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Expecting me to explain racism is exploitative – that’s not my job

3 553 0
22.05.2019

I am a person who debates in public. Debate is good, debate is healthy. We can disagree. We can disagree and still love each other. Unless, as James Baldwin once said, your disagreement is rooted in my oppression, your denial of my humanity, my right to exist.

A reminder of this most salient of Baldwin quotes is one of almost 100,000 responses I received to a video I shared on social media a few days ago, which has subsequently been viewed 3 million times. The very public and communal way it has been consumed online is in perfect contrast to the very private and lonely way it was created. By me, sitting in a room, with colleagues on a Sky News debate show, who wanted to argue about an image that compared the newborn child of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to a chimp, and the consequences for the person who posted it.

The image in question has received widespread and exhaustive media attention. But even as public discourse in Britain has managed to achieve a level of nuance in the discussion of race and identity, here was an instantly recognisable trope, familiar to generations of black people, shared on the birth of a baby whose family includes an African American grandmother, by someone paid by the BBC. That there was widespread condemnation of its racist nature – including from the man who posted it – is one of many reasons I was exasperated at having to debate it.

I wish I could say that since I am resilient (I am), that since I am comfortable, as a former barrister, with adversarial conversations (I am), that since I have done the work as an author to equip myself to engage in discourse about racism and identity (I have), that encounters like this therefore do not affect me deeply. But they do.

The reality is that while the other panellists walked away, another job done, their place in the world or sense of their own humanity unscathed, and the programme’s........

© The Guardian