In 2006 I published ‘Blood in the River’, an account of my journey through the racism of the 1950s, 60’s and 70s. This new piece provides a recap of those years and brings my observations and experiences up to date and includes a number of racist incidents that I have not felt strong enough to write about previously.
I’d like to thank two people without whom I’d not have had the courage to write this account. The first is the writer and activist Louisa Adjoa Parker who has been intimately concerned with racism in rural England through her personal experiences, outreach work, writing workshops, podcasts and her site ‘Where are You Really From?’ The second is the author and activist Reni Eddo-Lodge; her wonderful book ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ was a book that many of us wish we had written but were somehow unable to write. I met Louisa briefly at the Exeter Respect Festival and I’ve never met Reni, but both have been an enormous inspiration and I wish I had half of their personal courage and commitment.
1 The Family Moves out of London
My maternal grandfather was a white, working-class, London man made good. He was born in 1901; patriotic, racist, paternal, homophobic and sexist. He voted Conservative. But he was also honourable, loving, dynamic, caring, devoted, successful, thoughtful, skilled, perceptive, sensitive and protective of all those he cared about. He, more than anyone I’ve ever met, encapsulates the peculiar dynamic in which mixed people of colour found themselves trapped in the white culture of the 1950s.
With success came a move to the countryside, first to Essex and then to Devon in 1964. For many, the countryside represents the ‘true’ country; glorious nature unsullied by human excess. It was thus considered noble to bask in its rural magnificence as well as to conquer it, own it, take its resources, civilise its people and tame its wild, wild ways. That bucolic fiction has, in part, driven the global political landscape since the 16th Century and in more recent history drove the ‘blood and soil’ politics of two world wars. Those themes are still popular today. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings and the numerous sword and sorcery franchises, such as Game of Thrones, tap into the cultural mores I’ve outlined and they all have one thing in common; they are overwhelmingly white.
My parents met in the early 1950s. My dad was, and still is, from a famous Thai family; well connected and respected, yet no longer wealthy. He was in the UK to study architecture and engineering. My mother was studying technical drawing at the same college. Knowing my mother’s views, her politics and her cultural background, I now think her affair with my dad was an act of rebellion, after which she reverted to type. Their marriage didn’t last.
Since my mother’s death over 20 years ago, I’ve re-established contact with my father and visited him several times. He lives in Bangkok and is a fit and active 91-year-old. We’ve spoken at length about his time with my mother and my grandparents in Essex and it is no surprise that their marriage was doomed from the start. I was born in 1956, just 11 years after the end of the second world war, and by the time I was 2 (I don’t know the exact details) he had returned to Thailand.
At school in Essex the teachers, parents and the little children, of which I was one, used racist (and sexist and homophobic) language; wogs, niggers, spics, yids, japs, krauts, frogs, coons, yellows, half-castes, mongrels, picaninnies, gippos, spastics, cripples, homos, Lezbos, queers, faggots, rag-heads, pakis, monkeys, gorillas, dagos, frogs and similar words peppered conversation. Such language was normal. Racial theory was taught in schools as science. Eugenics was still considered respectable by the power-elite, even by many on the left. The holocaust wasn’t despised simply because the policies of the Nazi project were unacceptable, but because the vast majority of the victims were white. That the genocide was industrialised simply added to the Allies’ sense of injustice. There was no common outrage for the plight of native Americans, native Australians or other people of colour murdered in their millions in Africa, India and S. E. Asia as the European Empires conquered their blessed countryside. Being Red In Tooth And Claw in a vast landscape was deemed acceptable while white people in gas-chambers surely was not.
As a small kid I knew no Thai people, nor indeed anyone who wasn’t white. I spoke no Thai and no effort was made to introduce me or my sister to our Thai family. It wasn’t until 2002 that I discovered I had a Thai cousin living. in Norfolk.
Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 was a pivotal moment for me. I had become used to the micro-aggressions, the bullying, the beatings up and the constant pressure to be white, in thoughts and deeds, from teachers, class-mates and strangers. I had become used to the idea that I was an honorary white, that my grandfather’s money and status in rural Devon would somehow be passed on to me. I had been persuaded that all my experiences of racism were uncommon, bad luck, and wouldn’t happen at all once I was ‘grown up’.
I was living in a bubble of belief inculcated in me by a family desperate to protect me but believing I was racially inferior. I was encouraged to be clever, hard-working and ambitious but, as soon as I had any success I was steered in another direction – the idea that I might actually be a success went against the family’s essentially racist ethos. “I know you’ve worked hard, but we don’t think this is right for you.” was a phrase my mother and my stepfather used all the time.
Powell’s speech, though, brought everything into focus; he was part of the establishment. My family thought him wonderful. The effect on me was profound; it was as if a veil had been lifted. As much as I loved my white family – even the most racist members of it – I really didn’t like them very much. I certainly did not trust them or my teachers and I started to mistrust my closest friends. I explained my anxieties to them and they responded, “But Nick, you’re one of us, you could pass for white.” “We don’t notice your colour at all” “We never even think of you as not being white.” They were trying to reassure me but made things worse.
As I grew up, I switched constantly from honorary white boy to ‘troublesome’ yellow kid. In school I was chosen to read racist passages from the books we were studying, none of my medical needs were taken seriously, the bullying just escalated if I stood up for myself. To the very, very few dark-skinned kids at school I was white. To white-skinned kids I was yellow. As a teenager at parties, girls would ask me why I was there, they would tell me at length how they favoured blond boys with blue eyes, tell me Asians were creepy, smelly and violent. White boys would agree with them and tell gruesome tales about the Japanese prisoner of war camps. White feminists would tell me that Eastern men were so bad that oriental women were always seeking white men as husbands.
The only films featuring yellow skins were war movies in which we were all portrayed as brutal beyond redemption. Then there were the ‘comedy orientals’ with their exaggerated accents; bad tempered, buck-toothed and myopic. If you think Clouseau’s side-kick Kato, from the Pink Panther films, was bad enough, you need to readjust your set; Kato was the best of the sorry bunch. Bruce Lee was no help at all. ‘The King And I’ had the only Thai character lead in any English Language film ever as far as I know. Not only was the king played by the yellowed-up white Russian-American actor Yul Brynner, the script was as historically inaccurate as it was racist.
White kids took those stereotypes to heart. At school I was verbally bullied constantly but it went beyond that. I had a brick smashed into my head, I was chased, I had my possessions stolen all the time and I was often pushed into the river. My school work was torn up, I was given ludicrous punishments by teachers for minor infringements for which white kids were never chastised. Once, when swimming in the river voluntarily with a friend, the school’s Cadet force shot at me with small calibre rifles while I was swimming. Luckily, only one bullet hit me, through the upper part of my right ear, but I easily could have died. That episode haunts me to this day.
Whenever I write about my experiences I become overwhelmed by emotion: sadness and compassion for my younger self; compassion, love and revulsion towards my white family; anger at the injustices of living as an unsupported mongrel in a world divided by communities defined by colour; resentment towards white friends full of good advice that has little to do with my predicament. Of course friends mean well. But once a mixed race person, particularly a man with South East Asian heritage, starts calling people out for racism, sexism and homophobia, as I started to do as soon as I entered the work-place, one’s career is over.
2. The countryside, the city and the world of work.
In rural Devon, it can be worse than in the cities. In large cities like London and even in towns like Watford and Plymouth (I’ve worked in both) there are enough people for there to be various cultural quarters where people from non-white backgrounds can find a community of sorts, held together by the fragility of otherness or perhaps a common second language or a shared religion. But when living in London as an adult, I met no Thai people and did not speak Thai. When living in Cardiff, I went to a pub that had two bars, one for white people and one for black people; I was refused service by the staff in both bars and told to “go to the other side”. In cities, though, the different communities help their members and each other. The problem for many mixed people is that we are not part of any community able to offer support.
