Confessions of a white man in Canterbury

Paper heads in white and black

This week issues of race have caught the attention of a large number of Journal readers.

When the Journal described how academics across the country are being asked to take part in courses examining their latent ‘white privilege,’ readers wanted to have their say.

Simon Langton headmaster, Ken Moffat argued: “To have grown up in a single-parent, working-class home in Yorkshire in the Sixties, father killed fighting for his country and no war widow pension, I find it galling to be called privileged by modern middle-class students, of all races, who have enjoyed comfort and privileges I couldn’t have dreamed of.

“Plus, to define me by my gender and race, two things over which I had no control, is the cheapest form of identity politics. And racist.”

I agreed with Mr Moffat. I’m an ardent supporter of equal marriage, I’ve lived abroad, I’m a tolerant and progressive person. How dare anyone talk ‘white privilege’ at me?

Boy’s Langton head, Ken Moffat

But then a thought struck me. I looked at my friends list on Facebook and counted them. Out of around 500, only five are black, a couple Asian, and a handful of Arabic descent. And I’ll be honest, most of them I haven’t spoken to in years. That’s not the friend-profile of a well-rounded man-of-the-world is it? I began to worry that I’m not the person I think I am.

“Hold on a second” my inner voice shouted at me. “In the wake of #metoo and black kids apparently gunned down daily by U.S. cops, public opinion has turned on the middle-class white man, as if we’re all somehow responsible for atrocities carried out by the Harvey Weinsteins and Roy Olivers of this world.”

It’s true. Sometimes it seems as though being white and male are the last unprotected characteristics.

But then again I’ve never sat in an interview knowing I won’t get the job because I have the wrong colour skin or because I might go on maternity leave. I’ve never been stopped and searched because of how I looked.

I know that racism exists. I’ve just never considered I could be a proponent of it. And I still don’t. To date nobody has asked me to take part in a racism awareness course, but if they do, I’m not entirely sure how I’ll feel about it.

In my opinion, people on both sides of the aisle need to consider each other’s feelings.

White middle-class men often wonder why they aren’t rich and successful if white privilege is a powerful thing. Given the ephemeral benefits of this so-called privilege, being accused of racism or anything else can be jolly frustrating.

On the other hand, we do have our white-man clubs. The friends I go to the pub with are white. My family is white. My only black friends on Facebook are people I haven’t seen since school. To the casual onlooker it might seem as though my life-choices haven’t exactly promoted diversity.

Historically, Canterbury hasn’t been very ethnically varied, but that is changing. Some will welcome that, others won’t. If we are to avoid future tensions, we’re going to need some greater understanding.

Whether it’s a question of race, gender, or sexual conduct we must all be cautious before levelling allegations of privilege or impropriety, whether at an individual or a group.

But maybe we should all take a moment to consider whether we are a little less cosmopolitan and hard-done-by as we let sometimes let ourselves believe.

What do you think? If you have a view you’d like to be heard, get in touch.



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