Whilst working at John Lewis as a security guard, I usually would face customers disappointed with John Lewis services and inevitably demand a refund. Sometimes it was warranted; sometimes it was not. Nonetheless, on one occasion, I was having a conversation with a colleague, and while talking, a customer kicked off towards a manager about being mistreated. The woman raised her voice, stating, 'You're being racist.' That statement immediately caught the attention of everyone within the store.
The woman was elderly and black. As security, we have a secure radio line with each other and whilst the incident was going on, I heard that the manager who was handling the situation called us in for support. Security is only supposed to intervene when the safety of colleagues, customers, and the store is at risk. Watching the situation live, it was clear that this incident didn't present any danger.
Right about now, you should be asking, then why did the manager call us in for support.
I was pretty relaxed about the situation and left it to one of the senior colleagues to deal with the matter by just cooling down the customer. The colleague handling the issue radioed in, stating, 'It's the usual nothing to worry about.'
The incident in of itself never struck me, as most people reading have probably witnessed a situation unfold with a department store. But one thing that stuck to me during the aftermath, the colleague who I was initially speaking to commented, 'They always bring up race, like not everything is about race.'
Who are they?
The individual who said that was a white male in his late 20s.
The moment those words came out of his mouth. Two thoughts sprung to mind.
- Should I school this brother about Race?
- Or should I just let it slide because I don't want to exert the energy that I envisage would be needed once I say what is needed.
I was at a point in my life where I felt confident to articulate the intricacies of Race. At the time, I was studying for my masters, and my brain was on reflex regarding the topic. I ended up just leaving it; based on previous interactions with this guy, I knew it would just be all LONG, and I just wanted to enjoy my afternoon.
In this blog post, I hope to respond to that statement and conceptualise Race for those young children who may be finding it difficult in dealing with real-life racism. As Akala mentions in Natives, 'real-life racism makes you feel paranoid since you cannot distinguish whether someone is being horrible to you or you are being mistreated because of your race or other outside factors.'
Race is one of the key organising principles in human interaction and the idea behind the cause of genocide, murder, enslavement, inequality and injustice. Understanding how the myth is sustained is crucial for moving towards an equitable and sustainable future.
Dr Lisa Kingstone
The invention of Race
Many historians point to Bacon's rebellion as the point in history when Race was formed. Bacon's rebellion saw the union of indentured white and black servants and white and black slaves against the colony of Virginia. This union amongst the different groups alarmed the white elites of its substantial economic and political ramifications. Hence, as a divide and conquer strategy, the ruling class gave white indentured servants the privilege of whiteness to identify themselves with the ruling class.
Rather than improve the livelihood of the underclass white people, they chose to debase the life of black people.
However, this is not to say that Race never existed before this point in history.
Prophet Muhammed (SAW) hadith shows otherwise:
There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.
I would argue that Bacon's rebellion was the point in which the white ruling class used Race to sustain superiority and gain power within all spheres of life at the expense of black people.
To manifest whiteness and blackness into reality, the ruling class encoded the races into law:
- The State of Virginia forbids blacks and slaves from bearing arms
- Law prohibits black people from congregating in large numbers
- Law mandates harsh punishment for slaves who assault Christians or attempt escape.
- Anti-miscegenation law
- Virginia declares that all imported black servants are slaves for life.
As clearly highlighted, Race in itself is an artificial construct. For that very reason, it is clear to see that the perpetual existence of injustices based upon Race, whether in;
Pseudo-Science, which proposed a natural hierarchy of the races, was used in the 19th Century to justify exploiting black people and their lands. This is clear in Josiah Clark Nott Indigenous Races of the Earth book. This further manifested itself into the existence of Human Zoos. Furthermore, we have Eugenics which still holds credibility in some scientific circles.
Black women in the UK are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white women; this is not a mere coincidence; this most likely lies in the historical myth of black matriarchy. The myth of Black matriarch professes that Black women can endure anything, are silent in their suffering, and have superhuman strength. With 78% of NHS employees being white, it's not hard to deduce why the statistic is what it is.
Let me be very clear, this myth and others are historical and are continuously perpetuated in a society through all forms of media. Such myths may not be at the forefront of everyone's minds, but they play a significant role in our everyday decisions and interaction with other people through our subconscious.
The UK has a long history of purposely subjecting black children to poor educational situations, resulting in long-term neglect from society. As Akala mentions in Natives, during the 1960s, the UK faced a problem of educating Black-Britsh children they never intended to educate, nor want to acknowledge as British citizens. So they designed eugenics-based schools outside the official educational system, which were intended for students who were apparently too difficult to handle in ordinary schools. The UK government rebranded these schools from 'Mentally Subnormal' to 'Educationally Sub Normal'. To no surprise, black children were massively over-represented in these schools when seen through their population size in the country. Systemic discrimination at its finest.
Presently nothing much has changed. An Ofsted report in the year 2000 examined the links between Race, ethnicity and educational attainment. In the report, within the largest Local Education Authority, a black student entered the schooling twenty points above the national average, the highest performing ethnic group. In that same Local Education Authority, they left the school twenty-one points below the national average, the lowest-performing of all groups.
We currently live in a neoliberal capitalist system that has resulted in an extraordinary concentration of wealth and power amongst a few. But through international institutions, the IMF and World Bank, such concentration of power has been at the expense of countries having black people and people of colour. The IMF and World Bank enforcement of neoliberal orthodoxy through the infamous structural adjustment policy has resulted in a policy of accumulation by dispossession. In summary, Global South countries are being forced to implement institutional reform, which lays the groundwork for the Global North conglomerates to further concentrate their power by dispossessing the wealth and land of these countries—ultimately stripping them of their agency.
These are not mere coincidences; these are purposely thought actions that those in power take to maintain dominance at the expense of those classed as inferior.
Therefore, it is clear to see 'from the cradle to the grave, race continues to shape and define our prospects, opportunities, life chances, and dreams'. It's just unfortunate to think that from your own perspective, there may be nothing you can do about it except to continue to navigate through it as you age through life.
Peace out ✌🏾