An interesting thing happened to me today, I found myself arguing with someone that, while ‘black lives matter’ is not a racist statement, ‘white lives matter’ is.
I am a middle-aged, middle class, white man. My politics are slightly to the right, although I do not class myself as a conservative people that know me might say otherwise. In a way, my life leads me to be politically conservative, I am self-employed and have been for most of my working life. In the UK the Tories are the party that traditionally represents my sector of the community, although recently they have taken to attacking us and what we stand for with a serious focus.
When I say ‘what we stand for’ I refer to the principles of responsibility, and private enterprise that have made Britain great. We, the self employed, employers of others, owners of small businesses have traded for centuries and make up the grass roots of the society. Generally speaking, we pay taxes and we spend money, we seed the system higher up and we distribute wealth lower down, in ways that the rich don’t tend to. This may sound a bit narcissistic or self-important, it may sound extremely those things, but that is immaterial. You get the idea of who I am, where I am from, and how I see the world.
The point I was trying to make above, is that I am not the type of person who, traditionally, would be a supporter of ‘black lives matter’, and indeed I am not. To the extent that when I write about it I will not dignify it with capital letters, I will use inverted commas to show that I think it is a cliche and a slogan rather than a movement. This grammatical treatment reflects my feeling that it has done more to divide society and to set white against black than almost anything I can think of, I don’t know why but KKK springs to mind right now.
So, back to the incident today.
The person I was speaking to was getting a bit heated about the subject of identity politics, and I was feeding into that by talking about the way people are being attacked for making statements of opinion and then being torn down by mobs of ‘supporters’ of the minority group which they feel has been slighted. He moved on to make the statement that white lives matter was no more racist than saying that black lives matter, and that it was indecent that the person, who flew a banner saying white lives matter behind a plane over a football game, should have been sacked. This statement crystalised for me the ideas that I have been having about that whole situation.
You’d probably have needed to be dead to not have heard about this situation, and it has made me think a lot about the subject of racism. Mainly my thoughts have been about my own propensity for racism, whether the thoughts I have mean that I am racist or whether my actions are what reveal it. When I was young, I used to drink in a pub that was patronised mainly by West Indian men. They were the originals, they had come to England in the fifties and sixties to work in manufacturing, and to drive buses and trains. These men would play dominoes loudly, smoke weed, and drink lager and blackcurrant, they were friendly and accepting of the whites who shared the space. This was my initiation into racial difference, at my high school there were two Indian boys and two black boys in my year, culturally I was very naive. I didn’t think about colour or racial differences, these people accepted me and I accepted them, we got stoned together and all was well.
The subject that was raised for me by the black lives matter issue was about inherent racism, that my privilege, as a white person, was so much part of me and my history that I couldn’t even see that I was racist. So I had a look at myself and wondered if there was some way I could uncover this shadow on my soul, find out if I oppressed others so deeply that I didn’t even know I was doing it. I don’t think I do, but then, that is just what I would say, isn’t it?
Through this examination, I analysed my feelings about the rioting kids and I found that I didn’t like them at all. However, I was relieved to discover that the greater percentage of them were white, so my visceral dislike of them and their anti-social behaviour was more about being old and grumpy than racist. But the message was that there is a racial divide that needs to be addressed, and if there is complacency about it in the white community this type of anger can flare up at any time. There is probably a long way to go before we, as whites, fully accept black people as equal. Although we think we do already, the evidence is to the contrary. Police stop and search is almost completely black and asian, the argument that it is these racial groups that commit the largest proportion of crime feeds a negative loop which will never end.
There is only one way out of this situation, and we have been moving that way for a long time. The evidence I have seen of embarrassment amongst the black community about the rioting tells the story, sympathy is not there for the horrible soys and there is a reason for this. There is considerable affluence among black people now. They own property, they have powerful and responsible jobs, they vote conservative. This has been the result of education, hard work and perseverance, it has also been the result of changing perceptions among whites. There was proper racism when I was young, it was rife. Those West Indians I mentioned before had borne the brunt of it and they had stuck together, they stayed cheerful in the face of intolerance, and their kids had a chance to make better lives for themselves.
This is how society changes, and it is not an easy road. It takes willingness on the part of the majority to change, but it also takes hardiness from the minority. The imposition of quotas and of positive discrimination is derisory, all it serves to do is to weaken the pool and cause resentment. I heard this again today, it was part of the argument being used against black lives matter, and demonstrated to me that racism is alive and well in Britain today, particularly among those who think they have done the work and accepted. The attitude was that ‘they’ should shut up and enjoy the spoils that have been unfairly won.
So, I will finish by clarifying what I said today. It is my contention that saying black lives matter is not racist, it is just a statement, however, saying white lives matter in reaction to that initial statement is racist because it is trying to trump the original statement. It reveals a resentment that may be the raison d’etre of black lives matter. If it is not possible for that statement to be uttered, and for it to resonate in everyone’s consciousness without people trying to grab something back, it means there is something dark being exposed.
There is probably a long way to go, but it has only been two generations since the serious racial violence of the time of my youth, and much has been achieved. Allow more time to pass and allow natural progression to take place and further integration will occur. Be warned, equality of outcome can not be guaranteed in human affairs, there are many variables and artificial equality measures will probably not produce the desired result.
What if it turns out that despite all efforts to promote diversity and equality of opportunity black people really only want to smoke good weed and are not interested in climbing to the dizzy heights that denote success? I, for one, could understand that. And there I go, revealing my racial bias.
I’m just saying