By Afua Hirsch
On a TV panel show I was forced, yet again, to explain the reality of racism to those who believe they are colour-blind. It’s exhausting
The world is wrong,” wrote the American poet Claudia Rankine. “You can’t put the past behind you. It’s buried in you; it’s turned your flesh into its own cupboard.” To be black, in a society that invented race for the specific purpose of dehumanising people who are black, and then invented an equally formidable system of denial, is to carry the burden of history that others would rather forget.
I found myself having to explain this reality last week, on the Sky News show The Pledge, in what I had hoped would be a debate about the utility of Trump’s “shithole countries” remark, and the racism of Jo Marney, girlfriend of the Ukip leader. Remarkably, given the premise, the argument became a race to the bottom. “Does racism exist any more?” my white co-panellists wanted to know. They thought not.
There are so many ways to prove the simple falsehood of this belief, it’s hard to know where to start. How about how people self-define? The British Attitudes Survey last year found that one quarter of British people acknowledged they were racist. A YouGov poll in 2014 found that most British people thought the British empire – whose ideology was one of the innate superiority of the white race – was something to be proud of. In 2015 a survey of more than 24,000 people found that 30% of employees in the UK had witnessed or experienced racial harassment in the workplace first-hand in the previous year.