Did George Floyd’s killing give me black privilege?
My time inside the Holodeck was exhilarating, but like all addictions it just masked my other problems and never addressed reality
“All whites are racist and all men are rapists,” declared Naomi as we sipped our first instant coffee of the day at the call centre in Clerkenwell (this is the 90s). Naomi was a vegan and a PhD student of something revolutionary, I think. She walked everywhere barefoot and was white. I was mixed-race back then, but now am forced to identify as POC (“Person of Colour”). It was my gap year and having found the Socialist Worker’s Party and their Marxist catch phrases a little plodding, I was primed for Naomi’s seductive claims. There was a certain chic in embodying her outlandish statements and then dragging on a Marlboro Light.
The “all whites are racists” slogan has today morphed into the conviction that racism is everywhere and in everyone
Back then, Naomi’s teachings were considered disturbingly radical, if not completely batty. Now, I realise she was ahead of her times: Naomi’s rather crude “all whites are racists” slogan has today morphed into the conviction that racism is everywhere (“Systemic Racism”) and in everyone (“Unconscious Bias”). It convinces you of a reality of two eternally warring sides – the oppressed and the oppressors or in the current iteration: the ones receiving racism and the ones dishing it out. While racism is real and something I have personally lived through, my experience of this society is not one of POCs vs. Whites, nor one of white supremacy, and yet I am meant to play this game of power in which I am pre-assigned a role. A role solely based on my skin colour. So why is it that when George Floyd was tragically killed by a bad white cop, did my English white oppressors cry out in visceral pain too? How do we square this? Are we sworn enemies or BFFs (“Best Friends Forever”)?
Who knows. Perhaps it was because of quarantine fatigue. Perhaps the video of Chauvin kneeling on a black man quite literally visualises the term “Boot on Your Neck”. Perhaps the “Anti-Racism” movement is, like John McWhorter poignantly puts it, a new form of religion, distracting us from actual progress with its white self-flagellation and original sin of slavery. However, my take on this is more through a metaphor of Star Trek’s holodeck. Bear with me.
For those not familiar with this space opera (that I grew to tolerate through my first real boyfriend), The Holodeck is a room on the Starship Enterprise where one is immersed in a virtual reality, playing the part of a chosen fictional or historical character. In this metaphor, it used to only be us POCs on the deck and we entered it by choosing a tragic black character from the news. Through the game we formed a deep symbiosis with the victim: we became Rodney King, batoned on the tarmac; Stephen Lawrence, stabbed at the bus stop; or Trayvon Martin, shot by George Zimmerman. Most of us had never even been close to a gun or a knife. Nevertheless, it felt like our own, real experience. We were playing alone with the computer simulating our oppressors. The game was intentionally rigged against us, we were always kept down. And this made us righteous.
Then, lo and behold, white people started joining the game as well. Through the fatalistic docu-fictionilised “lived experience” of Ta-Nehisi Coates, the gaslighting masked as academic theory in Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility, or Ibram X. Kendi’s proposed public policy of a DOA (an Orwellian federal “Department of Anti-Racism” with jurisdiction over absolutely everything), the white man entered a game level of something resembling the present but distorted with a nightmarish tinge of a slave plantation and the 1950’s segregated South. Here, not only do they get to play black (from the safety of their couch) but ultimately advance to the character of White Oppressor and comprehend that while they never did have that baton in hand, it was somehow always theirs. And being able to admit that made them feel righteous.
For my part, I have long since given up on The Holodeck. Like all addictions its exhilarations just masked my other problems and never really addressed reality. My industry however (the state funded arm of British Film pushing Greta Thunberg flics with public money), bought into it wholesale. Naomi’s radical ideology is now their new mantra. Up till recently, having experienced these ideas as a form of oppression in itself (who can thrive in the belief everything and everyone is against them), I would try to gently voice opinions outside those held by my industry’s hivemind. I’m not exactly sure if I was “cancelled” but speaking openly, seemed to burn bridges.
But with #GeorgeFloyd things changed. After what I initially thought was a wave of tech illiterates trying to upload a photo to Instagram (#BlackoutTuesday), a different phenomenon emerged: decision makers working as film programmers, development executives and other tastemakers, began to “atone” through seriously examining their “whiteness”. Now, given my coffee colour, anything I uttered was suddenly taken as gospel. For a moment, my worries about identity politics were genuinely heard. For a moment, I had a glimmer of what black power might feel like. Imagine if I had said what they wanted to hear, like the BLM leaders at the head of the church-like gatherings with white people bowing down in front of them.
There is such a thing as black privilege, it’s often tied into black victimhood and it has real currency. For Jussie Smollett, being a TV star wasn’t enough, he craved the greater attention of being a black victim through faking his own modern-day lynching by men in MAGA hats. Karlos Dillard, doesn’t even have a blue tick on Twitter, but his bullying post (falsely?) accusing a white woman of calling him a n****, went viral with more than 4 million views and served to promote his self-published book. He has a history of such posts. Closer to home, celebrated BBC Radio One presenter Clara Amfo declared with teary martyrdom: “you want my talent, but you don’t want me”, which gave her much press coverage.
I worry that our actual reality is now merging with The Holodeck and that we are tackling imagined problems and not real ones
I can understand the opportunism taken by my similarly coloured peers to identify with their holodeck characters when victimhood is incentivised. But I worry that our actual reality is now merging with The Holodeck and that we are tackling imagined problems and not real ones (such as low expectations in education, fatherless homes and prison sentencing). The present struggle is more about getting “likes”, looting the spoils of guilt, and creating a few diversity roles (as if that was ever anyone’s dream career). While privileged people of colour hope the claimed trauma from walking into a room and not seeing other faces like theirs might lead to promotion, those lower down the food chain are force fed stories of oppression, leaving them isolated, hateful and hoping that tearing down statues will emancipate them.
The author would like to thank Mateusz Dymek for his assistance in this writing of this article
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