Posted on January 20, 2009

I’ve Never Lived With a White Man, But Racism Is Still There in My DNA

Daily Mail (London), January 19, 2009

Today I am going to reveal something I have never written about before (and you thought there were no more guts to spill).

Here we go. I’ve never had a relationship with a white man. I’ve never had sex with a white man, although I have kissed the odd one, many years ago.

I have been thinking about this fact over the past week, as the issue of race has reared its head again.

On the one hand, we’re about to have a black family in the White House. On the other, we learn our future King refers to a close friend, who is Asian, as ‘Sooty’, while his son, Harry, was caught a few years ago referring to a fellow soldier as a ‘Paki’.

There has been a lot of talk over the past few days, defending the Royals, saying that of course Harry is a hero not a bigot, that Charles is merely being affectionate, and has probably been called Jug Ears in his time.

That America can no longer be racist. That everything is OK.

But racism is more complicated than that. America’s acceptance of Barack Obama is similar to its love for Will Smith: both have to behave white and be devilishly (wrong word) attractive.

Paki does not equate with calling someone ginger; only if people with ginger hair have been attacked in race riots, barred from renting property, beaten up in school and not given jobs because of the colour of their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, would it somehow be on a par.

Why am I bringing up the fact I have had relationships only with black and Asian men?

It is not to bleat that, having been on the arm of a man of colour, I have experienced racism first-hand.

I haven’t, bar the odd occasion when my boyfriend was assumed to be my minicab driver.

Unless you are black or Asian you cannot know what racism feels like.

I’m not even going to say how terrible inverse racism is: you know, poor white people being disliked, being all brave dating a black man (a viewpoint as hopelessly dated as the film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?).

Dating, and even marrying, these men meant I was treated only with courtesy by their friends and families, which was very different indeed to how my dad treated my first boyfriend.

I tried to understand that my dad had been in combat with the Mau Mau in Kenya in the Fifties; but, although he was friendly with Germans despite having fought them in Italy, he never could quite get over his distrust of black people.

He refused to let my boyfriend in the house, and ostracised me for a bit; similarly, he always thought my brother’s black wife was lazy and disorganised and ‘too laid-back’.

I want to illustrate that racism is still there and, with the current pressure on jobs and housing and the environment, is a pot of boiling resentment that is in danger of splashing our shiny PC worktops.

We haven’t stamped it out, we have merely buried it.

I saw Cheryl Cole on TV a couple of weeks ago. She is a woman who got into a fight with a black lavatory attendant, married a (rich, Caucasian-featured) black man, and was seen, eyes widening like a cat with a mouse, ogling a mixed-race young man auditioning for The X Factor.

Does this make her incredibly open-minded, or the possessor of a (racist, colonialist) fetish for dark skin?

I think in the Nineties I fell in love with three black men partly because it was fashionable and gave me a veneer of (here comes a racist word) ‘cool’ that, as a boring Essex girl, I didn’t possess.

I married, on the wave of Asians being the new blacks, with lots of hot new books in the bestseller lists, an Indian (that wasn’t the whole reason but, let’s be honest here, it was part of it).

But even this ‘love’ of someone from another culture didn’t stop me, the other day, when a young, black friend told me she had been given a council house but wasn’t happy because ‘it doesn’t have central heating’, from thinking: ‘How bloody ungrateful. Why are you always cold? My brother has to pay his daughter’s rent, all of it.’

White people, no matter how many community projects we might fund or months we might serve fighting for a foreign cause, are capable of racist thoughts and actions that need to be stamped on, hard.

Boris Johnson’s part-Asian wife is often wheeled out to defend his offensive statements, but his marriage doesn’t make him whiter than white. Bad analogy, but you know what I mean.

Racism can be in our DNA. We need to examine ourselves more deeply, not merely slick over the resentments with social niceties.