At some point in the mid 1960s a friend of mine’s father was arrested for “ loitering with intent to burgle a factory “ or something similar, my friend wasn’t entirely sure of the exact charge. His father’s plea that although it was a Sunday he was just going in to get some paperwork for the next day was rejected by the arresting officers as entirely absurd.
A few hours later the Inspector at the change of the next shift came round to look at the cells. After a very brief chat he quickly released my friend’s father with an apology and explained to the arresting officer that it was entirely possible to be the MD of one of the town’s largest employers and a black man, simultaneously.
He knew this possibly because he was probably on the membership committee of the local golf club that rejected my friend’s father’s application . I don’t actually know that, but I do know my friend said, like the inspector, his dad was a keen golfer but unlike him, couldn’t get a membership in a private club, anywhere.
My friend’s father was American. Having been posted by the parent company to take over the subsidiary in the UK, no-one recorded who was the more astonished at his appointment, the people he came to manage , or him at what he found.
He was exceptional, in so many ways, but at a personal level to achieve what he did, when he did, spoke not just of his capability, but his perseverance and strength of character.
To suggest we discriminate in Britain is wrong. We can do racism both overtly and subtly, we experience both equally.
The 60s eh? The bad old times, things have changed so much haven’t they ? Sorry I should have another go at that …haven’t they? I think I got the emphasis wrong .
Yesterday I had a chat with Alan, not his real name because despite what I am about to say , Alan is; a good man, a man who works for his community and who would help anyone in need.
We were speaking about the Black Lives Matter protests scheduled. He said that he really thought it was out of order for these people to riot and deface our public monuments , “it is disgraceful what they are doing to our history .”
“Our history Alan? “ I said ‘ Perhaps that is the point, do you not feel that Black and minority people might have a good reason to be upset given our history and how little we know of theirs?” He looked a bit surprised. he had expected my agreement. It is possible that when we look the same, to believe we think the same. We are of a similar age too.
“ Yes, but the rioting is unacceptable we have to stand up for our history ”
“ How many rioted Alan? Did any riot in Glasgow? No they didn’t, they worked really well with the Police to make sure it was peaceful and socially distanced , but in any protest there will be the 1/2 percent who don’t come for the right reasons and just want to start something bad regardless of what the protest is about .” He thought about it for a while.
“ But they should be grateful Steve .”
“ Grateful? For slavery, for Windrush, for disproportionate arrests, for deaths in custody …Scotland as well as the USA, for the opportunities that they never get regardless of their ability? “
“ No…well no , but that is just minor given what they have to be grateful for, they would still be in Africa and undeveloped if it wasn’t for what we did for them .”
The word “ grateful “ I hadn’t really expected. “ Undeveloped “ would have been surprising but actually I have sanitised this because I am not prepared to say what he actually said .I can’t even begin to do justice to “ minor.”
It was my turn to think for while.
These comments shocked me, and then on reflection I was shocked that I was shocked because aren’t these comments the gist of what the Black Lives Matter’s protests are all about ? Haven’t they been the reflection of generations of others?
And then we got to the knub.
A few years back a black youth pushed past Alan in an aggressive manner , he remembers that, he associates that aggression with the youth’s blackness. I spoke of when I was aggressively approached by 4 Scottish youths “ yes but that’s differ…” he didn’t finish the sentence .
We talked a little about how far he would have to travel to have a conversation with a black person given where we live, we talked about what newspapers focus upon in their reports in order to sell. We talked about being familiar with other cultures and what can fill the void when familiarity is missing . We talked about the imperfections of great men.
When good, community, minded people are scared of race . When such people believe that colonialism benefits those at the sharp end of things, when they are resentful that Black people see this differently. When you weigh those things on one side of the scale and you see how little that is challenged, it might not reflect your views but it is impossible to say that we do not live in a racist country.
We can, and should question the teaching of history in this country. Not just Black history as it affects their community but White history as it affects Black people. We must challenge what colonialism did without the sugar coated sweetener of Britain’s “greater” past. We need to know what colonialism was, why it gave an economic boost to our country and what it has done to hold back the development of others.
It struck me that one of the most iconic of patriotic songs, Jerusalem, speaks of “these dark satanic mills” reflecting upon the imperfection and exploitation behind Britain’s rise to economic primacy, but where in our received culture as White people do we speak of the exploitation of people of colour?
Black people deserve to have their history taught to children, black and white, but just as importantly white people deserve and need to have a balanced history taught. Otherwise we have no accurate clue of where we come from. Neither do we have a proper taught basis for our thinking on issues of race.
You might argue, as human beings, should we need that ?
In writing this piece I took time to test it with a friend and they caused me to pause and reflect. That reflection was also educated by two other men ; Patrick Hutchinson and Boris Johnson .
It is perhaps ironic and worrying that we might see the label “institutional racism” as something that, because it relates to a collective responsibility, excuses individual inactivity .
Patrick Hutchinson showed us what individual action can do when he threw someone over his shoulder who was clearly not of his thinking or background and saved his life. He has since commented that he didn’t think, he could see what was happening and his fundamental instinct as a human being told him the right thing to do.
Boris Johnson thought and decided that he needed to have a commission and a report on something that hundreds of thousands of people at the BLM protests could write for him based upon their daily experience of racism. How many people have to die, how many people have to be wrongfully arrested, how many people have to be discriminated against at work, how many need to be stopped and searched before we know enough on this subject to act?
Prejudice is born of unfamiliarity and herd mentality, but it is sustained by inactivity. Collective and individual .
Racism has no rights, only wrongs.
Good but wrong people on this subject need to reflect on their personal position and challenge their understanding of themselves.
Powerful people need to reflect upon their responsibility, and act.