Eight minutes and forty-six seconds has become shorthand for the killing of George Floyd by officer Chauvin (apt name!) in Minneapolis, watched by two of his police colleagues. It has become an ‘enough is enough’ moment for black people all over the world, and because it is their story I feel reluctant to say too much about it. But it is also our story; the story of white people confronted by one of their kind committing an unspeakable act. It’s the story of white people made to face our own racism; the story not only of the openly racist committing unspeakable acts but also of the silent prejudice which lurks within our own hearts.
I don’t want to do too much breast-beating about this; I don’t think it’s helpful. But what should we do? It’s easy to stick Black Lives Matter on your Facebook profile, to sign a petition, to write to your MP, to repost stories: what’s harder is to do the work involved in eradicating racism from our own bloodstreams – because I sure as hell know it’s in mine. I’ve caught myself thinking and feeling things I don’t want to admit, because I know my brain is full of largely unchallenged stereotypes. I’ve done the work in challenging sexist stereotypes because they affect me daily, but I haven’t done the work in eradicating racism from my subconscious.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I haven’t finished the work of eradicating racism. I’ve not been unaware of it, after all – and perhaps it’s always a work in progress. But work it most definitely is – and there’s the rub. It’s a lot of work to track down each of these thoughts and emotions, these ideas and stereotypes laid down over decades of film and TV and news and culture; these assumptions of whiteness Reni Eddo-Lodge talks about, meaning that we assume a person is white unless told otherwise (the example she gives is of Hermione Grainger being played as black in the latest Harry Potter and the Cursed Child giving rise to protest, but J K Rowling herself saying there was no indication that Hermione is white. *) To stop these automatic responses and tell yourself a different story: it’s all work.
And most of us feel guilty. We feel guilty by association, and we feel guilty because we know that all this stuff lies deep within us. But should we? If racism is for the most part unconsciously acquired, should we feel guilty – any more than we feel guilty about getting wet when it rains? I’m not sure that guilt is helpful in any case, because the first thing we do then is to start policing ourselves, to make sure no-one can accuse us of being racist. But policing oneself is not, in the end, a solution. In the end we must change the heart.
To topple a statue and fling it in the harbour is a powerful thing to do – but in the end the statue we must topple is the one that lives in the heart.
*as Lodge points out, it adds an extra dimension to the story of ‘pure blood’ and Hermione being Muggle-born.
One of my books has finally arrived. I was waiting for three and had just decided that they would arrive all at once like buses (I even had a blog post title lined up for such an eventuality) but Reni Eddo Lodge’s book is now here, so I’m just waiting on a book about the Greek New Testament and one on How to Argue with an Atheist, both of which make me sound like a determined evangelist, which I definitely am not.
I will post a review when I’ve read it but so far it looks interesting, and less of a rant than I expected. One thing I’ve noticed already is that as a white woman you experience both sides. You have the white privilege that she talks about but you also recognise much of the abuse, albeit as misogyny rather than racism (for example as a black person if you get angry you’re conforming to a stereotype; if you get upset as a woman you’re affirming a different stereotype.) I don’t want to get all competitive about prejudice because they’re all arguably equally awful – and it must be recognised that black women get the worst deal of all (apart from disabled black women) but it is interesting to be able to see it from both sides.
So the question on my mind this morning is this: WHATISTHEMATTERWITHPEOPLE? What is the matter with people? I mean seriously, why? Why can’t some people continue to exist without rushing down to the coast, crowding onto a beach, thereby putting themselves and others in danger, not to mention clogging the roads and leaving tons – literally tons – of litter? Why must they do this? It makes me ashamed to be English. What is the matter with people? There’s nothing I love more than a beach; I’d be thrilled to go down and spend a day on the coast but I recognise that it’s not a good idea and IT’S NOT SAFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH THESE PEOPLE????????????????As if the authorities didn’t have enough to deal with, they now have to evacuate illegal campers, treat the injured and clear away the litter. It’s shameful.
I hope I’m not a killjoy. I like beaches and concerts and festivals as much as anyone, but in recent years I can’t help feeling that something is going awry. True, in the Middle ages they had a festival practically every week but there was an underlying religious significance to them even if they did also involve copious amounts of merrymaking. Whereas nowadays I can’t help feeling that there’s something compulsive in all this exuberance. Take concerts for example. When I go to a concert I don’t want to sit there like a mannequin, I want to enjoy it. I might want to get up and dance if there’s room; and I definitely want to clap and cheer and shout – but after the songs, not during them. I want to hear the musicians, not the audience, but nowadays it seems a concert is just an opportunity for people to shout and scream and wave flags so that you struggle to hear the music.
But I daresay I’m just an old fogey. After all, Beatlemania wasn’t so different – not that I was ever into that. But I’ve got a feeling that there’s something out of control here; that this rushing to beaches and raves is part of a much deeper tendency, one which bodes no good. As for me, I’m staying locked down and watching TV like the grumpy pensioner I will no doubt shortly become…
I am currently suffering from some lurgy (cause unknown but definitely not the dreaded C19) which has caused my lips to swell and crack, my mouth to ulcerate, my tongue to develop the sensitivity of a paranoid narcissist and my brain to quietly crumble. And what’s most annoying about this is that it makes eating and drinking very hard. Normally when I’m ill and can’t do much I look forward to meals and cups of tea; not this time. For the last few days I’ve eaten hardly anything and I woke up today dreaming of boiled egg and soldiers. A nice soft-boiled egg couldn’t do any harm, could it? Well no, but my mistake was in toasting the bread. The result was coarse brown fingers with the consistency of granite covered in sandpaper, which the softness of the egg did little to mitigate. As for drinking, since swallowing is hard and since I can barely open my mouth without covering the entire area in saliva, it is not pleasurable. Not to mention that any liquids hotter than tepid taste like boiling sulphur. It is not fun. As diets go, this is the most unpleasant one I’ve done in a long time.
I don’t want to put you off whatever liquids or solids you might be ingesting, but for some reason this particular virus has seen fit to, as you might say, demoralise the muscles of my mouth. My lips have not only swollen but lost all capacity to contain liquids and drool continually escapes from the corners of my mouth. Sorry, that’s probably too much information but I just had to offload.