Anecdotes on Race and Racism

no colour bar in british art

Happy Black History Month – at least in the UK. I’m not sure where else it exists other than in North America but anyway, let’s do some learning about the history of black people! In the UK at least, “black” was a political label used by anyone non-white, therefore a lot of the anti-racist movements and black power movements weren’t exclusive to people of African of Caribbean descent, but also people of Asian descent too. Learning about this earlier this year in one of my history modules, “Race and Immigration in 20th Century Britain” was inspiring, especially since my dad is half Sri Lankan, raised in Jamaica and I’m just a mongreloid manifestation of the Caribbean melting pot.

Moreover I’m an immigrant in many people’s eyes although I’ve always had a British passport and should be able to pull out the “expat” label like Aussies and Kiwis and such. Yet it offered for the first time education about what exactly Black British people were doing over the last 100 years, something that is often avoided in history classrooms. As a black kid in England you usually learn about slavery once a year and then feel angry and impotent and wonder if much has changed at all. Therefore it gave a lot more context to learn about Olive Morris, the British Black Panthers, Ambalavaner Sivanandan, and Darcus Howe as well as many more influential figures and groups. It’s a part of British history that seems to be forgotten.

It was a pretty interesting course and the professor spearheading it was really great at getting us all interested in challenging the racist British establishment. However it did leave me some good points to raise whenever lamenting the discussion of race issues in the UK. I remember seminars, fellow students would compare Britain to USA if only to say “We’re not as bad as America”, defending the supposed tolerance of the UK. A response I would passionately contradict by stating: Britain’s black population is tiny; Britain outlawed guns; Britain is mainly a homogeneous country. There’s a lot of things the US got wrong but Britain sucks in many ways because these students fail to acknowledge that their country is as racist as any western nation. I hated the course because it was too close to home. I didn’t want to come across as an angry black women and therefore have my contribution to the discussion dismissed. But I was angry, I think most black people should be, after all black people account for less than four percent of the population but 10% of all prisoners.

The UK is racist and so are you, and so am I. We are all raised racist and ignorant because we are taught that way. The difference is I have no power and dickheads like Theresa May have lots. Immigration in the UK has always been racialised – the fact that the module “Race and Immigration in 20th Century Britain” limited itself to 20th century Britain already set up a platform for analysing the racial element of immigration. Failing to look at the other countless groups of mass migration that existed previously in past centuries but were essential in the shaping of metropolitan Britain. I say metropolitan because the UK outside of its city is almost overwhelmingly white-British. Despite all the anxieties over immigrants and muslims and black people, 87.1% of Britain identifies as white. Only 6.92% identify as Asian and 3.01% as Black. I like to say that multicultural Britain is a lie, just political rhetoric. And those arguing that Britain isn’t homogeneous, what exactly makes a country homogeneous anyway? Racial purity is a lie and culture is a creation, constantly in flux and constantly adapting and assuming new influences.

only black
can you spot me in this crowd?

I’m the only black person at my uni in Japan. Which isn’t much a of a big deal. The first few weeks went by without much mention of race and I was feeling pretty comfortable not having to moan about white supremacy or privileges or some micro aggression that made me feel off all day. Then it started. I walked into a conversation just as “nigga” was dropped. I wouldn’t call the speaker any more racist than I am, but ignorant – to a degree, yes. I didn’t get angry or shout or lecture. I tried to walk away and keep calm. I wasn’t really angry. It was expected I guess. What sucked was the defences pulled out by both the speaker and listener – “I have a black friend”, “My black friend uses it all the time”, I walked away before I had to hear any more. I don’t dislike these people. They are sweet and well intentioned. But yeah, it sucked.

It’s like the annoying circumstances when you’re newly acquainted with someone and they say, “I wish I was black, black people are so cool,”. It’s annoying and boring and exhausting, to keep smiling and try not to be an dick head. Later that week, at lunch time, someone was talking about a mixed friend who identifies as mulatto and then someone else brought up the question, asking all the white faces around him, “who uses nigger other than ironically?”. Inside I was screaming: WHY DO YOU WANT TO USE IT SO MUCH? WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT A WORD THAT EXISTS ONLY TO MAKE SOMEONE FEEL INFERIOR BECAUSE OF THE COLOUR OF THEIR SKIN? WHAT IS SO FUCKING IRONIC ABOUT IT! I try not to use it, I’m embarrassed that rappers use it all the time, but it makes my skin crawl when non-black people whip it out. Black men are still being shot, black women are still being raped, yet we are still rendered invisible save for a few caricatures. Things have been changing recently, and maybe for the better, but can’t we just leave this in the past?

