CW: Racism, Anti-Semitism, prejudice, most things British.
I’m British, well more correctly – I’m English. I’m neither proud nor happy about it, indifferent is a more accurate description of my feelings towards nationality. The only nationality I have ever felt any shade of ‘pride’ for was my European status, now revoked. I’m also white, undeniably.
But this question, it keeps coming up. Time and time again, an article in The Times, The Independent, a BBC political talk show etcetera etcetera. Is Britain still racist? Well, I think a more accurate question would be, how is Britain not still racist?
In recent years we’ve had the likes of Munroe Bergdorf, Akala, Afua Hirsch and Reni Eddo-Lodge quite eloquently, simply and from a learned position, put forward that in actual fact – Britain is still racist.
They cite white supremacy, whiteness vs blackness, white-privilege, institutional racism, systemic racism, microaggressions, soft racism, subtle racism, casual racism, colonially inherited racism, internalised racism, NBPOC Racism, colourism from racism. It could go on.
The scholarly vocabulary available to any POC in this country that wishes to place a word upon their daily experiences in this society, is ample. But the average white person knows probably two of these words; racism and colonialism [the latter being some far distant relic of the Victorian age, eye roll].
Why is this?
Why is it that the only way white people understand racism is if it is the n-word in a movie? Yet they still insist on saying that word. Why is it that the only way we understand or empathise with racism is if it’s an abstract attack upon a POC, rather than something that is prevalent and real, to everyday life. Why is it that white people can’t say the word black or brown or any other racial descriptor in anything more than a whisper? Why is it that when you mention the word racism to a white person, they look awkward and fall quiet, as if they expect something awful to happen?
It’s because white people have no idea about race. Not a clue. Not an inkling as to what it means to be white, let alone a POC.
White people aren’t taught their race’s history as children, they are taught world history [read Europeans trying to take over the literal world]. Colonialism, Empire, Kings and Queens, Slavery and the World Wars. We don’t have a white history month, because history is white.
White people aren’t taught to try harder to be perceived better than the surrounding POC, they are taught that they are better than POC because to be British and successful, you have to be inherently white.
White people are defensive when someone calls out their racism because when a POC speaks out against racism, their voice is drowned out by 1000 angry white people. They feel comforted by the white voice and ignore the POC. They are allowed to say sorry and move on. Unchecked. Uneducated. Set to strike again.
This has been most notably highlighted with the anti-Semitism ‘scandal’ flooding our newspapers recently, just how badly we don’t get race – or actually, in this instance, we kind of do in the backwards sense.
Anti-Semitism is not a problem of the left, nor is it a problem of the labour party solely. Anti-Semitism is a societal problem. Not a British problem, a global problem. I defy anyone to deny the fact they grew up without hearing the word ‘Jew’ as an insult, without hearing jokes about Jewish people, without calling stereotypical Jewish ‘features’ ugly.
Anti-Semitism is rife, alive and so ingrained in our mental psyche that the vast majority of us aren’t even aware or don’t even care that it is so natural to us. Just. Like. Racism.
But why is this important when talking about racism? Well, the argument around this topic has showed that when faced with an issue of prejudice, people can act on it. Well, when society is faced with an issue of prejudice from a mostly white-passing community, then people can act on it.
Dianne Abbott MP, David Lammy MP, Sadiq Khan [and the aforementioned public figures and academics that I previously mentioned, and any and all non-white Britons] are constantly, relentlessly and violently threatened. Their lives are threatened. Their families are threatened, and they are constantly racially abused. The hate campaign that Dianne Abbott has been subjected to, especially, is horrific. She is a fucking queen for still standing to this day.
But when they stand up and call out racism, is it a national scandal? No. Are there newspapers calling out the prime minister or other leaders to ‘sort it out’? No. Why? Because racism isn’t important to white people. White people aren’t affected by racism. White people believe that they can actually be subjected to racism. They completely miss the concept of power. They believe the white narrative.
This is not me putting my hands up and declaring anti-Semitism is okay, acceptable or not a problem. This is me calling for intersectionality. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, the list could go on. They exist in parallel and overlapping lines to each other, they aren’t the same. Yet you can’t call out anti-Semitism without calling out racism, or transphobia.
The fact of the matter is, recent stories have made headlines because they are coming from white voices. There is a reason why we mourn the loss of 7 million Jewish people every year but ignore that there were separate concentration camps for POC, Roma communities and LGBTQ+.
White-passing Jewish lives mean more to white people than those that aren’t. It fits our narrative.
Because white people don’t experience racism, they only see racism for what it can be in front of them. A racial slur or cuss. Not much more, not much less. They have zero insight into what it means to be a POC, other than listening to hip-hop and gentrifying cultures. They lack the analytical prowess to understand that racism is what you’re taught, not necessarily what you do. You can internalise racist behaviour and not exhibit racist tendencies overtly. You [white reader] are racist, as are the majority of us.
So, whilst I lack the power to change the education system of the masses and while I am here; I’ll end this with some short musings on why Britain is racist, still, in the ways in which I was taught to be racist, as a child:
#growingupracist is hearing every single racial slur possible against POC before you’ve entered secondary school. With or without understanding of their meaning, and therefore you inappropriately use them as normalised vernacular. But you’re just (white) kids, so…
#growingupracist is hearing that black and brown folx steal your jobs and take social housing/benefits from those that need it – you hear that from the majority of your white family who take social housing/benefits outside of their needs, often breaking the law. But they’re white, so…
#growingupracist is unconsciously placing POC below you in worth due to only seeing them in subservient job roles; taxi drivers, delivery people, check out staff, public services. You have probably bullied their children at school, or at the very least not defended them against racist vitriol. But you’re just (white) kids, so…
#growingupracist is hearing everyone around you described as a ‘foreigner’ or some who has a ‘funny accent’, othering them immediately based on stereotypes that keep you in your comfort zone of being the superior. You grow up basing accents and poor English as a sign of education/intelligence. You barely got a C in your English GCSE. Your Indian doctor with the funny accent doesn’t know what he is doing. You’re white, so…
#growingupracist being told not to go to certain places in London due to their inherent ‘danger’ (read, large POC community). You’ll die there, get stabbed there, raped there. If you do pass through there with an adult, you’ll be told that it’s like ‘spot the white person’ or like ‘mini-Africa’. It’s England and you’re white, so…
#growingupracist is being told that if you ever brought a partner home that happens not to be white, you’d be disowned
#growingupracist is asking a white person where they grew up when you first meet opposed to asking a POC where they are really from
This is not an exhaustive list, it’s actually pretty vague. However, this is old news. These and this, none of this, is new information. Black and brown folx are saying this, and more, every day.