I’m going to hold my hand up here and say, I am a racist. Not that I think the murder of George Floyd was a justified act, nor the killing of Trayvon Martin or Stephen Lawrence or any of the black people who have been killed by the police or whose killers have gone free because black lives matter less. Of course I don’t think that. Of course I want to protest about it and put a Black Lives Matter status on my Facebook page and read about it and go on protests. Nor do I think it’s insignificant that BAME people are suffering much worse from the virus and from its economic effects; nor do I think it’s unimportant that we have far fewer black people in Parliament or at the top of business or any other area you care to name. I’m your standard white liberal anti-racist. Why then do I say I am a racist?
I say that because time and again I am ashamed to recognise in myself attitudes of inequality when it comes to race. Stereotypes, value judgments, attitudes laid down long ago have festered unrecognised and although, since they arrived unconsciously it wasn’t my fault, it is my responsibility to get rid of them. Just as in the garden I’m not responsible for the horsetail rearing its ugly mane everywhere, it is my job to get rid of it. (Except you can never get rid of horsetail, but that’s another story.)
I suspect we all have subtle racism inside us; I remember a guy I once knew who was setting up some kind of Oriental business, I forget what. He sounded British but looked a little Middle-Eastern and he told me one of his parents was Iranian. ‘I expect we’re all a little bit racist,’ he said, and I didn’t want to agree but he’s right. If the face doesn’t fit we don’t buy the product, and racial stereotypes are as much a part of that dynamic as gender and class. I’ve caught myself thinking ‘what’s he doing here?’ when I see a black guy behind the counter in, say, a bank; and though I immediately tell myself off for the thought, it’s there; it arises: it’s in me. And we can blame whatever we like; our upbringing, the media, stereotyping in the arts; but at the end of the day it’s our responsibility to confront our own racism and deal with it. Get rid of the horsetail. I wonder if peeing on it would help? Knowing horsetail it’d probably encourage the bloody stuff. As to racism I guess it’s like getting rid of any unwanted characteristics; guilt or self-loathing or fear. We just have to work on it; recognise it when it rears its head and teach ourselves to think differently.
Back in Loughborough it’s not quite business as usual but it’s getting there. One thing I definitely haven’t missed is the traffic, and there is definitely more of it around. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were just the volume of traffic, but it’s not. It’s the behaviour; the aggression, the impatience, the revving of engines and jumping of lights and worst of all the parking on pavements. As a pedestrian you don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe crossing the road or even walking on the pavement, and I don’t think that’s paranoia. Yesterday there was a car parked half on the pavement, half on the road, as the driver had stopped to take a phone call. OK full marks for not driving whilst on the phone but they had stopped right on a bend where you can’t see traffic coming, giving me the choice of either walking out into the road or pushing past a wet hedge. I chose the hedge and as I pushed through I made a gesture indicating the lack of space and mouthing the words ‘Not helpful.’ They did not look apologetic but at least they looked at me; it’s infuriating to be ignored. There was a side-road a little further up; they could have turned in there instead. They could have apologised. I’d have felt better instead of feeling that I don’t matter.
It’s the tiniest thing beside what’s happening to black people in the US, to feel that you as a pedestrian don’t matter, that your needs are not important and that you can be threatened at any moment by those with powerful engines, but perhaps it gives us a tiny inkling of what it might be like to be black in the US (and elsewhere). So let’s say it again: pedestrian lives matter, all lives matter and BLACK LIVES MATTER.