I am a middle-class white woman: meaning I have white privilege, and I am (without wanting to be) racist. This is because I live in a society constructed in a way that I cannot help being racist, nor having white privilege.
In a society that’s deeply skewed towards white people, it begins with the obvious things: I can get a job interview more easily (because of my ‘white sounding’ surname); I don’t have to be exceptional in what I do; my life is already subconsciously (or consciously) perceived as being of more value just because of the colour of my skin. All people matter, but Black people matter more, because at the moment they matter less – and you only have to take a brief look at statistics to see this.
I have mixed race children. One is darker than the other. When I was pregnant, I wondered what colour their skin would be; just as I wondered about the colour of their eyes, their hair, their height. This is entirely natural. I will be honest and say that, since their births, in a world where colourism is also at play I have worried about the consequences of my son’s skin being darker than his sister’s. How he will be perceived. Although, again, with their financial security and private school education, they also begin with privilege.
Regarding recent events with the Royal family, the key word is ‘concern’. For in this instance it was a concern about the colour of their skin that appears to have come from the racist point of view of whether they would be ‘white-passing’ – as if having darker skin is something to be ashamed of.
My children believe the fact that they are mixed race (bi-racial, mixed heritage, dual heritage…) to be their super power. They, and we their parents, are immensely proud that they are. They are beautiful. But they also have an empathy for those who suffer purely because of the colour of their skin. Equally, in believing their mixed-heritage to be a super power, they have never suffered because of it. As a man once told their father and me, because of the circles in which we move it is unlikely they ever will. More privilege. Although, don’t get me wrong, of course there have been the odd incidents (the ‘please don’t touch my hair’, a proximity to the ‘n’ word). But these have, I’m happy to say, even living in rural Dorset, been few and far between.
But, imagine, for one moment: you work hard, you do your A’ Levels, you go to University, you get your PhD, and someone still believes themselves to be better than you, purely based on your skin colour. Or, imagine, because of structural racism – which permeates every single element of society – you’re not able to do any of these things, and others believe that you’ve not achieved any of those things again because of the colour of your skin.
‘Race’ was an idea constructed in 1661 in colonial Barbados, when the English invented and codified into law the idea of a white race and a black race – which then spread across the world. Central to this construction was the idea of white superiority: key to justifying the enslavement of Africans. This is relatively recent (early modernity) and became a cornerstone of Englishness; and with that, the belief in a biological superiority in white people (@EmmaDabiri).
The kids’ dad used to pragmatically say to me: ‘We are all racist. We’ve just got to acknowledge that fact, stop in our tracks, and challenge every assumption we find ourselves making.’ And this is how I’ve operated since.
I see the discussions of the last week as being only positive. But I also believe that nothing will truly change until we, as white people, all feel comfortable enough to say: we have white privilege, and it’s almost impossible to avoid being racist. Because modern society was built on the concept of white supremacy. It’s in everything we learn; even how we learn. It’s in our institutions and our language. So we must actively work to change this: by being anti-racist, but also understanding how racism works in ways we don’t even realise.
I have, for the last few years, done a lot of reading around the subject. As have my kids. There are many, many excellent books now available, and here are some of the ones I have found most illuminating:
|Wish We Knew What to Say: Talking to Children About Race||Pragya Agarwal|
|Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire||Akala|
|Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored||Jeffrey Boakye|
|Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race||Reni Eddo-Lodge|
|So You Want to Talk About Race||Ijeoma Oluo|
|Black and British: A Short Essential History||David Olusoga|
|How to Argue with a Racist||Adam Rutherford|
|Empireland: How Imperialism has Shaped Modern Britain||Sathnam Sanghera|