The Things We Can Say About Race

This week has been an interesting one on the subject of race. This subject will continue to be one that divides communities. Not only here “in the West” where we talk about it a lot, but indeed in most of the major civilisations in the world where the dominant racial and ethnic archetypes are the ones that hold sway how people see the world. Or indeed aspire to.

Trevor Philips, hosted a documentary on Channel 4 this week called The Things We Can’t Say About Race. I’ll be frank and say I have never been a fan of his rhetoric. I didn’t check for it when he was head of the Commission for Racial Equality. Nothing really changed in this documentary. These are some of things we can’t apparently say about race.

“Irish people run the building trade”
“Indian women are more likely to be chemists”
“Indian and Chinese kids do best at school”
“The white poor are the new black”

I could go into detail about how misguided it is to have such questions. How such framing actually perpetuates racial bigotry rather than speak to a sensible conversation. That such editing and questioning on TV is done for jeopardy and eyeballs. I could dissect it but I will leave a friend of mine Adam Cooper to address the narrow mindedness of such arguments.

It’s not just black and white
When we start a conversation about racism, it becomes folly when we only see it as black and white, or black vs white issue. Given that in communities in Western Europe and North America we give a lot of space to such conversations we forget that there is evidence of racism and ethnocentrism that is prevalent across other countries as well. China, India, Russia, Japan, UAE and other Middle Eastern countries all have evidences of racism as do dominant economies in South America and other parts of Asia.

The scientific and social constructs that shaped the whole thinking of racism are more than aback and white issue. They also seep into the ethnic divisions in major countries. Irish vs English. Hutti vs Tutsi. And so many others. It is so much more than just a black white issue.

It is for that reason I don’t really like the term white privilege. Or the terms pale, male and stale when talking about the dominant descriptive labels for those in leadership and power in business and politics. I dislike them in the same manner I dislike the assumption that knife crime, mugger or other labels are immediately assumed to be by black males. Grouping by colour, which effectively is what racism does, provides no help or moving forward.

So if we are going to talk about race, maybe it should be more than the binary.
Just maybe. In fact let’s do less talking and a lot more listening, but while we are doing so recognise that race is structural and beyond individual conversation …….

Racism and Capitalism
… Which leads me to my next point.
The worlds modern economies and leading countries are built on the back of racism and separatism. If we are going to talk about race lets be honest that its racial policy that shaped many of them and still sits at the heart of many. It’s economic. Whether we are talking about the transatlantic slave trade and it’s heart in the role of the Industrial Revolution or of we are talking about the slave driven growth of economies in places like Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

Britain, America, China and other imperial nations developed the backbone of their economies on slavery and subjugation of others. The rapid development of United Arab Emirates is well documented that it is done at the expense of slave labour from south Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and further afield as the Philippines. As it has gone full circle many of the major companies still get propped up by the cheaper labour of those successful enough to have substantial income. Paid on low wages.

The flip side of this is that capitalism becomes a polarising force. Many aspire to model capitalism. Whether the American Dream Model or social business model of someone like Muhammad Yunus. On the flip side there are those who are adamant that capitalism is wrong and will avoid it because of its racial roots. Personally I like the approach Marcus Garvey took. Be part of a community that can use a model to make it work for you. Don’t swim against the tide but use those things that can work for you until a better model comes along.

Individual economics won’t solve racial inequality though because…….

Structural Racism
…there are structures in place which serve racism. Across the board and no matter what conversations we have, or individual actions we take a long the way it is about speaking honestly about the structures are in place that promote racial division. Media. Politics. Law and Order. Education and even more importantly our class system.

Let’s take the UK and talk about law and order. There are racial disparities on stop and search, arrests and incarceration. After years and years of talking about these disparities it still exists. If we want to talk let’s address this disparities. Why should I as a black male, supposedly middle class have to think about my tone, language and demeanour if ever pulled over by a police car? Why do I need to know all the laws and rights around this? And bollocks to those who say that if you haven’t done anything wrong there is nothing to be worried about. We have evidence both here and abroad of those who have towed the line and still ended up worse for wear. And if we think it is bad here, being a black male in the US is experiencing.

We have to ask our self a question. Yes the proportion of arrests and incarceration are a higher proportion given the percentage of blacks in the general population, but why is it so high? Many racial groups commit crimes but, and this is purely anecdotal, how come I have witnessed drug taking by a certain demographic in Chelsea incredibly more copious than down the road in Shepherds Bush. Yet the arrest rates based on racial demographic are widely different.

Education. I have been in this space for over 25 years. I have seen initiatives and programmes designed to cater for under achieving boy students of caribbean descent. Yet the data suggests that the biggest under performing group was white working class boys. Now I don’t care much for labels on race or ethnicity to measure success because for me they become the conscious and subconscious expectations people have then off those groups. Look at the data around expulsions

We cannot get away from the fact society can’t undo this kind of thinking overnight. Stereotypes are built over time. Structural racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia have been in place for millennia. It’s about recognising this is in place is in a start

Moving the Conversation Forward
When I go to schools and speak I think it is important to connect with them in a language they understand. Yes I can couch my speech in adult terms but sometimes it can also involve using teen speak. The interesting parallel here is that when I try to demonstrate to students the power of questioning, especially with adults, the one question that always comes up is
Where do you come from? Across all racial groups this question is asked.

My name is David McQueen. I speak with what my Dad would call good Queen’s Standard English and yet this is what I am asked. Even when I tell them West London it then becomes “and where are your parents from?” This may seem as nothing but having shared stages and panels with white speakers who aren’t asked the same question it got me to thinking. Where does such questioning come from? It may seem as nothing but I often get the same questioning, even if not prompted in adult spaces. In addition to “McQueen, that’s a lovely name, where did you get it from”. I kid you not.

Oh and did I mention the need for people who rather than shake my hand want to fist bump me and call me bruv!!!? Bruv?? Shut the front door!!

Race is an uncomfortable subject to discuss. I had an associate tell me he was so confused that he didn’t know whether to call me black, coloured, afro caribbean or man of colour. I told that Dave would suffice. I don’t describe you by your colour so you don’t have to. He was brown by the way just in case your asking.

It is continuous because we are all learning. We all have to listen more. To ask deep and challenging questions which will throw us out of our comfort zone. Often very hard when you are witnessing rampant racism in front of you. It’s hard to undo a lot of the information we have been fed by the media, family and cultural groups and societal structures, all which play a heavy hand in instigating or reacting to racism. Let me leave you with a video just to get you thinking a bit more. Nothing more than food for thought, but just to get you thinking with how far we have to go on this whole subject.



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