“Don’t you ever give it a rest” asked Warren.
“Your fellow white citizens are fed up to the back teeth of being told by this particular privately educated, Oxbridge graduate how privileged they are. F*** you”, he continued.
And so it goes. The virtual vitriol directed at people like Afua Hirsch and anyone like her who dares stand in the face of racism and demand its ejection from our society.
If you’ve not heard of Afua Hirsch, I suggest you get your Google on, ASAP. She’s the author of best-selling book, Brit(ish). A book I’ve just embarked on and have already fallen in love with. I’ve been following Afua’s career for years now and am so pleased she’s produced a piece of work as apt, on the mark and gripping as Brit(ish). It’s not really a surprise though, she’s been consistently amazing. From holding her own up against somewhat unsavoury characters, on Sky’s The Pledge and her campaign to raise reassess the statues of figures from Britain’s imperial past was an important cause. Essentially she’s full of knowledge about all things race in the U.K., she is passionate about keeping things in check and for that I’m a fan – if you hadn’t noticed already. It helps that I’ve got things in common with Afua. Both British born and of Ghanaian-origin (she through her mother and I through both parents) and both feeling very much Brit-ish. But, even if we didn’t have any similarities, I’d still be interested in hearing what she’s got to say. The same cannot be said for our dear bud and Twitter-comrade, Warren.
For Warren, it’s all a little too much. You see, Warren would like nothing more than for Afua to just shut up. With all the inequality Afua likes to point out and topic of white privilege she brings up from time to time, it’s all just a massive inconvenience for Warren. Not the racial inequality itself though, no.
So to you, the condescendingly arrogant keyboard-warrior who told Afua Hirsch to do one and then demanded I explain why Afua Hirsch is less privileged than you are. This one’s for you.
“Don’t you ever give it a rest” was the first thing I saw from you. This was the first flag of your flagrant racism. You gave yourself away with that question and so I had you sussed well before your fourth tweet, where you tried to politely persuade me to engage in a debate with you. And rightly so. People looking to correct the balance of privilege should have no time for those who insist there isn’t an imbalance to begin with. People who try to berate those fighting for justice. People who are more offended by those discussing the cancer of racism in our society than treating the actual cancer itself. People who abuse the abused.
People like you, Warren.
According to you, your life and that of your “fellow white citizens” would be made more bearable if Afua et al just ‘gave it a rest’ clearly haven’t heard that silence is complicity. To be silent where there is injustice, is to be complicit. So no, Afua should not give it a rest. I will not give it a rest. We will not be shut up because you and your mates are ‘tired to the back teeth’. Get ready for a dental appointment, because your teeth might find they’re more than just tired.
We are tired. We are tired of the everyday racism. We are tired of both the overt and covert racism that is woven in the fabric of our society. We are tired of the microaggressions. We are tired of being paid far less than our white counterparts. We are tired of tasers being used on us far more. We are tired of being jailed more for crimes, that we commit at lower rates. We are tired of the many miscarriages in bringing killers of Black, Brown and Mixed-Race people to justice. We are tired of being “under-policed as victims and over-policed as suspects”. We are tired of being unemployed at higher rates. We are tired of our young leaving school and being paid less than the youngest among you. We are tired of the institutions that harp on about diversity but still aren’t very diverse. We are tired of the higher than average “permanent exclusion rates for Black and Mixed-Race pupils”. We are tired of the media that still hound our black football players. We are generally tired of hateful media campaigns and we are tired right along with Prince Harry for the “wave of abuse and harassment” the media dishes out to anyone with a smidgen of blackness. We are tired of the excessive force used on us by police. We are tired of the higher rates of prosecution and sentencing for Black people. We are tired of being victims of race hate crimes on Britain’s railway networks. We are tired of feeling unsafe in our local areas almost twice as much as our fellow white citizens. We are tired of the squalor, substandard, overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation our poorest are allowed to live in. We are very tired of being more likely to live in poverty. We are tired of our women having four times the mortality rate in healthcare despite making up a great number of NHS care staff. We are tired of being disproportionately held under mental health legislation. We are tired of our young men being stopped and searched at an entirely too high a rate. We are tired of our young black students facing insidious racism from their young white counterparts. We are particularly tired of racist abuse by hordes of white students in student halls across the nation. We are tired of the many workplaces which fail to equally pay their non-white members of staff the same as their white employees. We are tired of being stopped at customs by airport security far more than necessary and far more aggressively. We are tired to the back teeth of the unconscious and sometimes, very conscious bias of our fellow white citizens towards us. We are the ones who are tired.
