This morning I was all set to write a blog about women crying at work following the comments of senior scientist and professional bell-end, Tim Hunt but then I watched Jon Stewart’s powerful and deeply moving monologue on the despicable behavior of Dylann Roof, murderer of nine people at a South Carolina church.
Watching Stewart’s earnest statement on The Daily Show, I was blown away that he was willing to use this huge platform to speak some very unpleasant truths directly into the ear of the American people. Although to some degree he is preaching to the converted as I’m sure his show attracts a more liberal-minded audience, still, it was an important message that needs repeating as America seems to be in denial over its, as Stewart put it, deep racial wounds.
As inspiring and heartfelt as his statement was though, it was ironic that the voices most heeded over these events are those of white people. As far as stand out commentary goes, Stewart’s is streaks ahead. I've seen this particular Daily Show clip shared several times on my Facebook timeline. But it also demonstrates the inherent prejudice in the system, implying that, now a white guy’s calling out the problem, it’s real.
I know discussions around race still make people painfully uncomfortable, angry even. Even in comedy, I occasionally get ‘accused’ of framing everything I say around race (my advice to those people is look up ‘confirmation bias’) and that some people would like to think that it’s an issue that shouldn’t be on the table any more, but as recent events prove, that is far from the case.
In fact, I would like to coin a new phrase, ‘splendid ignorance’ referring to those who have convinced themselves they are blind to race therefore everyone else should be and anyone that brings it up is actually causing the problem.
If one accepts a status quo that is detrimental to a large section of your community, that is splendid ignorance. If you are willing to accept the absence of certain sections of society in situation that are supposed to represent all, be it at work, on TV or government, that too is splendid ignorance. We are all guilty of this to a degree but splendid ignorance around race has gone on long enough and must end.
Though we’ve come a long way in race relations, there are still light years to travel in terms of anything resembling equality. Major firsts for African Americans are reported all the time and it still stuns me.
But America is not the only western country with work to do. The UK is definitely not in a position to finger point. While I was back in London last Christmas, I saw a photo in a newspaper of a giant St George’s Cross flag hanging from the side of someone’s house across which they’d scrawled, “Dear Santa, please can we have our country back?”
Wow. Having been born and raised in the UK, England is my country too and what a way to welcome new arrivals.
Imagine the same thing being done to another minority group such as disabled people. “Dear Santa, please can we have our parking spaces back?”
Sadly, the shooting in Charleston is but the tip of a deep and dangerous iceberg, a mere indicator of the huge disparity which shows up in the most insidious but subtle ways. The careful way the police arrested the Charleston murderer while black teens are terrorized by police at pool parties, unarmed black men shot in the back by the very police paid to serve and protect all US citizens, how when black protesters become violent they are thugs yet when white people cause damage or destruction “things got a little out of hand”.
This is by no means a one way street but for the healing of this wound to take place, the bulk of the heavy lifting will be the changing of hearts and minds within certain sections of America's white community and establishment.
Black people have their responsibility too, to not respond with hate no matter how strongly they feel. But that is a challenge for any people who have for decades seen their kind oppressed, mistreated and misrepresented to not occasionally allow that frustration to spill over into a physical response. Doesn’t make it right but perhaps it gives an alternative perspective to the media demonisation of angry black people as ‘mindless thugs’.
Racism is real, present, dangerous and capable of eating America alive.
The only hope is that the proliferation of stories recently on racial violence and tension is not about these events being on the increase but being exposed as part of the healing process in the way that when you have a cut, you remove the Band Aid exposing it to air so that it can finally heal properly.
I can only hope this is what is happening because the alternative is too unbearable to imagine.