Despite hopes that school assemblies on Diwali, the multiethnic friendship group in Captain Planet and Scary Spice would eventually have our generation strumming ‘Ebony and Ivory’ over a campside vindaloo, a recent study has shown that one third of the population admit to being racially prejudiced.
As this apparently surprising data comes to light, so does the opposing news that 74% of first time voters are in fact comfortable with Britain being more ethnically diverse. When we combine both studies it seems that though the UK is now significantly better at hypothetically loving its neighbours, trusting them to house sit is perhaps a step too far. Our apparent ease with ethnicity becomes all the more dubious when we’re reminded racism no longer appears to be the preserve of the ignorant; the biggest rise in these attitudes has been found in educated, professional men.
But is this as gasp-worthy as it appears on first glance? The stains of residual racial prejudice have been left to seep into our proverbial carpet for years – surely we didn’t think our united cheers for Mo Farah drowned out the unrelenting white noise of racism?
We know old fashioned bigotry has no place in the Britain of today. Along with shoulder pads and big hair, we’ve ditched the loud and proud racism with something more understated- passive aggression is the new black. The hurling of racial slurs has been replaced with a brand new form of polite prejudice more palatable to the average Brit and peddled by those who should know better. The clutching at a handbag or not-as-subtle-as-you-think tactical road cross when a black youth passes is covert enough to ensure the post racial society shtick was bought during the Olympics but overt enough to leave minority communities ears collectively burning. The golliwogs are gone from the shelves but the discrimination we all know and hate appears to be in full swing, though slightly more easy on the eye and ear. We are still not past exclusionary pratices in housing, employment and even in the playground. And what’s worse is actions are usually deemed legitimate when we think those involved are clever. Enter university students.
A culture of “racial banter” has taken higher education establishments hostage. Black face at Halloween is pitched as piquant, flippant use of the N word is considered cheeky at best and any student dissenting against such behaviour is seen as overreacting. How could these actions possibly be racist? They are educated after all and ignorance remains the very antithesis of education. A Bring a fit Jew party is hilarious and if you don’t think so, it’s you holding Britain back from its Benetton ad future, not them.
Being a minority amongst educated racists can often make you feel like the sole sane protagonist in an asylum movie. You rage with justified anger at something clearly inappropriate and before you know it, you’re coming across completely bonkers, frothing at the mouth at a bit of banter whilst everyone else is just trying to have fun…even if it is at your expense. Many either wearily succumb or stop commenting at all. The articulate bigot is lethal for race relations; he has big words to conceal his ignorance in and loopholes to slither out of. Their Islamophobia can easily avoid the dreaded bigot badge because you can’t be racist against a religion. Jeremy Clarkson’s carelessness becomes a baseless witch-hunt. Their rationality, eloquence and poise is diametrically opposed to the offended parties’ ‘irrational’ emotional response. When a Django themed slave auction at my university received backlash, it was initially brushed off as ‘oversensitivity’- the onus was on us to not be offended rather than a university society not to offend its members.
Racism’s latest form leaves ingrained issues simmering under the surface and with the brand new guise of irony and intellect, it’s even harder to tackle. A strategically placed vase won’t do it this time; the stubborn stains of racial prejudice must be scrubbed out once and for all.
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Yomi Adegoke is a recent law graduate and aspiring writer of Nigerian descent. She is founder and editor of Birthday Magazine, a publication aimed at providing representation for black teenage girls and writes about race, popular culture and intersectional feminism. You can find and follow her on Twitter @sittingwitty.