I wanted to write something about the naivety of the British public in the face of racism for a long time, but since the death of George Floyd, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated and sad at not only the incomprehensibly unjust murder, but the tirade of hypocritical ‘support’ seen across social media. Some of this support has felt counter-productive and more like support for support’s sake, with no real impetus to push for change or wish to truly understand the causes of racism.

Growing up amongst white faces

I must stress, the above observation is based on but a small proportion of my viewing and is not a comment on the vast majority of inspired protesters who have been making a stand in the face of discrimination.

I grew up in a small rural town about 30 miles south of Manchester. The town is predominantly white, and we scarcely saw a great deal of ethnic diversity growing up. Surrounded by local quarries and farms, the vast majority of the local economy is propped up by manual jobs and people can largely spend their entire lives in the same 10-mile radius, surrounded by the same white faces.

In my experience, this has created a hotbed of racist tendencies; often, without people knowing that they are being racist. To give you an idea, locals refer to people from western Asia as Pa*is, and those of African descent are labelled ‘N*ggers’ or ‘Charcoal men’. In my year group of roughly 400 students, only 4 were black. These students were consistently and perpetually singled out, often called ‘Stormzy’ behind their backs.

Talk such as; ‘he was a great big spear-throwing type’, ‘tribal-looking’ and ‘n*gga nose’ is undeniably backwards, detestable, and racist. But I’ve heard it pass without so much as the bat of an eye — a truth, I suspect, that is replicated across a range of all-white rural towns in Britain.

Innocent labelling?

In my experience, the above terms are not intentionally meant to be hurtful or derogatory. Nor are they spoken out of feelings of intense white superiority. Rather, they are frequently considered by the perpetrators as harmless jokes or a necessary means of labelling to define those they are talking about. People refer to a car wash in my town, not by its geographical location like the other two we have, but as the ‘p*ki carwash’, and this is the accepted explanatory term for it. From a young age, children are taught to label people of colour, by their colour. This is in place of using more typical characteristics that one would employ to describe a white person, such as by their hairstyle, height or size.

And therein lies the problem. In our country, working-class white towns have not grown with the times of globalisation. Where our cities place genuine effort in being increasingly diverse, cosmopolitan and tolerant environments, rural Britain is falling behind. My school did little to bridge the gap. Black history month always felt like a month for black people, not a month to educate white people about inequality.

Britain is Racist

In December, when Stormzy called out racism, he was critiqued, picked apart, attacked and denounced by large sections of our society. The UK is racist. There is no doubt about it. That this is such a divisive statement, stems from small-minded attitudes, local-level normalisation, and lack of education about what racism is. Embedded in our predominantly white suburbs and towns is an intrinsically racist society, blinded by our own delusions of tolerance, force-fed ideas about the greatness of the British Empire from a young age and naïve to what racism truly is.

Too often have I heard the denialism about a group not being racist, as long as offensive terminology is spoken behind someone’s back and not to their face. People of colour cannot hear them …  so no one is being racist — right? It’s just a joke. I was shocked over the summer to see the same people who call local corner shops ‘p*ki shops’, sharing posts about justice for George Floyd out of a genuine belief that they are nothing like the racists that ended his life.

Rural Britain seeks to detach itself from the problem. It’s too easy to bypass uncomfortable truths by saying ‘America is backwards’, while blindly believing in our own innocence. This is unfair, wrong, and a complete oversight of the unjust slurs and attacks that happen daily on our shores. In not recognising its own accepted racism, rural Britain is as bad as the genuine believers of white superiority.

I like to believe that my experience of racial slurs in rural Britain is the result of circumstantial naivety and a lack of open-mindedness — not a genuine belief by its people in white superiority. But is that any less detestable? Does it make the life of black men and women in the UK any easier?

No. We simply must do better.

The problem that dares not speak its name

We cannot disguise racism. We cannot keep excusing it. And so, we cannot justify slurs and bigotry with fantasies that if ‘it’s not said in front of a black person, it’s not racist’. It simply isn’t true.

Did Adolf Hitler start at the top? No. He spoke selectively about his racist ideas to small groups in beer halls in Munich. Did Tommy Robinson start with national papers? No. His ideology grew from low-level acceptance. Localising and normalising racial terms gives platforms and justification to extremists at all levels. That is why, regardless of who you speak to, regardless of the context, racism is still racism. It is a plague that needs to be eradicated at its source, and it lives with you in your living rooms, within your group chats and within the ‘dark humour pages’.

Rural Britain needs to stop its own hypocrisy. You cannot label people using derogatory racial slurs one minute, only to post support for George Floyd in the face of popularism the next. This low-level acceptance is the root of racism and at the heart of what killed Floyd and many like him. And it will keep killing unless we pull the root out for good.

British men and women must reflect on their own naivety, and denounce derogatory slurs at every turn.

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