What Rhymes with UK Racism?

The ebony and ivory of piano keys


We’ve been asked to write about racism in the UK. Are we covertly racist or genuinely inclusive? I immediately sat and hammered away a draft, thinking I had a pretty good sense of things; subjectively, of course. Waking up the next day, I sat for my morning movements while doom-scrolling the news, as is tradition – and oh my good Lord in hell.

Any delicate appraisal of the situation seems folly when the first thing I see is a black schoolgirl getting beaten-up by three white classmates, egged on by a mother and with very slow to little reaction by the teaching staff. Scroll down and Twitter famous socialists who helped bring down Corbyn with cries of antisemitism are now dancing to the beats of the rod they made for their own backs. 

Like homophobic Christians frequenting gay bathhouses, it always seems that the ones who’ve said racism is no joke end up being the ones turning up in old photos dressed as Nazis, “as a joke”. Scroll down for an unrelated segue and find civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton arguing that Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle, was treated so poorly on account of the colour of her skin.

None of this is particular shocking, I guess, but speaking of my supposed ‘pretty good sense of things’, I’d honestly thought we’d risen above this backwards caveperson nonsense.

Growing up in the eighties and nineties in Portsmouth, I was no stranger to good ol’ honest British bigotry. My Grandmother used to say that it wasn’t that she didn’t like – and then she used the slur word for Pakistanis – but she just thought they smelt bad. Our family doctor – the woman I remember giving me my polio vaccine – was from Pakistan. My stepfather would delight in calling me the most heinous racist epithets whenever I caught so much as a suntan, due to my already “dark” features, and yet he was a fan of progressive Star Trek and African American singer Nat King Cole

My point is that there is this disconnect. A spectrum of delusion from these examples. From pointedly racist, whether conscious or not, to the ‘micro-aggression’ of asking someone at work where they’re really from, but I really hadn’t seen it much in the British since I left after college.

You see, small minded bigotry, bullying and random acts of casual violence were top among my reasons for leaving the country as soon as I was able. I wasn’t really around for most of the two decades of what I can only call the gentrification of Portsmouth and, while abroad, I learnt that racism isn’t by any means a British phenomenon, and certainly not a white thing.

Denmark, where I spent most of my time abroad, is the poster child for cosy egalitarianism and democratic socialism, and yet some of the shit that comes out of their mouths is just pure ghastly. I used to live with a nurse who thought foreigners shouldn’t be allowed a vote – and she made it clear I wasn’t the particular kind of foreigner to which she was referring.

Then there was the date who bundled me from her home one night with a handful of coins for the taxi after I’d had the temerity to suggest that referring to the minorities in her town with a collective N-word was a just a teensy bit racist. She was incredibly offended, irate and boiling with it; showing that oxygen is indeed the best disinfectant. That’s why free speech is so damn good – because if she’d been scared to utter such ideas or censored entirely then I may have risked impregnating the bumbling clown.

My point is, having returned to England around the time of Brexit, and on reflection for this messy rant, I’ve seen a regression in attitudes amongst the young, and really around the Millennial generation. Maybe it’s just because I never hung about with racists, but, on the whole, I couldn’t say I saw the Brits as worse than other white people. And if you think I’m saying that racism is just a white thing, may I point out the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, an event which former Home Secretary Priti Patel has said was her family’s reason for escaping the country; even though they emigrated years before and she was born in London.

Call me cynical but… is a phrase that demands its own shortcut on my keyboard for writing these things, but having Patel and Braverman delight in sending desperate immigrants off to camps in Africa then call us racists for suggesting Rwanda has had a bit of a dodgy history, isn’t that a bit rich?

I wouldn’t be the first to call these the actions of a cult who don’t mind if your nan freezes or your kid gets scurvy from malnutrition, just so long as nobody can call the Tories racist. Foreign aid has been slashed and then we wonder why the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, risk drowning to knock on our front door.

To put it crudely, having POC in the cabinet ensures an end to racism in the same way five years with Cressida Dick as Met Police Commissioner meant women were safe from being raped and killed by policemen.

As a white man, can I even say something like that? I do wonder. I mean, you might hear from my fellow pale-faces that we don’t deserve a voice in this fight; I would disagree, since this is hardly an argument where both sides have valid points. I’ve published my thoughts on Transgender rights (being human rights but also, shock horror, that cis women are also humans) though I’ve come to think that that’s probably an argument the chicks should be having amongst themselves. Certainly, as I’ve said before – and reminding you of the performative woke of Twitter anti-racists – I wouldn’t leave any of my friend’s young daughters alone with a male feminist.

Despite all that, I had thought we were improving as a species, but I was clearly as wrong about that as I am about everything else. With racism in the UK, while it’s one of a rainbow of bigotries found at institutional level, I’m not sure I’d say it’s even that simple. We’re dealing with reactionary biases on an animalistic level. It’s not just Brits, it’s not just white people, it’s a worldwide phenomenon to fear the unknown, the unfamiliar.

It’s the demonisation, the othering, that allows us to fall back on our base instincts of tribalism and fear. Our brains haven’t had time to evolve and understand that there isn’t a tiger in every dark corner; that an unfamiliar hand, offered in friendship, isn’t covered in pox; that staying safe all the time, is not how we progress as global civil apes.

We need education, but education isn’t just teaching from textbooks and TikTok tutorials; it’s nurturing children, giving them the emotional and empathic structure to see people as equals. Maybe stop separating kids based on class or religion and we’ll find we won’t be separating them on race either.

What about ‘Monkey see – Monkey do?’ Am I advocating that the spongelike innocence of children’s development be put in the hands of the state rather than the parents who are only guilty of legacy bigotry? Good God, no. With the old dogs out there too grizzled to play, I’m more for exposure therapy than the gulag rehabilitation some of my loony lefty peers would prescribe. Even if mental health and prison services in the UK weren’t beyond a joke and in dire need of reform, criminalising thought doesn’t sound like something the ‘good guys’ should be doing.

All I know is that pretentious fools like me, with grandiose dreams of revolution, are seldom the ones you ever want to see with a rifle in one hand and a noose in the other.

It’s not too late for Britain. It is Too Late for Hate™©

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