I have always tried to call out racism where I have seen it, I am a black man and these negative experiences have not spared me either, despite my relative privilege in terms of British citizenship and being articulate, defying much of the stereotypes and fodder used to demean black men by media and society. Of recent, Britain has developed a climate of racism, xenophobia, fear and tension. This is not to purport that racism was non-existent during the last decade, but the overwhelming narrative was to pretend that it was, that multi-culturalism and tolerance of diversity had succeeded. That immigration was accepted for its social and economic benefits. That movement/parties like the BNP or Ukip or the EDL, were anomalies and that the great majority of British people, of white people were on our side at the end of the day.
But I cannot say with confidence, that this is still the case. Whether, it was Brexit, racial hate crimes, Trump, and the hard-right narrative on immigration as some sort of social ill, I was still willing to believe in the pleasant illusion until I was impudent enough to lay a comment on the Stormzy-Lukaku debacle. This was a stupid incident where two iconic, successful and most importantly distinctive black men were muddled in The Herald, a national Irish paper. This is entirely not uncommon, wherein black people or people of colour more generally are seen as the same person. Despite our height, weight, accent, shade or all of our respective individual features, somehow to the average white man or women, we all look the same. That was what annoyed me and seemingly Stormzy too, who tweeted ‘I don’t find none of this funny btw don’t wanna sound like the party pooper who missed the joke’. He’s right it’s not funny, it’s racist.
I can’t list the backlash against my tweet, there were far too many older white men enraged (not confined to just that demographic though) but all were along the lines of typical white-privileged ignorance, being told that ‘my ignorant cries of racism is pathetic, not to mention wrong’ and I was exacerbating ‘problems with your victimhood’. Is there a genuine belief that the people who challenge racism or call it out, aggravate the situation? Would slavery, segregation, police brutality and hate crimes be better tackled by a pact of silence? Obviously not.
Whiteness does not like to be corrected. Just as with all forms of privilege, be it male, wealth or straightness, it rues the day that one of its victims raises a challenge. The defensiveness of tone and aggression exemplify a feeling of victimhood when said privilege is called out. Despite the fact that Grime emerges from a very much black British experience, contextualised in the poverty and marginalised communities in this country, it has achieved against all odds, mainstream appeal. Whilst this isn’t necessarily negative, it does however raise the issue of whether the new white, middle-class who flock to see Skepta at wireless, and who bust out the lyrics to Stormzy’s ‘Shut Up’ are our allies, or do they see black culture for a trend and the people themselves as the enemy.
I don’t know, I do know however, that politicians are individuals entrusted with the fate of our country, and that they rise from our communities with a duty of responsibility to defend the interests of all segments of society. That’s why the words of the Conservative MP for Newton Abbott, Anne Marie Morris hurt so much, on the same day as the Stormzy issue. Words carry great weight, and ‘Nigger’ with such a history of malice, pain and wretchedness has no place in the mouths of our parliamentarians. Particularly, if those parliamentarians look the same as their forefathers who brought such misery to black people. But I am not annoyed so much by Anne. Rather I do not blame her as an individual, racism in Britain is insidious and polite, it brings with itself tea and scones and delights itself in creating a climate of fear and intimidation through covert means. Did the Tory MPs who sat beside her, John Redwood for example, not know the inappropriate nature of the word? Or did they resign themselves to knowing that no matter the hurtfulness, this scandal would blow over, it was simply an accident and no harm intended. Same as with Stormzy.
Whiteness is not always rightness. It is also not always wrongness mind you. But as a society, as a country and as a nation, we must come together and that means a conversation about the troubled direction Britain is going down. It also means, the voices of colour and the voices of whiteness must be heard and justice served for all communities.