Pad Life: I Can't Find anything Funny To Say About This
Sometimes, you just run out of frivolity.
I have no pretensions for these Pad Life pieces. I enjoy writing a bit of nonsense, and it’s been nice to know that some people have enjoyed reading them. Even through the horrors of Covid, and there have been so many horrors, for so many people, it seemed important to keep a sense of the absurd. A sense of the absurd was the only way to preserve sanity in the Dominic Cummings debacle. Otherwise rage would eat me up. But then something happens, thousands of miles away, that seems to crystallise so much, and the frivolity is just overwhelmed.
White on black racism is international. It knows no boundaries at all, and it is entirely appropriate that the protests over the murder of George Floyd have spread to many countries. I’ve seen a lot of disturbing and distressing footage of white on black brutality over the years, but what stunned me about this particular piece of film was the cold deliberation of it. The police officer did not care if he killed the man under his knee, did not care that another human being was pleading for his life, and did not care who saw him not caring. He, and the other officers, were completely confident that they would face no consequences for this. Even if there was a fuss, even if they were asked to explain their actions, an explanation would be manufactured and readily accepted. And there, in a nutshell, is white supremacy. It isn’t burning crosses and torches, and burly guys in black leather carrying semi-automatics. That’s the stage scenery. White supremacy is white people feeling that black people are a problem to which white people are entitled to find a solution. Then it’s just a question of degree, of whether or not your solution is subtly enforced behind the scenes, involving discrimination in employment or education or pretty much everything else, or whether you favour murdering black people when you fancy it. Either way, you’re a white supremacist. You can’t be just a little bit racist.
It’s easy for us in the UK to say, ‘It couldn’t happen here’, but our own version of white supremacy is just as ingrained. Government statistics for Stop and Search released in March 2020 show that 4 in every 1,000 White people were stopped, 11 in every 1,000 Asian or Mixed Ethnicity people were stopped, and 38 in every 1,000 Black people were stopped. (Source: Gov.UK, the government website). I’ve heard, I’m sure we’ve all heard, ‘explanations’ that this involves the likelihood of crime being committed by a particular ethnic group. Government statistics for 2018 show that although Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) defendants have a lower conviction rate across the board than White defendants, more BAME defendants than White are remanded to custody and given custodial sentences on conviction (Gov.UK). The Runnymede Trust website states that the proportion of BAME deaths in custody where force is used, and where restraint is used, are both over two times greater than for other deaths in custody, and the proportion of BAME deaths in custody where mental health related issues were a factor is nearly two times as great as for other deaths in custody.
I’m not particularly picking on the police. I’ve just used those statistics because they are relevant to the discussion about police methods. There are statistics about employment, education, pretty much every aspect of life, which show that being non-white in the UK means that you are subject to systemic discrimination and disadvantage.
Enter the ‘whataboutery’. This usually takes the form of ‘what about the white working class, also systemically disadvantaged?’ It is as if you have to pick your favourite disadvantaged team and stick to it. As if recognising white on black racism means that you cannot recognise unfairness against white people. As if recognising misogyny means that you cannot recognise that many, many men have genuine grievances. As if accepting the rights of trans women means that you want to give away the rights cis women have fought for.
Intersectionality Theory is a thing these days, but it basically means that the system screws some people more comprehensively than others. Being poor is a disadvantage, being black, being female, having disabilities, being part of the LGBTQ community… the list of disadvantageous things is pretty long. The system’s pleasure in doing you over, and the resourcefulness it will employ in achieving that, increases in proportion to the number of disadvantageous features you have. But however many other disadvantages you possess, or even if you have none at all, being a person of colour is going to make things more difficult and more dangerous for you.
I’m usually wary of terms like ‘the system’, which is a bit conspiracy-theory for me. But honestly, I don’t know how else to put it. The way in which rich and powerful white men control things in the western world is systematic. It’s brilliant. It’s worked for centuries. It adapts to what is to hand. Religion, royalty, celebrity, technology. And one of the ways the powerful white men keep their power is by sprinkling fairy dust on those who look like them. The promise is that while these little people might never be rich and powerful, they will also never be at the bottom of the heap, because that is reserved for the people who don’t look like the rich and powerful white men. Now and again an ordinary little person is allowed to slip through and join the clan, and that’s enough to reassure the others that the rich and powerful white men are on their side. And look, there are black millionaires, and even a black President. Who must never be allowed to forget that they are in that position despite the colour of their skin.
Edmund Burke said that for evil to flourish, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who do nothing are passive observers. If we do nothing, we are active enablers. In a different context, people like Jimmy Savile, Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein could not have flourished without the people around them doing nothing, even when they had at least an idea of the evil being perpetrated. Some commentator said of Savile, ‘he groomed us all’, and at first I thought, yes indeed. And then I thought, what a load of pious bullshit. Did he groom the producer who wouldn’t let him onto ‘Children In Need’ because of the rumours? Did he groom Prince Charles and Margaret Thatcher, who both thought he was marvellous, despite having a small army of people who were supposed to check the backgrounds of those admitted to the presence. Grooming is done by the powerful to the powerless. Deliberately looking the other way is what the powerful do when there is something they’d rather not see. And being white, in our society, gives me and all other white people the power to do exactly that, if we choose.
So I sit here in my little Pad and think, what can I do? I can write about it, which isn’t going to help much. I can share stuff on social media, which at my level of profile is going to do bugger all. I can join a protest that someone else has organised, but there aren’t any where I live and even if there were, yeah, I’m still scared of Covid. In the short term, I don’t know what to do. So maybe what I can do is long term. I can ask candidates for my vote where they stand on white supremacy, and what they intend to do to oppose it. I find out where the brands I like and the activities I support and the people I admire stand on white supremacy, and what they intend to do to oppose it. I can open my nervous little gob and speak out in person, when I see white supremacy in action. Because if I don’t, I’m an enabler. And I really don’t want to be that.
Oh, and here’s a thought. I could actually ask people of colour what they want me to do. Otherwise, my pious rant is just another example of privileged white bullshit.