race away

Thrown into relief, British depths of racism and disinterest in race. This is what I’ve seen since Barack Obama became leader of the United States. Feeling ashamed to be British started a long time ago for me and was ratcheted up after the Twin Towers fell, and the war in Iraq began, and Tony Blair getting back into power, and the absurdities of the BBC, et cetera et cetera. But that sense of shame has progressed since my walk around Hackney on the 5 November. Frankly, no one seemed to give a shit. Naively, I’d imagined waking up to hooting cars, (more) fireworks, screams and yelps of delight. But nothing more than the usual drizzle, hostile umbrellas in my face, hoodies, dreary bakeries with aggressive old people in wheelchairs jumping the queue to buy an eight-pack of mini-donuts. I wanted to call someone up, to celebrate, acknowledge the moment. Relief surged when an old friend reappeared from the States, Back in London for nine months! she said, delight and bells in her voice. We shared thoughts about this historic event, of our excitement and tears, and how depressed we both felt about the British. No one seems to have noticed what’s happened, we said. I pondered how it could be that someone I think of as a friend could have said, days before the election, I don’t think McCain would be so bad. I’d felt quite sick, reviled, panicky even. This was no joke. This was for real. But I’ve felt equally uneasy, since Obama’s phenomenal leap onto our world stage, by the whispering liberal left around me. A drink with an American editor I know summed it all up. He said he’d noted, among this particularly queasy group of the English, that excitement over Obama was greeted with looks of disapproval, of Oh don’t be so naive you fool, he’s simply not a radical. Of course, he’s not. There is much that I don’t like about what he has already said in terms of his foreign policy in particular, and I’m distinctly uneasy about his response to the meltdown of capitalism. But I am not so blind that I cannot see that Barack Obama’s entrance into the White House is much more than simply symbolic. It is a huge vast step forward in the struggle for equality. Those liberals (living of all places in London in particular) who don’t see this, who refuse to understand this, are showing their true colour and the limited experience they have of this world. It’s time that we in Britain start to notice the extent to which racism is alive and kicking, and that we start to read about our history. Don’t think, my dear white friends, that it doesn’t apply to you. It applies to you more than anyone else.

(Bernardine Evaristo has a very nice post on her blog here about Obama.)

And (found on 7 December 2008), I would run Amiri Baraka’s piece your way here.

I’m reading The Joshua Generation in The New Yorker and Beckett’s First Love and Other Novellas and Calvino’s Invisible Cities.