The Colourlessness of Clarity: A Vision Of Racial Acceptance

racist sixties britain

No country should ever attempt to whitewash its past where racism is concerned. Marvin grew up in sixties Britain, when racist TV shows like Alf Garnett and Love Thy Neighbour were the norm. He was tormented at school, and met his abuser twenty years later.

Racism is a problem I’m born with. After all, being black puts me directly in the line of fire of derogatory comments, stares and expressions of hatred.

I was born in the UK in the mid 1960s, in a time when establishments such as restaurants and pubs could legally put up signs that read “No Irish – No Dogs – No Blacks”. Television channels had no restrictions on broadcasting racist programmes like Alf Garnet and Love Thy Neighbour, which freely spewed racist dialogue through our TV sets. At the same time, the BBC news showed the evil suffering of black people living in a segregated South Africa or some smouldering city in America the day after another night of rioting fuelled by racial tension. It all almost had me believing this is how people like me are supposed to be treated.

Maybe I was naïve, ignorant or just didn’t know any better because my parents never openly discussed the subject of black and white. I was left to discover on my own the horrible truth that the hate of a person’s colour went further than our TV screens and insensitive rules plastered in the windows of public houses and eating places.

By the time I was twelve I had encountered all manner of names to insult, belittle and abuse black and brown people. I used to wonder how these harmful, deliberately demoralising words came about.

I would imagine a white gowned, hood wearing Caucasian man sitting in a candlelit garden shed. He would bisect nouns and vowels like a scientist concocting a verbal weapon of mass social intimidation, then somehow spread the offensive word like a pandemic virus.

Racism is confusing – or, better put, I find the people who have racist tendencies confusing. I have always had trouble trying to understand what causes their dislike of people like me. One minute I’m told my life is worth less than that of an animal. Then, without notice, we’re hailed as the greatest for winning gold medals, world boxing championships or scoring the decisive goal in major soccer tournaments. We’re given accolades of achievements in music and fashion, even inspiring new trends globally, but all this is a temporary distraction before waves of verbal and physical abuse drag us back into a raging sea of mindless detest.

It may sound strange, but it took me nearly fifty years of enduring racial slurs to actually talk about this to someone who used to be racist – who once had a passionate hate for all things black.  I attended the same school as this person. He sat at the desk next to me, and relished drawing pictures of golliwogs and making insensitive remarks in my direction as often as possible. When I started college years later, I thought that bigoted fool was out of my life – only to see him sitting in the same course room as me. Nothing had changed apart from our age and the location of where we sat.

Two and half decades later, having a few drinks with my friends in a bar, I heard someone shout my name, stumbling towards me like a terror from my past. He grabbed hold of my hand and started shaking it vigorously, as if we were long-lost friends.

After what seemed like hours of reminiscing about what he fondly called the “good old days”, I was curious as to what brought him stumbling through a packed bar to shake my hand, considering he had spent half his life  hating me and people like me.

Even to this day I’m still surprised by his answer. I remember his eagerness to show me pictures of his family: twin daughters of mixed race, a wife who herself is of mixed parentage. Dumbfounded, I stared at the photographs while he spoke of how much of his young life was wasted on disliking people he knew nothing about, people he had never tried to understand because his parents had continually warned him to stay away from “the no good black people,”  instructing him that all black people are lazy, bad and arrogant. That black people take their jobs, seduce white women and we parade around thinking we are better than everyone else.

These are all untruthful reasons for hatred. They do not represent the black population of any country or continent. They were born out of people’s need to justify a purpose to hate. And what a contradictory list of reasons for hate they are. Reasons so ridiculous that, when heard out loud, they leave me scratching my head in bewilderment. To ever say that “black folks are lazy” is a puzzling contradiction. Four hundred plus years of slavery tells a very different story of people working hard.

Centuries of subjugation did not destroy us. Instead, we persevered through overwhelming odds, with so many reasons to be proud. Unfortunately the colour black has always been associated with the word BAD. Every dictionary will have the word black to mean bad, grim, angry, bleak, sinister, evil… and the list goes on and on. In contrast, the word WHITE in a dictionary simply means good, clean or pure. The truth is ‘bad’ is not dependent on colour. It’s an individualistic social degeneracy. In the same way, ‘good’ is not reliant on the colour white.

Nonetheless, this figure from my past had believed all the terrible things he had heard about black people to be accurate during his youthful years. His journey of redemption and clarity began when he took a job in South Africa, where he met the woman he would eventually marry.

I believe that my adversary from my school and college years rewrote the turbulent history we had together. I accepted his invite for Sunday lunch at his home and it was inspirational to observe the respect and quality of his family life, conversing with his teenage twin daughters. It was sometimes difficult for me to digest that their father used to be a mentally and physically abusive racist who fanatically enjoyed  making the lives of black people execrable.

After devouring a wonderful meal of roast chicken, roast potatos, sweetcorn and rice prepared by his half black half indian South African wife, we reminisced some more about those past days. He apologised for what he used to be. I could see he was ashamed and more than disgusted for the things he had done, not just to me but to people of colour. Entertained by such a nice family and a man who had clearly done a complete 360 in life, I readily accepted his sincere apology.

Before I left his nice family and home we embraced in farewell and he asked me if I knew what the colourlessness of clarity is. I looked at him, baffled. I’d never heard this phrase before.

A newborn baby or young infant has no perspective of the colour of the baby or infant next to them but they are happy and smiling to be surrounded by tiny people the same as them – human. When can we once again reach a level that makes us realise there’s something much more valuable, something much more important than colour? When colour is no longer a representation of who we are – only the person and the beauty of who we are as people – then we have found the colourlessness of clarity.

I currently think that racism is not the state of a nation but the state of individual minds teaching an ideology that divides one race from another because of an unwillingness to accept that people are the same, regardless of country. Culture is a unique element that should be explored and not feared.

I suppose we are all frightened of what we don’t understand, of what we don’t recognise as being normal behaviour. It would be absurd to hate a person because they love cats instead of dogs, or to make an enemy because of their coffee or tea preferences, but that’s exactly what’s been happening for centuries – illogical behaviour and thinking relating to the colour of a person’s skin.

Maybe a day will come when all of us will have the common sense to accept that we are all one, living on one world.

Maybe a journey of acceptance will permit us to see the beauty of the human race.

Maybe the colourlessness of clarity will prevail, taking us into a future that has no resemblance to the evil, wicked, hateful events that shamefully scar the  history of mankind.