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Understanding the complexity of race is not a new way of thinking

January 8, 2012

It is not worthwhile going into the rights and wrongs of the recent race furors – other people have blogged so I don’t have to. What I do find interesting is the idea that the debates of the first week of 2012 may mean something to British society as a whole.

Matthew Ryder has written a piece in the Guardian today entitled, ‘The Lawrence case has at last made us confront the complex nature of racism’. It is subtitled, ‘Its legacy is profound and given us valuable new ways of thinking. We must not waste these insights’.

Seeing racism as complicated is not a ‘new way of thinking’. It is the way people with common sense, objectiveness and intelligence have always thought. It is only ‘new’ if you have been turning a blind eye to white privilege for the past five centuries. But it is very refreshing to see so many people open their minds to a more complex approach to the issue.

Racism is as innocent as simple as someone touching my hair without asking, or asking me which buses go to Peckham. It is a cutting as being told to ‘go home’ or being told frankly by a colleague from a small northern village “you won’t go down well where I come from.” Racism is not about whether or not the person is racist, it’s whether they do or say something that is clearly driven by a difference in race or ethnicity – harm intended or not. And if you are finally learning this, welcome to my world.

Welcome to my world if you posted tweets and Facebook statuses in memory of Stephen Lawrence and in praise of Doreen. Because I bet those were the first race-related updates you ever bothered to share with the world. Welcome if you were embarrassed by the indignation of many white people who thought they were victims of a racist attack last Thursday. And welcome if you scratched your head at Kenny Daglish’s vain attempts to stand by Suarez, even after he was found guilty.

Finally, intelligent debate about the nature of race and racism could be found amongst the usual reactionary drivel penned by white middle class commentators, complaining about political correctness and chips on shoulders.

Michal Rosen’s opinion piece hit the proverbial nail on the head:

Common sense could be found here too:

This intelligent debate mostly came from people who actually get listened to and more promisingly, it was actually read by people who perhaps haven’t already been converted.

For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel optimistic about the transition of intelligent racial debate from intellectual and anti-racism forums into a more popular arena.

And how do I know this change is slowly happening? Well, I posted a Facebook status update about David Starkey when he said black youth were leading white youth astray. And no one engaged in the debate with me. I plugged Duwayne Brook’s and Simon Hattenstone’s book Stephen and Me on Facebook when I read it last year, and no one took me up on the offer to read it.

On January 3 2012, my timelines were awash with everyone’s opinions on race relations in theUKtoday. My posts were liked and commented upon. My tweets were ‘RTed’. And it was a constant topic of conversation at work too.

This is not to dismiss the gigantic volume of misplaced opinion and derogatory name-calling that was unleashed on Twitter after Diane Abbott told ‘white people’ about themselves. It is to acknowledge that it is my hope, with regards to the conversation and recognition that Diane Abbott might have had a point, that we have started 2012 as we mean to go on. I would quite like Britain to see the racism that has been in front of its nose all along.

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