Athletics is one of the few arenas where we expect to see a black man or woman at the front, as portrayed above. We are familiar with this kind of image and everyone accepts a ‘person of colour’ to excel in this field. This is not currently true in other arenas in British life; none that spring to mind anyway. It is generally accepted that certain roles, now called key worker roles and usually paid around minimum wage, will likely be inhabited by an immigrant or a second generation immigrant. Clearly this scenario and expectation should not be the case in today’s society. So how can we change it? How do we enable someone like Megan Markle, as Prince Harry’s wife, to feel comfortable and safe living in his native country with all that goes with his Royal role? The couple have sought refuge in the US and Canada and are about to publish a documentary on Netflix about the judgement and discrimination they faced, and their reasons for leaving. I will watch with interest, hoping it might offer some insight into how to better integrate all races within our country. We invited immigration through the 1950’s to now and we need to recognise our part in the diversification of race in our country as a result. A truly egalitarian society would expect every resident in the United Kingdom to be offered the same opportunities in recognition of their skill, not their colour.
The most recent racism scandal is about an Upper Class woman near retirement as Lady in Waiting to the Queen. She was particularly tactless to a woman who is black and runs Sistah Space, a very worthwhile domestic abuse charity. Unfortunately Lady Hussy declined to understand the expectations and restrictions she may face in supporting a racism-free society. She is an individual who has lived in the very system Megan and Harry have succeeded in leaving, and as such may be excused for her lack of political correctness. Her education was presumably in an Upper Class private school, she’s been a long-term employee of the Royal family, and an integral member of an aristocratic society, with all the ground-rules and lifestyle that entails. I suspect she was simply trying to make conversation and felt country of origin would be an appropriate starting point; ultimately Lady Hussy will have been schooled in politeness, being a generous hostess, and showing interest. Her phrasing was unfortunate and she failed to accept the woman’s first response to ‘Where are you from?’, presumably not noticing the faux pas straight away. Her error was not in the initial question, but in her inability in that moment to register the other participant’s offense. Upper Class people in her circle are relentlessly polite, so I would hope this oversight was due to tiredness or perhaps social exhaustion given the size of the event. Of course, she may also be in deep grief over the loss of her boss, Sovereign and close friend. Mistakes happen, especially in times of grief, and she did the honourable thing by apologising and resigning as soon as she was made aware of her perceived insult. For someone of her station, it is rare for such an immediate and sincere apology to be issued, so let’s give her some credit for that.
Having been to Ghana on expedition with Raleigh International in 2004, where white women and men are collectively referred to as ‘Obroni’ I became very aware of being white in a black world. As such the feeling of being the minority race, contrary to the norm in the UK, I suddenly understood what being black in the UK countryside might feel like. Children would approach me and touch my skin and hair out of sheer curiosity. And white people were seen as inherently richer, and were therefore charged higher prices for the entrance to any tourist attractions or leisure activities. If such a pricing scheme were implemented here, there would be an outcry. Strangely in Ghana at the time it felt completely understandable.
For myself as a white, middle-class, British-born woman, however well travelled, I suspect I have made throwaway comments in a moment of inattention and could also be perceived in this way. Even in writing this blog, I am worried about my words being interpreted as racist. I’m not. Had I such an off-day, I would hope my perceived insult would be forgiven on the basis of not being deliberate or malicious. I worry that Lady Hussy has been demonised as a sacrificial lamb to our WOKE-oriented society. It’s easy to be accused as racist in using the word ‘coloured’ not ‘black’. On the other hand some would see being called ‘black’ as the insult and resent the word ‘coloured’. It feels like the semantics are a cultural minefield, where everyone is desperately trying to talk in approved terms about race, while trying to avoid sounding racist. In doing so can racism really be solved in making the discussion of what that means and how to do it such a difficult path to navigate. Freedom of speech is massively important. I believe that it is only in describing and issue in detail, without fear of reprisal for using the ‘wrong’ word is the only way we can move forwards. Eradicating racism is massively important. How do we achieve the second point and enable talking openly and freely about the problems we face in order to find the best, most appropriate solutions supported by the majority?
I would hope we can move away from the demonisation of individuals who stray into tactlessness, presumably through ignorance or because they are just human. I hope instead we will be able to talk honestly about the issues we face as a society and introduce true social mobility. I would have the same hopes, dreams, and ambitions for my child as a black mother as I do being a white mother of a beloved teenager. Perhaps the fundamental problem is that other races have ambition for improving their children’s adult life and living conditions, but start further back in the race to success simply because of the way their race is perceived. Let’s create a culture where anyone of any race is expected and therefore supported to be able to win the ‘race’, in whatever career they choose. Let’s fund their entrance to the race too, so ensuring an ongoing legacy of what the parent can dare to dream for their child. Fair funding is not necessarily available to all at the moment; it would be my ambition to make it so.
All the best to the next generation in whatever they seek to achieve.
Love Ruth x
Header photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash