“We’re racist, and that’s the way we like it” pic.twitter.com/hKRSerVqzb
— M (@wolfxmobz1) June 13, 2020
It’s a sunny June morning, I had just cycled down the embankment from Blackfriars to turn left over Westminster Bridge. As I crossed Bridge Street I could hear a chant but not the words, I looked into parliament square and it was full of people, I turned my bike towards Lambeth.
The chant I heard is the chant on the tweet. It’s a male chant and you can hear it in any football ground in the land, except if those words were used, the club would identify the fans singing them, and ban them.
But when we watch the football, we know there are people in the crowd who would sing those words to themselves and not feel uncomfortable. We probably know friends and even family who secretly like being racists. When we consider our own reactions, can we always say that they aren’t colored by prejudice?
Turning east I made my way along the south side of the river into Southwark and along Jamaica Road to Rotherhithe, I swung round to Surrey Quays and rode down to Deptford and New Cross, returning to Central London on the A2 (the Old Kent Road). Because I was wearing a mask and gloves, I didn’t get to chat to people but I got to observe.
I saw people queuing outside supermarkets and grocery stores – obeying the distancing rules.
I saw thank yous to key workers in people’s windows, I saw tributes to the NHS , to postmen and on one occasion to council workers who’d kept an estate clean.
People were in the parks, behaving responsibly, people drove cars carefully and cyclists stopped at lights to respect pedestrians.
Society was not broken, these things co-existed with the events in Westminster though the only link was the faint sound of police helicopters.
Society isn’t broken – it’s being tested.
Right now we are asking honest questions about our society and finding some disturbing truths.
I know racist people, I meet them in my pub. When black or Asian people walk into my pub I see the reaction. I still love the pub. There are racists among the supporters of my football team, I still love Yeovil Town. Many people I work with are racist. I still work with them. There is racism within me, I am still proud to be me.
Society integrates very slowly and sometimes not at all. There are many sites of synagogues in the City of London, but few synagogues. Each synagogue that closed did so because of some anti-semite purge. And yet Jewish people have continued to live and work in the City and they are now as much part of our society as the WASPS.
We are at one of those points where we are testing our capacity to work as a society. For the rest of this blog I think about our identity, and how we define it, both in relation to categorization and in terms of our personal values (#IAM)
Don’t call me WASP – I won’t call you BAME
We don’t like being categorised, I don’t like to be called a White Anglo Saxon Protestant (though that is exactly what I am.
This article , by Zamila Bunglawala (of Indian descent) says why she shuns BAME as a self-descriptor.
BAME for her WASP for me, a shorthand for a part of society which is useful in analysis but only in understanding the differences that still divide us.
There is no doubt that WASP and BAME have had different experiences of the pandemic. And there is no doubt that the two communities are not fully integrated. And there’s no doubt that the people who were singing that they liked to put down people of a different race than theirs, “liked it”.
Pretending that we are all the same is as dangerous as pretending that we are not racist. We are not all the same and our differences are to be wondered at and admired. In her article, Zamila points out that even in White ethnicity, minorities such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller exist as heritage groups . Tyson Fury has brought a better understanding of aspects of these minorities but he has not brought them from the margins.
WASP and BAME may be useful in talking about demographics and as scientific short-cuts but we want to define ourselves better. A Bangladeshi and an Indian have radically different identities and they want their identity to have a capital letter to denote it. I would be insulted to be called english and I’m sure my friend Rahul wouldn’t like being called indian! The capitalization says it loud and proud and BAME and WASP says nothing about our identity.
Recently we’ve taken to going on social media to promote our identity using a selfie and a placard to define #IAM . Many of these placards start defensively ( #saddenedby ), but lead to a positive affirmation.
I think this is my favorite statement about personal affirmation but I love them all. It is a privilege to read the statements on personal identity from people I’ve known for a long time
Change begins at home and this feels like home to me.
But what of the events in parliament square?
Society isn’t broken but it’s being tested. Individually we can say #IAM but there is still a groundswell of prejudice against what we aren’t. there are tensions between Indian and Bangladeshi , Jew and Muslim and within the white ethnicity.
The events we saw in parliament square yesterday were only the whistle of the kettle, the simmering water within the kettle can erupt at any time in any place. We are being challenged by the conditions we find ourselves in and as the furlough ends , the hardship that brings the kettle to the boil will spread. We will see more outbursts and each will have a focus.
We started with Dominic Cummings, move to Colston, now it’s Winston Churchill. Each iconic figure becomes a target of our intolerance. We must learn to stop blaming others and stop fighting those who have different views than our own, If we are have prejudice (as I think we all do) we mustn’t like it. We mustn’t allow us to wallow in our own sense of superiority. We must keep the #IAM humble.
If we allow ourselves to see those chanting and throwing stuff at policeman as the problem, we miss the point of #IAM. I am not blaming racists for being racist, I am discovering my own racism. I am the agent of my own change.