When working in London I was stopped on ‘Sus’ a few times but it was rare unless driving an expensive car, when delivering cars to customers. My employer at the time thought I was Italian. He misheard ‘Thai’ and thought I’d said ‘Eytie’, slang for Italian. I later found out that he instructed his secretary to bin all job applications that had non-white names attached to them, but I had walked in off the street and was employed before he saw any paperwork. When I called him out over it about two years later I was bullied at the work place and left. I took him to a tribunal, so I could claim benefits having left ‘voluntarily’, and won. But I was then pretty much unemployable in that industry after that.
Earlier in my career I had worked in advertising and there are stories to tell there too. In those days there were not-so-secret ‘black lists’ to which racist employers (pretty much all major employers in those days) could subscribe.
I worked too in Watford for almost 10 years as an environmental campaigner and, as in the advertising industry, people of colour were only tolerated if they were not also campaigning for BAME rights. The pattern is this – you become highly qualified, work hard, impress your line manager and exceed targets. You then support a PoC/BAME/LBGT person or a woman who’s being harassed and that’s it. You’re pushed sideways, your successful projects are given to white colleagues with less experience and they are promoted. You are told to use your skills to train someone younger, less experienced and less skilled than you. They become your boss. That happened to me twice in industries that I had worked hard in for almost 10 years each, twenty years of work and nothing to show for it. Nothing – I was over 40 and still earning a junior wage.
If a white person does the right thing they are soon promoted. If they support the organisation’s training and diversities programmes they are praised to the skies. But for BAME people, especially for ‘honorary whites’ who are often considered to be traitors to both their cultures, it’s all over. Success is only tolerated if one is subservient to the point of infantilisation. If you try to find work in the same industry you can’t because you’ve already been black listed by organisations such as The Economic League or the Consulting Association or the many, many smaller networks still operating informally today – you have to start from scratch in another industry, you have to re-train and go in at the bottom. Blacklisting organisations only became illegal in 2010 but the practice continues.
For mixed BAME people, existing in towns and cities is often extraordinary hard. In contrast, the rural scene is no easier and can be more dangerous. I was, after all, in the countryside when shot at as a child. After many years away, I returned to Devon in about 1998. For two years I attempted to save the family business. My mother and stepfather had mortgaged all the assets and skipped to Spain. My attempts were, of course, scuppered by a racist local ‘green’ group helped along by my step father who fed them negative stories about my credentials.
In 2000 I tried to get back into work and briefly became a senior consultant for an environmental organisation in Plymouth – but, there again, any success, or even signs of it, were opposed by line managers and the CEO actually set me up to be fired and blamed the financial irregularities he had instigated, and I had uncovered, on me and the company accountant – also a PoC. We were the only two in the office and both of S.E. Asian origin. My career was threatened (again!) while the CEO bought a new yacht.
After that, try though I did, I could not find work. I applied for jobs in which I was both highly experienced and highly qualified. I got nowhere. So I ended up being self-employed and worked as a handy-person. Many customers appreciated having a man with two honours degrees and countless other qualifications clearing their drains and cutting their hedges but my anxiety was sky-high.
One of my main customers was a woodlands management company with fields and woodlands all over the UK. I did a mixture of manual work and selling for them as an agent for Devon. But even that gentle industry has to interact with contractors and other organisations who are not in the least frightened of chasing strangers off their land. By saying ‘their land’ I’m not attributing legal ownership to them, I’m using their own words when talking about the generality of who belongs and who doesn’t. They never say ‘I don’t want your type here.’ They always use the tribal ‘we’. But all went reasonably well until 2003.
Though I was online by the time I moved back to Devon, I didn’t then have a blog and social media was in its infancy. It was probably a letter I wrote or a piece I wrote on my website that started a series of harrowing incidents in the bucolic bliss of the Devon countryside.
3 Snow White and The Seven Asylum Seekers.
In the village of Merton, near Okehampton, a local playwright had written a racist pantomime called ‘Snow White and the Seven Asylum Seekers’. The issue hit the international news. The parish council could not decide if they should ban the panto or support it. The village and the county were split. I was in favour of the ban. I wrote about it on my website and sent a letter to Torridge District Council.
