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Monday 12 July 2021

No Place For Racism.

John Amaechi OBE
It's funny, isn't it, how easily we mythologise the world around us?

We tell ourselves these little stories about our surroundings, constructing a protective little bubble that shields us from the worst of it and allows us to think that, basically, humans are good.

And then you see real good, and the reality of just who we are comes crashing down around our ears and we have to build up the myths all over again. This is especially true when the best and the worst are directly juxtaposed, the one in opposition to the other. When the brightest and best of our young meet the darkest underbelly of English attitudes toward people of colour, at least when they're not serving master's purpose. If that language sounds harsh, it should be, because that's the attitude underlying the premise of 'fans' who can vaunt a black man when he's doing his bidding and calling him a monkey when he isn't performing to master's standard.

The simple fact is, everywhere is exactly the place for racism, which is why it's ubiquitous. To suggest otherwise carries the implicit assertion of victory, which isn't only premature for pigeons playing chess*.

Time and again we see it asserted loudly that they have 'no place here'. This is the most pernicious myth of them all because, by promulgating this myth, we make it that place; we make that place by our inaction, by our attitudes and, most of all, by our denial that a problem even exists. There can be no greater enemy to the cause of defeating racism than the illusion that we've already defeated it.

Much of the problem is that, of all the solutions on offer, almost all of them are top-down solutions, when it really is a bottom-up problem; it's baked into the fabric of our attitudes and our interactions with the world. How many of us actually challenge the instances of casual racism we encounter on a daily basis? If your answer to this is that you don't encounter it, I'd suggest it's because you either aren't looking or, worse, don't recognise when you see it. And it's worse precisely because it leads to further promulgation of the myth, which in turn further promulgates racism.

We have to be willing to challenge these instances. When somebody you're in conversation with says something racist, let them know that you find it unacceptable. No need to get into a confrontation, just voice your displeasure. Never let it pass.  

Of course, modern racists have learned the lessons of the Bolshevik (another unexpected Belgian invention), Fascist and Nazi propagandists of the 20th Century, so they know to keep their motives hidden. They don't come straight out and call black people n***ers any more. And, of course, for many, that's the high water mark for racism. If it's anything less than out and out usage of known racially-charged epithets, they have plausible deniability. Worse, they can 'dog-whistle' seemingly reasonable statements that otherwise reasonable people will amplify, thereby spreading the racism without any idea of what they're doing. It's insidious

Things like redefining terms and throwing back with negative connotations; 'woke' for example, meant 'aware of communal social responsibility', but now it's taken, in the hands of the racists and other ideological half-wits, a negative connotation, complete with full-on worldview. It's worse than that, of course; we've arrived at the point at which voicing a preference for scissors over clippers for trimming toenails gets you consigned to a box complete with worldview and corollary opinion on everything from Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to the aesthetics of the showstopper on Great British bake Off. I have a future post planned on this sort of indiscrete thinking so I won't belabour it further here.

The point here is that it's spectacularly tone deaf to talk about this not being a problem, or not being our problem, or about it having no place here. By virtue of these comments, we make it that place, and welcome it and coddle it, even while insisting that we're not racist.

And that's the deepest myth, of course, because we are racist; you are; I am. 

Why? Because I benefit from the prosperity of a nation built on the lives and backs of slavery and imperialism. Because I recognise (and work to expunge) modes of thought that I recognise as being borne of prejudice. Because I have privilege and don't work hard enough to undermine it.

If we ever really want to be rid of this mind-virus and others of its ilk, we have to own it. We have to get past the first of the seven stages of grief and move on from denial.

I get it; it's deeply uncomfortable to learn that you harbour within you one of the great evils of our age, of any age, of all ages. It's a lesson that requires of us humility and introspection, and willingness to become aware of our biases and especially of how biased society is against people based on arbitrary demographics.

It's terrifying, it really is, but it's also liberating to see the world uncluttered by presuppositions.

Until we recognise this, that we really are racist, each and every one of us, and that we foster a society that protects racism through its protection of system, its false reporting of a lack of systemic racism, we can't hope to move past the illusion of freedom. Worse, we're repeatedly and continually gaslighting minorities, insisting that their lived experience is fine.

And make no mistake, freedom is what we're talking about here. And not just the freedom of black people and other minorities, but freedom for ourselves, because our chains are made of the slavery of others, and none of us can be free until we all are. 

To Gareth Southgate and his team; thank you for making us believe for one brief, shining moment that we can be better. As somebody who grew up feeling like a foreigner in my country of birth, it was wonderful to feel like I could belong.

I'd really love for this to be no place for racism. Unfortunately, it will remain so until we admit that it is exactly that place, that this is us, that this is England.

* In sceptic circles, there's a meme floating around attributed as anonymous stating that debating creationists is like playing chess against pigeons. They knock over all the pieces, crap on the board and then fly back to their flocks to declare victory. In fact, the source of this meme was my old friend Scott Weitzenhoffer, former denizen of the Richard Dawkins forum.

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