Minutes after this photograph was taken in the small park at the centre of leafy De Beauvoir (East London) a man lolloped by on that pathway shouting “Black monkey” repeatedly. I was the only black man in the small park which was packed with sun bathers. Everyone heard the man shouting. Nobody said a word.
A few days later I’m in the fine city of Londonderry filming in The Diamond. It’s a roundabout with a statue slightly smaller than De Beauvior. Minutes after this photograph, the one below, was taken a car passed by with three men inside. One them shouted “You black bastard.” Everyone heard it.
The interviewer (not pictured) turned and memorized the registration number. Another car pulled over. The driver wound his window down. “I’m sorry” he said.And I replied “I know they’re not representative of the people”. His passenger leaned over and said “I’m afraid they are. But it’s a small percentage and it’s not us.”.
Back in London I’m in a private club for creatives. Make of that what you will. I was recounting a story about racism because these things, these events, have an effect on my life in spite of me. My friend, a white English person, said “You’ve got a chip on your shoulder”. Then it must be so. It figures that the raped woman who recounts stories of sexism with a new understanding of the male has the same chip. And the abused child who tracks stories of abusers wiht a new understanding of adults has the same chip. We must all have chips on our shoulders. The nature of racism, in any culture, is startlingly visible by denial. We who see it build sophisticated lenses to filter it. We switch on these lenses as much as we can. Toni Morrison counters the denial and enlightens “”All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.”