Rural communities are well connected. Once the right-wing know about something it doesn’t take long for the news to spread. Many local Councillors are also County Councillors and there’s a network of Conservative Clubs. Knowing what I know about local politics, it’s inconceivable that my point of view had not become common knowledge. Contrary to popular opinion, the far right are often well organised and resourceful.
The first incident – Taw Hollow.
Not long after I had made my position clear about ‘Snow White’, I was working in a field at Taw Hollow in which it had been decided some wetland ponds should be made. The chosen contractor had worked for the woodlands company before. I turned up at a nearby farm and was shown to his office. I introduced myself and the first thing he said was. “I’m not sure if you are who you say you are because you’re not white”. I was thrown by the comment. Though I’ve had similar comments throughout my life it’s never been as a first greeting. Having shown him the plans, my I.D., my card and having told him to whom I reported on my client’s side and why he was recommended he still didn’t believe me. After some discussion, all of which was amicable, I persuaded him to phone the founder of the company. I don’t know to whom he spoke, but after he’d put the phone down he said, “Well, they vouch for you but I’m not convinced.”
A few weeks later he phoned me to say that the work had been completed. I went to the site and all the work had been done beautifully to a high standard. I went back to his farm and thanked him. He mumbled an apology of sorts. I have no idea why he decided to do the work, it was probably because the money was good but, clearly, his initial reaction was so out-front that I think he had been primed.
The second incident – Folley Meadow.
A few weeks later I needed to buy some aggregate or some road planings for some permeable hard standing in a gateway. My client told me that a road was being planed and resurfaced a few miles away and that the crew had sold planings for cash to woodlands reps before. I jumped in the car and found the site. The road crew were on their tea-break, about a dozen men sitting in the back of a 10 tonne tipper truck. After greeting them and introducing myself I asked if they could sell me a few tonnes of planings. At first they didn’t answer so I repeated my request and asked to speak to the foreman. One of the crew nodded in the direction of another man who said, “No mate, now fuck off”.
I phoned my client and said the road crew were definitely not interested in selling to me. My client said I must have approached them the wrong way because he had bought several tonnes from them recently and that they were very helpful. Two days later I was working in a field a few miles from the road crew. Towards the end of the day, the same tipper lorry passed by the field and slowed down. The crew in the back of the truck stood up and monkey-called me until they slowly drove out of sight. When it was time to leave I decided to drive home by a different route, just to be on the safe side.
The third incident – the lanes near Clawton.
I was in the same field in which the monkey-calling incident took place, banging in fence posts. At the end of the day I packed up all my tools and equipment into my old Subaru and headed home through the lanes, avoiding the main road precisely because I did not want to run into the road crew. About two miles into my journey home, there was a long straight lane through the fields, one car wide, with tall hedges either side. On each side there was a verge about 3 feet wide between the hedge and the road with a small ditch below the hedge. As I drove down the road, I caught a glimpse of a lorry passing over a crossroads about 500 yards ahead. I recognised it straight away.
I stopped the car and waited. After a few seconds the truck turned into the lane and accelerated towards me. As it approached I crept the car forwards – the truck was now approaching at speed. Though a single track road, I could see that if we both used the verge we could just about pass. But as the truck sped towards me, taking up all of the tarmac, it was clear it was not going to change course. I banged the car into four-wheel-drive and floored it. The only way I would survive would be to put the front of my car into the hedge and hope the truck only hit the back of my car. I realised straight away that I only had a few seconds to gain as much speed as possible. The truck was coming towards me at about 50 mph and I managed to get my Subaru up to about 30 mph in the shortening distance between us. It was a split second before a head-on impact, the truck not once changing its course from the centre of the road, when I swerved the car into the soft verge and into the hedge. By a complete stroke of luck, the hedge was thin at that point and the verge much wider, and my car fitted entirely between the side of the truck, as it sped past, and the centre of the hedge. I was terrified the truck would turn around and try again or reverse back up to finish me off. The car was undamaged apart from the lower front panel. Still in four-wheel-drive, I bumped out of the hedge over the ditch and back out onto the lane.
