell myself that these noisy travellers are human beings like us Europeans, down beneath the blubber; but I fail to convince myself.
The Atlantic is ever-widening, the gulf between America and ourselves imaginatively uncrossable. The Americans on the train with me perhaps came to Europe to study northern Gothic or paint in watercolours but I doubt it. Might they not, like Republican candidate Mitt Romney, believe in the Book of Mormon, or, like what I take to be the majority of their compatriots, want to nuke the antiquities of Isfahan?
By the time the train has reached Aachen and we are gazing through the window at the cathedral containing the tomb of Charlemagne, the beautiful German toilets are blocked and out of action. How strange that so many of my own compatriots, the supposed Conservatives, apparently cherish a “special relationship” with these waddling fanatics more than our shared historic roots with European culture.
To be invited to write the diary column in the Financial Times is a measure of the respect with which A.N. Wilson is regarded and there will have been many readers who will have recognized the caricature of the worst sort of American tourist, but he might as easily have caricatured Germans, or British, or Irish. Living in a country at the receiving end of German-dominated European economic policy, there have been moments when caricatures of Germans seemed to find correspondence in reality, but it would not occur to suggest that German government ministers were not human beings, or that they were fanatics.
What if, instead of mentioning ‘Chicago and Cincinnati’, the reference had been to ‘Lagos and Abuja’, and had spoken about Nigerians and not Americans? Would there not have been howls of protest? Would the editor of the Financial Times not have decided to withdraw the piece before it was committed to newsprint?
Having enjoyed lunch with a friend who lives in San Francisco, whose doctorate is from Chicago, it was difficult to imagine that he lived in a community where non-humans barked at each other, or that his nation was one of waddling fanatics. A.N. Wilson does not actually believe the caricature he describes, but that he is able to do so demonstrates that the arbiters of what constitutes racism clearly consider certain nationalities as not having a protected status.
Racism appears not be racism if it is directed at groups regarded as politically incorrect. Be an overweight American, and people may say what they like about you.