Swine flu and racism
More pigs. I seem to have a bit of a pig phase going on this month. OH has swine flu and anti-viral treatment and I have a headache … whether it will turn into swine flu I have no idea but I do know there’s nobody to go and get me Tamiflu if I succumb.
What I wanted to write about today was racism, but my ideas on this subject are so muddled that I can hardly begin to do justice to them. My head is a mess, and that could be swine flu or it could be the bloody horrible messiness of racism itself.
I am a racist. I know this and it doesn’t trouble me very much. I am a racist not in the white supremacist way, nor, I hope in the smug white middle-class way that has a black friend and thus believes it has nothing further to do. I am a racist in the way that I have to confront my belief system and my earliest conditioning on a regular basis and test what I believe to be true against what I know to be real.
I used to be less of a racist than I am now. I know this, and it troubles me greatly. When I lived in Tooting and worked in conflict resolution I mixed with people of every culture. My meals ranged from halal to fish and chips to fasting with a Coptic colleague. My clothes ranged from salwar to Armani. I spoke French as often as English because so many refugees I met came from Francophone countries. My afternoon sugar rush was provided by mint tea and wedding sweets from the Indian shop around the corner.
London wasn’t perfect - don’t get me started on West Indian men and homosexuality, for example, but it was much better than Brighton is for challenging, exposing and resolving issues of covert racism.
In Brighton I have only a few friends of difficult ethnic culture, although I have many who have chosen lifestyles wildly different to mine. I work alone, so I never have to see evidence of the colour ceiling that so many people of colour find in large organisations. And I’d become complacent about this. Suddenly I realise just how far I’ve moved: from being anti-racist to being unexposed to racism, and they are not the same thing!
I’m working on this novel – this novel about the effects of the death of a young adopted black man in the 1970s. It’s not about him. It’s not from his point of view. But it is about his white sister and her experience of racism via his life. And I’m wondering how much I can say or should say and how to say it and whether I’ve forgotten how racist the world really was then and still is now.
Before my friend Doll moved back to Trinidad, I shared in her daily litany, either by sitting with her or on the phone, as she told me how people treated her. The insults she experienced, not just every day but every hour, were almost inconceivable unless you actually went out with her for an evening, and saw how staff in top London restaurants gaped at a black woman ordering wine for a table of white men, or heard visitors to her company talking to her as if she was slow-witted when she was a founding partner in a highly competitive industry. But just because I heard, doesn’t mean I understood, or shared. Because how could I?
And I want to write about racism from the perspective of somebody who sees it, who hates it but is too young to do anything about it, and who has to fight against its seeping presence in her own thought systems. I think it’s important to try and write about those things that are as shaping, and shaming as early sexual experiences or religious conditioning or whatever else made us what we are. But it’s also confusing and frightening to step into 90,000 words or more that will definitely attract flak from all sides.
Sigh. Why did I ever think I could do this?
PS The pink supremacist pig is from Tilgate - apparently pink pigs get sunburn. That'll teach them to think they are better than their black and piebald brethren!
PPS - and when I say being racist doesn't bother me, I mean it in the sense that knowing what I am allows me to work against it. Just as only men can stop rape, only racists can stop racism. It's not for the people who endure the behaviour to change, it's for those who have it within them, so, like the recovering alcoholic, I start every day knowing that I was bred to think people with a different skin colour were inferior to me, and I exercise my rationality to extirpate the habits that come from such false beliefs.
Labels: novel writing, racism in fiction, swine flu