We all hope and pray that one day there will be no racial tension in the world, but that seems a long way off, with recent events in the USA fanning the flames of unrest all over again.
While right-thinking people of every race and every shade of skin deplore the idea of anyone being mistreated because of their colour, there is a danger that white people, seen as the major offenders, are being stereotyped right back, which makes the victims as bad as the perpetrators.
On a recent trip to Guyana I was greeted, from a crowd of taxi drivers, with the words, “Hey, white man”, which made me feel not just conspicuous but nervous. If a white driver in the UK had shouted that at a black visitor, he’d have ended up in court.
Apologies to those of Indian, Chinese and Native American descent, but the main thrust of this particular racism argument is black vs. white, so that is what we’re looking at here. You may want to compile your own list.
So here are a few points I would like to make in my personal defence, based on what I see as misconceptions.
- We’re all bastards. That is not true either literally or metaphorically. I can categorically state that I have never enslaved anyone, African or otherwise, and nor did my father, grandfather or great grandfather.
- We’re all privileged. Okay, I’m a white man who was fortunate enough to have a good education, but that wasn’t because my family had any money. We didn’t. My ancestors on both sides were labourers in potato fields who left their native France after a bad harvest and made a new life for themselves in the Channel Islands. Both of my grandfathers worked in greenhouses, growing tomatoes. My father took a step up the ladder as an insurance salesman (glamorous, eh?), but with four children to clothe and feed, there was precious little in the way of luxuries in our house. The education was due to the availability of free scholarships to a good school for the top students in the 11-Plus exam.
- We’re all American. No. I know it seems like that sometimes, with the way Hollywood and US television and music dominate the entertainment culture of the world, but we are not all Yanks. Some of us have never even been there, although anyone can do an American accent and get away with it, because there are so many variations. Hence the very British Hugh Laurie doing an accent to play the role of House. And the central character in Homeland, the US series about an American soldier returning after being held prisoner in the Middle East was played by a Brit, Damien Lewis.
- The rest of us are all English. Nope. Not even the British. English means from England, whereas British includes Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and little specks in the sea such as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. And apart from the white Brits, of course, there are all the European countries, and Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Falklands…
- We can’t dance. Not true. Admittedly, some can’t dance, but have you ever seen Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, John Travolta and Mick Jagger?
- We don’t know anything about music. When I was doing my singer-guitarist thing once a week in a beach bar in the Turks & Caicos Islands (south of the Bahamas), my wife and I hosted the local hospital’s Christmas party – and some of the guys brought along a huge, battered, shuddering PA system, because obviously old whitey wouldn’t have anything decent on his iPod. Actually, guys, I have a lot of music, some of which you might even like.
- We can’t play basketball. Not quite true. It used to be a white man’s sport, but it seems the African physique is better for that kind of movement. On the other hand, how many of the world’s top swimmers are black? Is it something to do buoyancy, muscle-to-bone ratio, or is it a cultural thing? And is it important?
- White sex isn’t as good. Frankly, ladies, (and indeed gentlemen) you should give it a try before you make that sort of judgment. As if you can generalize about that sort of thing anyway.
- We’re just not cool. Err, Clint Eastwood, David Beckham, Abraham Lincoln, Sean Connery, Al Pacino, Angelina Jolie, Princess Diana, Keira Knightley?
- We don’t have ‘soul’. In a musical sense this is patently not true. In the broader sense it is complete nonsense. You can’t define ‘soul’ anyway. But if you’re looking for white ‘soul’ singers, allow me to recommend Ed Sheeran, Joe Cocker, Michael McDonald, Amy Winehouse, Maria Carey, Joss Stone, Steve Winwood, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart and Boz Scaggs. Anything there that you like? No? Then I’m sorry to say this, but you’re prejudiced.
The author is a British writer from Guernsey, an island between England and France. He is married to a mixed-race Venezuelan woman and has lived in the Caribbean region since 2012.
A version of this article first appeared in Newsday, national newspaper of Trinidad and Tobago