Don’t. Not if you’re a Black person who has an entire life of lived experience, studied expertise, scholarly credentials or activist sensibilities. Racism in Britain is not something you should comment on. You will be told you’re wrong. You’ll be accused of being part of the ludicrous liberals whose one mission, vision and passion is the utter downfall of the glorious Britain that is, as white actor and know-nothing-about-racism-in-Britain expert Laurence Fox described – ‘the most tolerant, lovely’ country in Europe.
If you do comment on racism on television, expect serial interruptions, being shouted down in aggressive and egregious ways. Do expect to be confronted by white men or women challenging you, your lived experience and your expertise in ways that make absolutely no sense but are given airtime, credence, authority and gravitas.
Do expect such challenges to come from white men, like Laurence Fox. Don’t ask what qualifications such a white man has to make blanket statements about Britain being so lovely and so tolerant when it comes to racism. Don’t question what, say, Piers Morgan knows about racism and its impact, its cancer on society, community, policy and family in Britain. Don’t wonder how Philip Schofield can say, with any authority, that he can’t see racism in the coverage of Meghan Markle in the UK media. Don’t ask: how does a white historian on a show like Newsnight tell a Black British woman that when it comes to racism Britain is not so bad, and far better than other nations? What do they know about it, you may ask yourself? Don’t ask that. That’s not how we talk about racism in Britain.
The white men who know nothing about racism get seats at tables of influence, get mics, tv time, radio time, online platforms to lecture Black people about how to feel, think and talk about racism in Britain. They get to tell you that they see no evidence of racism in that story, that coverage, that headline, that Tweet.
If you’re Laurence Fox, you will be given the mic to refute racism in response to an audience member, who calls it out in the UK media, and happens to be a scholar, who studies and teaches this issue as her profession, and who is a woman of color. This will happen on ‘Question Time’ one of Britain’s most prestigious current affairs shows on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). You might laughingly suggest that perhaps she should be at the table – as she has actual expertise on this issue – and he should be in the audience, listening. But that’s not how you talk about racism in Britain.
If you’re white male former BBC broadcaster, Danny Baker, feel free to say ‘I had no idea of Meghan Markle’s racial background,’ in response to being challenged about tweeting a picture of a monkey standing between two royals with the caption ‘the royal baby leaves the hospital’ two days after Meghan and Harry have baby Archie. Do expect that such a ludicrous explanation will be accepted, and no punitive action should be taken against you. Do expect that this same ridiculous explanation will be repeated by a white male host and hurled at a black woman when she dares to highlight the racist nature of the Tweet. Do expect such white men to tell a Black woman that ‘Baker doesn’t have a racist bone in his body’. You may respond you have no idea what he has in his body, but in that tweet, there was racism. But don’t say that – that’s not how you talk about racism in Britain.
If you’re Piers Morgan you get to bully and berate while claiming to do ‘tough, rigorous journalism’. You disparage ‘wokeness’ as the scourge and the weapon of the ‘wokery Left’ who do nothing other than diss and disrespect the wonderland, the utter marvelousness that was the British Empire. Or was that Laurence Fox? These white-boys-talking-about-racism all sound the same. White noise.
Ahh Empire! If you’re a person of color – say Afua Hirsch, Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu or Dr. Kehinde Andrews - don’t highlight how utterly bloody, murderous, savage and horrific Empire was for brown skinned people, for India, for the Caribbean, for Kenya. Don’t dare highlight that for people of color, the British Empire was white terrorism. The Brits were stiff upper-lipped white terrorists. Do disregard the horror of Britain’s brutality to Kenya via the 1952-1963 State of Emergency. Do not even think of suggesting that Winston Churchill, the prime-minister at the time of the Kenyan Emergency, may be simultaneously considered the greatest Briton in British history for white people and a white supremacist mass murderer to people of color.
Why would you resort to nuance, the importance of a full history that explores perspective beyond white people? Why would you dare introduce the notion that the lens on British Empire has little to do with anything other than the truth of its benefits to white people? That is not how you talk about race in Britain.
Do expect to be asked again and again and again and again: ‘well can’t you see or say anything positive about the British Empire?’ Do expect to be told – ‘okay, yes some individual bad things happened, but that notwithstanding, the British Empire was extraordinary, and Churchill singlehandedly brought the world to greatness’. If your answer challenges that narrative, do expect to be ridiculed, berated, dismissed and challenged in ways that silence you again and again. Just because you may be a scholar, an activist, an expert, you may even be Black - what do you know about race/racism in Britain?
Do roll your eyes – but only the inside.
Do be willing to call out racist behaviors and then immediately follow that up with qualification that you’re not for one minute - not for one second - suggesting that the person whose action was racist, is himself, herself or themselves, racist. Not at all. Thought never crossed your, or any other black person in the entire world’s, mind. Comfort, soothe, reassure. No matter the toll on you.
When articulating how coverage in some of the British tabloid media of say, Meghan Markle, is racist, do expect to be harangued and harassed, and to be told that how you wrote about, spoke about, offered evidence of said racism was inappropriate, inaccurate, inconsiderate, inundated with falsehoods and utterly undeserved. Always expect to be required to provide example after example after example of said racism. And when you do, expect each example to be dismissed. And then expect to be asked for another example.
Do expect to be exhausted, drained, silenced, exhausted again, horrified, hurt, harmed, upset, angry, livid, tired, sad, overwhelmed and exhausted yet again when you talk about racism in Britain.
Do develop a regime of self-care if you intend to step into this lion’s den of talking about racism in Britain on public platforms, media shows like Good Morning Britain, Question Time, This Morning, Newsnight, Sky, Twitter, or in your job, your sector, your life. Do expect to expend limitless emotional labor in talking about racism in Britain. You are human, you do not have limitless emotional labor to expend. But that is what is required to talk about racism in Britain. Do know you will need armor and a shield every time. Do know you will need Emotional Justice.
Do celebrate the illusion of inclusion that is diversity in the UK. Do reduce systemic racism to unintended misspeak, and occasional incidents by the odd bad apple. Most of all, just be grateful to be in Britain. Don’t complain. Demonstrate your gratitude to be here, live here, work here, love here, even as you are discriminated against here. Deny there is any such thing as racism in Britain, that of course white men are the most qualified to talk about it, and it is indeed the loveliest, most tolerant country in Europe.
And that is how you talk about racism in Britain.Twitter @estherarmah
Esther A. Armah is an international award-winning journalist. She works across print, radio, television and theatre. She is Director of EAA Media Productions. She is a columnist for Ghana’s Business & Financial Times focusing on media, gender, policy and violence and host, creator and Executive Producer of “The Spin,” a weekly one hour all women of color round table podcast that airs in the US, London, Ghana and Nigeria. She is the creator of “Emotional Justice;” a language, process and practice exploring a legacy of untreated trauma due to global histories of black peoples and their contemporary manifestations.