The question of race seems to have been cropping up on a lot of blogs I read lately.
It started when I read this post on racism by the always brilliant OTJ. One or two of her readers commented that they'd found the UK to be a much more racist place than America. I was honestly surprised at reading that, having personally experienced much more overt racism here than back home. I have been called 'the right kind of immigrant' more times than I care to remember, I've known so many intelligent and well-educated people carelessly toss the words 'wetbacks' or 'illegals' into conversations and blame them for everything from ERs closing to peeing in fountains. I always found this a shock, being an immigrant myself and knowing becoming legal is not as simplistic as some might imagine, and having struggled myself to keep everything above board. Plus, my one big issue with people spouting about 'immigration' here, is that their definition of an immigrant usually starts about 10-25 years after their forebears arrived.
You're all bloody immigrants.
This overarching concentration on race can go both ways too. At my first job over here one of my colleagues went to great lengths to explain that her fiance 'was white'. Ironically, her name was Blanca.
I was consistently amazed at the way racial slurs were bandied around over here, at the number of mass emails that would arrive in my inbox forwarded by people I knew, concerning how America was better when it was whiter, churchier, and everyone assimilated to a perfect WASPy norm. I'm sure this isn't specific to the States, I'm sure the same emails are flying around the UK, I just haven't seen them because I moved over here before the age of email *gasp*. Those emails make my blood boil though, and moved by what OTJ had said, I spoke up on a website that had published one of them. I agree that no-one should suffer discrimination, whether it's reverse discrimination or not, I agree that being seen as too tolerant a country can make you feel that your society is being taken advantage of. I understand what it is to love and cherish your country (two countries in my case). I understand it's a many-layered debate. I don't think that justifies vitriol. I think we should be trying to find some common ground, channel our inner John Lennon. This is America after all, the land of diversity. There was a lot of respectful discussion, and eventually a consensus that you don't have to agree on every issue in order to be friends. And after about 3 days my heart stopped racing at a thousand beats per minute.
I am not a confrontational person.
In contrast, my experiences with racism in the UK were very limited.
Until I gave it some thought.
Doris Lessing once wrote that the only people in the UK who thought the class system was dead belonged to the middle class. Basically if something isn't affecting you first hand it is hard to have any perspective on the issue. I grew up in a very white, rural area of Northern England. I distinctly remember the first time someone who wasn't white-skinned joined my primary school class. I was intrigued. Turns out they weren't Indian, or Pakistani, or Arabian - they had just come back from a holiday in Israel and were tanned.
When I went to University one of my non-white friends said she couldn't believe what a bubble Cambridge was, and how predominantly white. To me, on first arriving, it had seemed wonderfully diverse.
In essence, my experiences with race and racism up to the time I emigrated to California had been mostly academic in nature. I had not perceived the UK to be more racist than the US because I'd simply not been anywhere near the issue whilst knee-deep in sheep droppings or libraries. Upon closer reflection, I was being more than a little naive.
I thought I'd better turn the mirror on myself, was I standing in a big glass house with a fistful of stones?
When we moved to our present house, school districts were not at the forefront of our minds. The fact that we had the chance to own property where a two bedroom fixer-upper is six figures was our main concern. Plus the creature was minus 2 weeks old when we signed the papers. Things change though, and I found myself on this website last week and was pretty gobsmacked that Anna's prospective primary school was 98% Hispanic. You can bet that the phrases 'white flight' and 'sanctimonious hypocrite' flashed through my head.
I culled my friends' opinions. Was my sudden decision to start researching other primary school options for Anna as bad as saying 'if you don't speak the language get out of the country'? As usual my good friend set me straight:
"Dude, half my family's hispanic and I wouldn't have Anna go to that school either. That doesn't make you a racist. If it was the best school in town and you didn't want her to go because it was mostly Hispanic then you'd be a racist."
Big sigh of relief.
"It makes you a snob."
So there you have it. 98% of the school may be Hispanic, but 100% of the kids are listed as 'socioeconomically disadvantaged'. Apparently you can't be a Brit and shrug off that 'clarse' thing.