Once upon a time, if you spoke to British-born and raised White people they would have told you that everybody in this country was equal. Yet, Britain’s wealth and to a degree, identity, comes from slavery, empire and stolen land. Why Britain calls itself great comes from the toil and torture of enslaved Africans’ labour on plantations in America and the West Indies.
“Social justice warrior bullshit” is a term I have come across when speaking to White Anglo-Europeans online, foolishly engaging in online debates on race and racism. The fact that many of these trolls can’t seem to understand the barriers that face marginalised communities, and the more communities you fit into, the worst it can be. And the fact that Boris Johnson’s cabinet is the most diverse a cabinet has ever been is not progress. Diversity does not equal representation; and the Priti Patels of this world, who inhabit whiteness and use it to pull the ladder up from other localised disparities in terms of race. i.e increased powers in Section 60.
Reading White Fragility by sociologist Dr. Robin DiAngelo for the FBL Book Club (but open to all) – all the instances of White people not being able to talk about race mentioned in the text, I have seen at one point in my life or another. The classic is “I was raised to treat everyone equally” or “I don’t see colour”, and “I don’t care if you’re pink, purple, polka-dotted” and so forth.
One of the worst and most potent forms of White fragility is White people that think they understand racism because they have mixed-race children or relatives. The instinctive defensiveness is at every level of society; from the White working class that don’t feel “privileged” because they use food banks, universal credit or the benefits system to the I-have-a-Black-friend-community-so-I-can’t-be-complicit-in-White-supremacist structures sorts.
In her book, DiAngelo breaks whiteness down into layman’s terms. She deconstructs whiteness, White fragility and Privilege. How society is constructed is for the benefit of Whites. They are the default, so it’s White and the Rest; from the history we learn in schools to “flesh-coloured” plasters which fit the hue of Caucasians. Due to societal design, this also means they have a deficit of “racial stamina” to engage in this discourse without implementing their racial triggers. People of colour are the global majority but colonial borders still dissect us down into “ethnic minorities.”
Whilst this book is about North America, we need to stop thinking about racism as something only “bad people” do, as DiAngelo says in her book. Racism isn’t only the tool of the far right. It’s also the tool of seemingly good institutions; from policing to higher education and The Academy. We need to be looking at the Enoch Powells of this world, and not just the little man.
Robin DiAngelo’s words will pick at the skin of White people’s fragility and their lack of racial stamina to have these conversations. The White people that manage to get through this book to the end will undergo some humility (I hope), analysing all the times they’ve been treated better than their non-White colleagues in exact same situations. She is intentionally provoking discomfort to be critical of the sensitivity White people show when you tell them they are part of society’s institutional racism. And that well-meaning White folks aren’t as liberal and democratic as they often think they are.
In light of Brexit and the ongoing Windrush Crisis #Jamaica50, I am not sure we can say racism in this country is nuanced (anymore). The Tory government’s obsession with stop and search as a way to combat County Lines and knife crime… you cannot arrest your way out of this, nor can you continue to stop Black people at a disproportionate rate to White people, and expect a community with shaky faith in the police to support you.
Rich White people are the biggest smokers of marijuana I know; I can say that because I went to private school, but on what planet has whiteness ever been linked to criminality?
“This book is centred in the white western colonial context, and in that context white people hold institutional power.” In this quote, we need to understand that racism is more than individuals calling each other names, it’s a system of power. In the UK, it privileges whiteness, economically and socially. All people have racial bias, but only with White people in Europe and North America is that bias backed by institutional power.
It is not the job of people of colour to explain racism to White people. When a White woman cries (they’re also complicit in white supremacy), Black men get hurt. Racism is the problem of White people. They created it and the responsibility to dismantle those systems lies with the White masses.
People that look like me are there to support, but racism is trauma. Is it really ethical to expect people of colour to take on this burden? What White people need to ask themselves, and in the words of the late James Baldwin, “why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.”
And perhaps in the reading and knowledge-gathering at FBL’s Book Club, in how whiteness operates (insidious and pervasive), united we can attempt to push back against the racial inequalities at work in the University on a day-to-day.