It’s Friday evening. Up on Hampstead High Street there are long queues for takeaway beer at The Horseshoe. The drinkers are spilling out into the alleyways in their pairs and in their small groups. The atmosphere among them is positive and upbeat, very much at odds with my current mood.
I’ve been on one of my frequent aimless perambulations. Spitting rain and wind with an edge. Thinking about how we are all fucked.
People who care about things are being viciously attacked by other people who care about things for not caring about the right things in the right order with the right language. Other people are using the squabbling as a reason to dismiss everything everybody cares about forever. Conservatives are being called fascists and they’re terrified about liberals who they think are Maoists or anarchists or the fucking Taliban. Liberals are attacking each other and everybody else for not sharing their extremely personal stances on a variety of trigger happy issues. People who sit on the fence are being attacked for not speaking out, until they speak and then they’re attacked for the content. Every time I try to follow a thread about anything I can’t find the end of it. History, gender, race, sex, politics. We all have a different experience of these things. We all have things we take for granted and things we haven’t examined and things we have taken apart completely and understand intimately. If we take away nuance we risk becoming a mob. And if we call somebody an anarchist or a fascist can we then expect them to do anything other than entrench?
Debate is so weaponised suddenly – if you use the wrong terminology then everything you say can be thrown out, and the terms shift use so quickly. “Woke” used to mean “awake to your privilege” but now it’s being mostly used to mean “virtue signalling”. I wouldn’t ever describe somebody as “woke” as it feels like a bludgeonword now. But fundamentally there are some things that are undeniable in all this mess. I’m not just talking about the BLM protests here by any stretch. There’s all sorts of other little explosions about all sorts of other issues happening online and they’re mostly cruel and barbed and thorny and impossible.
But yes, to the most visible one right now, white privilege is a fucking thing – a big unexamined thing for a lot of white people. Ridiculously I’ve been slammed occasionally for my Mediterranean skin by absurd nasty pasty humans who seem to be hellbent on making me uncomfortable for the fact I’m “not from round here” or whatever, and I’m whitey mcwhiteson, but not to the shouting blank eyed maniac at Clapham Junction with a giant poppy. It’s absurd to me. I went to Harrow, my Spanish grandfather was heavily decorated in the British Navy. But for many people who don’t have my privilege it’s constant, has been for generations, and makes them fear for their safety – especially when they read about a law enforcer taking over 8 minutes to slowly – almost casually – kill an innocent human being, knowing that that death wouldn’t have happened if the victim had looked a bit more like me.
Before all the confusion and protectionism that’s what we were thinking about. Now, with all the noise about “they’re coming for our statues” etc can we at least try to remember how lucky we’ve been, whiteys? Check it. Don’t shrug it off. It’s worse in America because the cops have got more guns. But let’s try and stop being protectionist and listen to what people who have had their voices taken are trying to say in this rare window where they have a voice.
A well known theatre director directed one of my flatmates. He was in my flat for a party once and I met him briefly. He asked about a ticket I had to a Tonic Theatre platform at The National – Lucy Kerbel pushing for equal gender representation in the theatre industry: “why are you supporting this stuff as a man? It’s not in your best interests,” he asked dismissively. It was the first and only question this potentially very lucrative employer has ever asked me. “I literally don’t have the time or the energy to properly respond, so I’m going to bed,” was my honest response. I had a 6am start.
They played fiddle all night and it had all the marks of a great last night party for a lovely show at The Royal Court. But it was spoilt in my mind by that man’s blind protectionism.
That self referential attitude is the major problem time and time again across the spectrum of these issues. “But what about meeeeee?” But I’m an idealist.