All this, even when backed up with data, means nothing to Warren and the multitudes like him, who insist that white privilege doesn’t exist. It exists. White privilege is being arrested three or four times less than your black counterparts. White privilege is being more likely to be in full time employment. White privilege is being more likely to own your own home than other ethnic groups. White privilege is having higher attainment levels for reading, writing and maths than pupils other ethnic groups, despite being just as poor. White privilege is having Canary Wharf far less policed than Tottenham, despite more substance abuse taking place there. White privilege is having your drug-taking referred to as recreational drug use rather than being linked to gang activity. White privilege is to walk around without fearing for your life. I could go on…
But apparently, Afua has “had at least as good life chances as” yourself, you say? In fact, you feel she has “had far greater life chances than the vast majority of Working Class white people”. Warren asks, “is Ms Hirsch more or less privileged than the average white citizen of the UK?” This is the point where I injected myself into the conversation, with a meme of an exasperated Raven Symone (because, like I said, we are tired). That was my first mistake, because Warren then insisted that I explain “how a privately educated, Oxbridge graduate, who has media jobs others would give their right arms for (Afua Hirsch) is less privileged” than he is. He lets me know that he is “really willing to listen if” and only if, I “can provide a coherent answer” and God forbid I respond with a meme. No, no, no. No memes because this isn’t Twitter or anything.
The entitlement. The sheer entitlement of it all. So I commit my next sin by letting Warren know that when Afua was a teen she was kicked out of a shop in her local area for not being the “type” of person” they served. Against my better judgement, I asked if he’d ever be on the receiving end of such treatment. Obviously he hadn’t, because the very reason this happened to Afua was because of her perceived blackness. Bad idea.
“I was going to write, “no, of course not.” Then I remembered I sometimes got refused service in restaurants when I was younger. Presumably, to do with the way I spoke, dressed, acted … It happened more than a few times” responded Warren.
I could sense that Warren had felt he’d triumphed in what I realised this debate now was: Oppression Olympics. My third and final mistake was this: “occurrences like that happen more than a few times when you’re of a darker hue. Believe me. As you’ve pointed out, it could’ve been your way of speaking among other things. All things you can change to reduce racial bias against you. Can you change your race,” I asked.
Still the point was lost on my Twitter comrade. He quipped back that I and another Twitter were ‘obtuse’ (love that word) “to not know that a privately educated Oxbridge graduate has far greater chances than the rest of the population, irrespective of their skin colour”. To that, I say, class differences can transcend racial barriers. That is why most Black parents raise their children to work twice as hard so that despite your blackness or mixed-raceness, you can still have a decent place in society. That’s only the theory though. In practice, the success stories are still few and far between. So yes, your question was offensive. Particularly for it’s ignorance. Did you forget that the odds are heavily stacked against Black, Brown and even Mixed-race people and are mostly in the favour of White, often irrespective of which class they fall into? Despite Afua’s pedigree, pick any FTSE 100 company boardroom, fill them with clients, and I guarantee that if you and Afua walked in together, you would be perceived completely differently thanks to skin colour alone. Why? Because you are white and male. Need I say more???
Your offensive assumptions that Afua’s “white side” got her the “best education money could buy, the right contacts and accent” and her “black side” doing nothing more for her than allowing her to “fill token minority positions” shows that you understand White privilege very well. About Afua’s place in society, I implore you to understand one thing: it was achieved through the hard-work, determination and grit of both of her immigrant parents, not her white side or black side, as you so callously put it as if we were talking about a coin rather than a human being.
Being Black or mixed race, isn’t a gravy train for filling up minority positions, the institutionalised racial discrimination and systemic racism across the board in the UK, is not a perception, paranoia or simple politics of black and brown people who detail their experiences of it. For us, it’s not an assumption and it is definitely not a figment of our imagination. It is real and it really doesn’t matter if you’re fully black and brown or mixed-race, because the one-drop rule isn’t just an American thing.
As I close this letter, I hope it has answered your burning questions about privilege. If it hasn’t, you would do well to buy Afua’s book, Brit-ish as this will inevitably answer some, if not all, your questions around privilege. I stress the point once more: if you are discerning enough you’ll notice very quickly that Afua’s privilege wasn’t down to the miracle of being half white, it was down to both of her hardworking parents. So instead of assuming, buy the book. Once you’ve read the book, I hope you’ll stop being obtuse and really get it together. With life being as short enough as it already is, do you seriously think a privately educated individual would bother wasting time talking about racial issues, with the tenacity and conviction that Afua does, if we had racial equilibrium? The answer is a resounding, no – she wouldn’t.
So ask yourself, if Afua and those like her aren’t wrong or lying about the struggles they face due to their race, then why do I have such a problem with them trying to get rid of it? Really ask yourself why people like you are more offended by those calling out racism, such as Ms Hirsch, than the actual racism itself. Why are you more offended by the mention of your privilege than the very obvious privilege that plagues our society?