The fourth incident – woods near Witheridge.
A few weeks later I was on the edge of a woodland on the side of a quiet country road, putting up a large timber tripod to hold some ‘for sale’ signs. I was about half-way through making it when an old, small blue Landrover drove past. A few minutes later it was back. The driver stopped near me and slid the window open. He was about my age or perhaps a little older, dark haired, had a military mustache, wore the clothes of a country farmer and sported a tweed flat cap. I put down my tools and said good afternoon. He didn’t acknowledge the greeting but simply said. “What do think your doing?” I explained and told him who my client was. He said, “You’ve no business doing that, it’s not your land, I know who owns that land and you’re trespassing.” I went to my car and brought out the Land Registry maps showing that my actions were legal and that my client owned the land. But before I could show him he muttered “I don’t care what that says, I know you shouldn’t be here.” With that he drove off fast. I continued to work.
Less than 20 minutes later another vehicle approached. A long-wheel base crew-cab Landrover. Inside were 5 men wearing military-style clothing in their 30s or 40s. In the pick-up bed behind the cab was a cage in which there were several dogs. My car was parked on the verge between trees and they had parked along side, effectively blocking me in. As their vehicle came to a halt the doors were already open and the men leaped out – as if they had been watching B-movie war films. Two of the men opened a box behind the cab while the other three let the dogs out. With the dogs, all barking furiously, all out of the cage, the two men reached into the box and distributed the shot guns.
“Right! Let’s go!” one of the men shouted. The five men and the dogs ran into the woods just out of sight. Within seconds the sound of the shot guns rang out in volleys with a few seconds between each volley, presumably to re-load. I couldn’t see any of them but they were close. The dogs were all the time barking wildly. I genuinely though I was going to die. I wanted to just stand still, but for some reason I simply picked up my hammer and continued to work on the tripod. As I looked up, flurries of leaves and twigs fell over me from the trees overhanging where I was working. I realised they were shooting at the branches under which I was working. Within a few minutes the shooting stopped and the dogs stopped barking. The men and their hounds returned. They didn’t speak to each other, and they didn’t look at me at all even though they were only a few metres away. It took them only about 30 seconds to load the dogs, stash the guns and get in the truck. They left as quickly and efficiently as they had arrived.
4. The Road to Ruin
Though I reported the above incidents to my client, I did not report them to the police. My thinking was that if the racist panto was supported by about half of the population of the county, it was likely that the same proportion of the local police would be equally inclined. It would be very easy for the men with guns and dogs to return and for me to be disappeared. The more successful my pursuit of the perpetrators, the more likely would be my untimely death. As I was also co-parenting my daughter at the time, it seemed prudent to let it go.
But there was more in store, probably unconnected but I’ll never know. My work for that client, in spite of their offer to help me make a complaint, went awry – I spent as little time as possible at the sites in north and north east Devon and the quality of my work suffered. We parted ways and I concentrated on getting more work near my home in Ashburton. But that too was difficult, I found that my car was moved overnight from the space outside the house I was renting and I had to go and find it. Tools went missing from my garage, various customers for whom I did house renovations, gardening work and so-on started to cancel their bookings. By 2005 I had hardly any work. Customers would ring me, book up and then cancel. By the end of 2006 I had almost no work at all. My mental health suffered very badly and I was for a few weeks in a mental health ward. I couldn’t pay my rent and was homeless. My daughter, though officially resident with me, stayed with her mother and with friends and I found a room in a homeless hostel in Newton Abbot. But even there problems arose.
I was the only person of colour in the hostel and the racist, sexist and homophobic language in the communal room was quite disgraceful. But I had no fight left in me and only occasionally made a comment. After a few weeks, I noticed a lot of single, younger men with no dependents were getting re-housed ahead of me and I had many more points; not just because I was a resident parent but because I had significant health issues – I know this because how many points one had for re-housing was one of the few conversations in that dreadful place.
