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  • My parents happily vanished next door to the Pakistani family when they were infrequently invited to enjoy a good meal and for the neighbours to show how modern they were by letting my mother sit with the menfolk with tumblers full of whisky she felt duty bound to drink. They never came to our house. I recall no real interaction other than these meals.
  • When my sister brought back a boyfriend from university, who happened to be Asian, I overheard them wondering what colour the babies might be. And no, she wasn’t pregnant. This is the only time I can pinpoint a memory of a person walking through our front door who isn’t white.
  • We spent a few days with German friends in Germany. After we returned home my parents sat at the dinner table making stupid German jokes (about keep things in order, that sort of thing). It was one of the very few times I felt able to stand up to them and say that given the nice time we had how utterly insulting this mockery was and I actually said that if they couldn’t behave themselves I would go and eat elsewhere. They subsided into shocked silence. I probably managed it because it wasn’t about me.
  • My parents think all Americans are uncultured. Nothing good has come out of the USA. This despite my father’s favourite novelist being Raymond Chandler, as American as apple pie and my mother enjoying a long list of Hollywood films. I might agree with them on the cultural value of McDonald or Coca-Cola but they do not fully represent America.
  • They have always valued and prized the Middle East and were fortunate enough to visit Syria before it fell apart. They admire the history, the science, the intellect, the architecture and art. They enjoyed the holidays they have taken but did not notice the “now”; they could not tell me anything about the man on the street, let alone the women.
  • They like certain groups of foreign people because they have great food and nice restaurants. Whether they like them beyond that I am not sure.

I should add that my father has visited more countries in his life than not so he has been exposed to different cultures the world over, although maybe (probably) with a lack of engagement with the ordinary person.

It was not until I started listing these few memories out that I realised that my parents, as far as I can remember, have never discussed black people. Certainly not as friends, nor as part of a history of colonialism and absolutely not as people with their own history and culture. Africa interests them not at all, except for the Mediterranean part. My mother did once point out to me that my grandmother had lived in South Africa for a while and that is why she took such an interest in the plight of black South Africans, as if no other reason was possible.

The world seems to divide up into the interesting bits: Europe, with Italy and the Med the favourites, continental Africa and the Middle East as good, and the rest full of uncultured people (Americans and Australians and no doubt other countries not beginning with A) or some sort of blank, not worthy of consideration.

My son suggested that they were generationally racist, in that they aren’t really racist, they simply talk that way, in the way their generation do. I do not think this is true. I think my father is hugely an intellectual snob which he interprets in a racist manner.

* <tl;dr> of course they are – they’re white, as are my entire family, so we are all racist, whether we admit it or not.

I have always tried not to be overtly racist, in words and deeds. I am currently trying to grow my awareness of institutional racism, not as something that merely belongs to organisations but that is embedded in all aspects of this country, from who runs it down to personal white privilege. In this sense a country is a giant institution and granting easier access and progress to whites is built in to every aspect. I have not had to give this much thought in my life, which is itself a privilege.

Today I got out of my car in my road and was greeted by name by my local police officer, out on patrol. We had a nice generic chat about the neighbourhood and what was going on and she pedalled off. I didn’t worry what questions she would ask me, whether she would want to frisk me, search my car or ask me anything too personal. I felt not one jot of anxiety. I was aware, during this perfectly innocuous conversation that it would probably have been different had I been black. I would probably not have known her. She would probably not have known my name. I wouldn’t have already interacted with my local police from the point of view of a community organiser. I would of course hope that this particular officer wouldn’t treat a black person differently. But I have that hope because I am white.

 

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