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.


  1. Louise Halvardsson
    24th July 2009

    you are being brave and honest! it’s so much worse with people thinking they are ok becuase they have 1 black or gay friend or whatever …thanks for sharing!

  2. Jim Murdoch
    24th July 2009

    I get this. And I think, as far as I’m concerned, a lot of it has to do with indoctrination. I was brought up in a world where there were no coloured people and no homosexuals, at least none that I was aware of. My father, although not especially vocal on either subject, still wore his feelings on his sleeve. So I was brought up in an environment of both bigotry and ignorance and by ignorance I mean both my own and my father’s. In his defence he too was a product of the generation he grew up in.

    The word ‘bigot’ will immediately get people’s hackles up. It’s very emotive. The bottom line is that at my age I’m still uncomfortable on the rare occasions I encounter coloured people and gays. I think a bigot though is someone who makes a conscious decision to act a certain way and is not swayed by any evidence presented to the contrary.

    It wasn’t only my father to blame. Schoolchildren don’t tolerate difference very well and woe betide anyone who is a minority of one. It’s not bigotry. They really don’t care and they’ll turn on one of their own as soon as they stop conforming. All it takes is a pair of braces, or to be the first girl in the class to wear a bra or to be sent to school in a kilt on the last day of term.

    I, of course, hate myself for not feeling the same about everyone. Not feeling the same about everyone and not treating everyone the same are two different things. The important thing is not to act on your feelings, or perhaps more accurately the feelings you’ve inherited. You may never grow out of them. And that’s a shame.

  3. BookClover
    25th July 2009

    I agree with Louise, you are being brave;-) I think honesty is a gift, thanks for sharing.

  4. Kay Sexton
    28th July 2009

    Lou and Bookclover, thank you. Jim, that’s it exactly – thank you. and I do think it’s worth writing about, even if it’s not ‘sexy’.


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