I went to the Council offices and raised my concerns. I heard nothing back for weeks but eventually received a letter. It was nothing to do with my situation but a rates bill – not for my rates at my previous address (which were, anyway, paid) but for the hostel itself. Someone at the Council had decided it would be hilarious to send me the rates bill for the whole building; it was for thousands of pounds. It was a couple of years before that fictional debt was finally withdrawn. But at least I was offered somewhere to live – but even that was a joke. I was expected to move into a single room flat with my daughter (it was officially two rooms because the room had been partitioned).
The trouble was that the flat (hardly a flat at all) was in Dawlish Warren. Although that was ‘only’ just over 20 miles from my daughter’s school in Ashburton, some of the roads were slow and often clogged with holiday and farm traffic. The room was in an abandoned hotel and there was only one other resident, a single mother with a new baby. The building was huge and the place was freezing cold. There was a prepayment meter on its own very expensive tariff, but even when ploughing money into it the vast uninsulated old hotel would never warm up. To have a warm evening would use up about £10 of electricity using a fan heater on full blast all day.
But, after a huge amount of effort and threatening to sue the Council for breaking pretty much every rule in the book, I was rehoused in Buckfastleigh where I still live.
I’ve been here since 2007. There have been a few incidents but not on the scale I had previously experienced: my lock-up was filled with refuse (why? No one ever said why.); people would park in front of my lock-up so I couldn’t get into it; various maintenance tasks were left undone even though the records said they had; some residents made spurious complaints against me; I had a couple of racist electricians come to re-wire the flat and so-on and so-on.
My debts of the previous years caught up with me in 2008 and I was declared officially Bankrupt. My mental health was at an all time low and I lived as frugally as I could. I attended both NHS and private therapy sessions; the latter costing nearly all of my tiny disposable income. But friends and family made sure I didn’t starve. Had there been food banks in those days I would have used them.
Settled in Buckfastleigh, I hoped this would, again, be a new start. By then in my fifties, I was once more back to square one. My contemporaries were planning their retirements, buying properties for their children – some had retired already and I was earning less than I was as a teenager when adjusted for inflation. I posted fliers in shop windows for handyman work. On one of those walks I bumped into an acquaintance from Ashburton. We chatted for while and he asked me why I had disappeared from Ashburton and I told him of my time in the hostel. He was sympathetic but told me that the reason all my work had fallen away, and customers had cancelled, was that there had been a rumour around Ashburton that I was a terrorist sympathiser.
I was reminded of a day when my mother told me to shave because I looked like ‘..a south American drug dealer..’. This was different. In Ashburton I had joined the local Peace Vigil to protest against The Iraq War. As far as I know, none of the other peace protesters suffered as a result. If anything their status in the town went up (even their opponents thought them principled if misguided) and some of them are very active politically in the area. Time and again, the same themes keep appearing; white people fighting for justice are considered wonderful while PoC are treated with utmost suspicion for doing the exact same things.
5. White Liberalism
How one looks, especially in homogeneous, white rural communities, and how attractive one seems to people for whom race is wholly tied to ideas of status and honesty – that’s all of us to a degree in our racialised society – makes all the difference. The dating site, OK Cupid, crunched the numbers form their vast database and came up with an attractiveness score by gender and race. Here’s a screen shot from their research.
While not wholly representative of attitudes generally, one can see old themes in the data. Black women and black men are considered to be the least attractive to all except those from their own group. However, Asian men don’t do very well either. But what is extraordinary is the gender bias, Asian women being considered to be attractive to all groups.
In part, the data helps to explain why Asian men are assumed to be successful and not requiring support. It is perhaps assumed that if Asian women are so popular, the men must be doing well too (and there’s a whole other conversation to be had there too). For the ‘mixed race’ person of S. E. Asian heritage, there is also the problem of there being no support networks, especially in the countryside where we are an extraordinarily small minority – about 0.1 % or one in a thousand in 2001 rising to a heady 0.7% (including all ‘mixed’ catagories) in 2011.
