Black and white

I’ve been trying to get my head round the idea of black and white, the specifics of black as opposed to Asian experiences of racism, to separate the strands of argument, discussion and of conditioning which feel inescapable at the moment.

This was prompted by the furore caused by the appalling and tragic death of George Floyd and the way the ripples spread but goes much further than that. I thought I had a lot to say but when I reviewed it, it had all been said. On a personal level what it boils down to is this. I have lived all my life in places where black faces were and are a rarity. I spent a few years of my working life in a much more multi racial environment, one that felt very positive, but nonetheless the whole issue of racial prejudice feels like something that happens in a different world. It isn’t, of course. We’re all part of the same system, and we all have a responsibility. Not only that but the prosperity of the whole country was based on the spoils of empire – which involved the subjugation of other races and the slave trade.

Of course, it can be argued that that prosperity was also achieved by exploiting the white working class, even the white lower middles, but there is a difference. A difference engendered, or at least assisted, by distance. One of the scale of inhumanity and suffering. So when someone argues that white lives matter too, the answer is that of course they do but nobody was suggesting, or acting as if it were otherwise.

So where does that leave us? Checking, as the saying goes, our white privilege. Remembering that this is not a distant issue, but one of which we need to be constantly aware. Being tough on our politicians when they don’t act in a fair way. Not letting them get away with Windrush, or Grenfell. Arguing for a fairer system, acting where we can to counterbalance racism. Coming to terms with our history. It doesn’t feel like much, but it’s a start.

Tony Earnshaw

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