Ranting about this to my art teacher, a fellow student tried to begin arguing about why it should be used ironically, and I shut him down. No, I don’t want to hear your argument. It was white privilege demonstrated at its best. A white man telling me what to find offensive. And all the arguments about censorship and political correctness should instead think about empathy and try to listen to a black and or marginalised person’s experience. You can’t tell a person of an oppressed group what they should tolerate what they shouldn’t. Besides, I had heard that argument far too many times before. I was tired or having to explain why it was pointless trying to say otherwise. Especially coming from a white guy. I didn’t need racism mansplained to me for the sake of what he perceived as “irony”. Instead of being colour blind, acknowledge that the world still sucks and is still racist, prejudiced, unequal and it’s annoying and feels futile, so futile that sometimes I wish I could wake up and not have to be in this bullshit world.

Rats & Star and idol group Momoiro Clover Z wearing blackface

Racism in Japan. I haven’t encountered any regarding my race. Maybe as a foreigner, gaijin, but not really. Maybe because I can’t understand any Japanese. I think a lot of white people find it hard being here though. In Japan they are not a majority and they are forced to experience what it is like to shed their entitlement and obliviousness. I think some white guys feel sad that Japanese girls aren’t throwing themselves at them. I like being here because I’m an outsider and that’s all I can be. In the UK I tread the line of being British but not really and all the repressed racism that boils my blood, the ignorance of its imperial legacy, the white guilt and the fear of change. In Japan I am a gaijin and the first black woman a lot of these Japanese people have ever seen. As a person genuinely interested in different cultures (especially if the food is good) then it’s quite easy to be here since Japanese people tend to be quite accommodating and friendly. The only racism I’ve encountered was the little doses of ignorance and “irony” from white classmates. That and a few Japanese acquaintances singing “Niggas in Paris” at Karaoke. That experience was more funny than anything. I suppose because Japanese never really encountered black people other than through pop culture I’m less likely to feel weird if they drop n-bombs. Just keep it irregular, y’know.

How many times have you fancied a person because of their status and privileges? This article posits the fact that whilst interracial relationships can be awesome, we should also question whether we actually like the person for our own reasons or because we are conditioned to do so. Additionally, do we find our object of attraction attractive because they can afford and can access all the markers that deem them so? I recently left the facebook group, “Why is My Curriculum White?” because it was filled with a lot of ignorance and resentment. It was great at first, being exposed to other like minded people challenging the education system’s whitewashed syllabus, however there were far too many posts hating on people who were mixed or in interracial relationships for me to feel comfortable. I tend to hate when people try and tell you how to self-identify. If I want to call myself black and I want to call myself mixed then I will. I have my reasons. I shouldn’t have to defend myself.

Self-identification is an important topic for discussion. It’s easy to put people in boxes, to dictate what a person is, to ignore their protests or opinions. A classmate was telling a story about correcting some Indians on identifying as Asians. He had some bullshit reason, something about tectonic plates or whatever. I intervened and told him India is a part of Asia, moreover, him being from USA had primarily come into contact with East Asians whilst my experience in the UK was that of people from South Asia. I ended the point with the falsehood that is Europe and Asia, when both are part of the same landmass (EURASIA!). The separation was the manifestation of European uniqueness, the dehumanisation of the East that dates back to Ancient Grecian times. Moreover, do we consider Russians Asian? or Israelis? Where does the Middle East start and end? Are Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Algeria part of Africa? I don’t know. Race and ethnicity are constructs and have little genetic or logical basis.

Multiculturalism and Monoculturalism: A close friend and I were having a discussion about whether multiculturalism bred conflict. I disagreed, I believe heirarchies and supremacy breeds conflict. The issue is not race, or ethnicity or cultures, it’s supremacy of one over another, it’s the rejection of one as inferior, it’s ignorance and prejudice. I’m biased in the belief that diversity is best. I come from Jamaica which is over 90% black but is a fusion of different cultures and has a welcoming stance towards immigrants and “outsiders”. I’m mixed, with roots from Switzerland, England, Sri Lanka and Jamaica. I grew up in north west London, Edgware and Kingsbury and came into contact with people from varying backgrounds and cultures. I experienced culture shock moving to Brighton and being around so many white middle class British people.

Japan has been argued to be a homogeneous or monocultural place. While a lot of foreigners and Japanese believe this, from looking into its history and walking around I would say it’s not really. Yes there are some racial-purity fanatics, but a lot of the children I see around my university in Yamanashi and in Tokyo are mixed. More people than ever are marrying foreigners and a lots of mixed Japanese people are gaining recognition here. It’s by no means less or more racist than anywhere else in the world, but like everywhere else, it is in constant flux.

Personally I don’t think any culture is superior or great and I don’t idealise any. I see flaws and faults in a lot of things. But I believe that if you embrace the good of a multitude of different approaches to life then something great could happen. We tend to emphasise cultural difference as a limiting factor, but that’s only if we let it. Why be defined by the place of your birth or upbringing, just take what you like from it and make decisions for yourself. Travel halfway across the globe and live in a culture alien to your own, discover that this idea of monoculturalism is a lie.

IMG_0358
peace and weirdness in Kichijouji

Anyway, peace and love, and maybe an update on my adventures in Japan soonish… I have homework.

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