Lately, on-line, I have also noticed another phenomenon. White liberals often see me as white and take exception to my analysis of anything to do with race – they see it as whitesplaining – as do some black people. It’s as if my experiences over 60 years have no validity.
The experiences I have outline in these pieces took their toll. My mental and physical health, and low income are in large part caused by my life chances being continually undermined. Not least by the very active tribe of New Age people, now in their 50s and 60s who are very much revered in the community. They are very keen on cultural appropriation, dislike being called to account as they believe they are the most sensitive, the most spiritual and the most aware people they know. I’ve written extensively about my opposition to Anthroposophy on my blog so won’t repeat it here except to say that almost everyone of note in the left/green community here in my corner of Devon is connected in one way or another to the cult: supporting Steiner Schools, The Camphill Community, Biodynamic Farming, The Triodos Bank, The Steiner Christian Community and countless other Anthroposophic projects. Many of those people mean well and haven’t even read about the Karmic Racial Hierarchy promoted by the leaders of Anthroposophy. But even when they do know, they are not in the least worried about helping to fund the vast and growing, multi-billion dollar Anthroposophical Empire.
Supporters of Anthroposophy are heavily involved in The Green Party, they run many local businesses, they have started many local charitable organisations, they are involved heavily in the Transition Town movement and are often prominent in local politics. And because so many of their organisations do good things, they feel they are immune from criticism, especially if that criticism concerns institutional racism – a concept thought to be some sort of unfair ‘race card’ played by ‘people obsessed with race’ rather than a genuine and corrosive social force.
And that is the problem with white liberalism. The power structures they create and support are ostensibly open to all and claim to be inclusive, yet they are immune to self-criticism, inclined to a kind of extreme individualism in which it is the spiritual health of each person that determines the success of that individual. They suffer from white fragility that mitigates any valid critique being taken seriously, they prioritise their own opinions above factual analysis or scientific rigour, especially if presented by a person of colour and especially if presented by a person of indeterminate colour with the cheek to speak in RP English. Mixed people are thought to be less authentic, less experienced and not even remotely blessed with the ‘noble savagery’ the white establishment has traditionally admired.
No I wont be attending the ‘Sounds of Africa’ concert by a white singing group, some sporting dreads, or the Japanese Ocha ceremony in which white people yellow up with white pancake. Or the ‘curry night’ in which white women wear bindi and sari – not until you denounce the white-supremacist philosophy of your vile hero Rudolf Steiner and stop funding those who promote his unacceptable legacy.
And what about the place of people of colour in the movements to save the planet? On the right we have those who say the problem lies with brown people in far off places in spite of the lower per-capita impact of less developed countries. On the green/left they say the position of PoC is important but not as important as the fate of the planet and so it’s not a good use of their time to do anything about it. But if something is not done about it, the message to PoC is that the planet, when saved, will be for white people – just as it is now in rural Devon.
Things were bad in the 1950s and 60s. In the 70s and 80s and into the 90s things improved immensely. But I have had little success in explaining to white friends that, bad though things are, things are better now than they were even if the tide is turning back again. Since the late 1990s we have been gradually returning to the values of the 1950s but most white liberals see a return to racism as a much more recent phenomena. The age of Trump, Farage, Brexit, the rise of the far-right, fake news, fake culture, fake anti-racism and fake inclusivity has been successful precisely because of white liberal complacency and the promotion of New Age rubbish that steals from every other culture while honouring none of them. I remember how it was when I was a kid and it could easily be much, much worse.
In rural areas, we are surrounded by immense beauty. There is something magical about the Devon countryside but I don’t feel safe being in it alone even though it feels like home. And there’s the rub; many, many white people – especially those who have moved here over the past few decades from the cities to escape people of colour – see rural England as the last bastion of British culture, a culture that is white through and through.
Wake up, white people, wake up.
Nick Nakorn 15th June 2019