Full disclosure and a bit of background – I am a long time subscriber of the New Humanist magazine. In their Autumn 2017 they published an article called “The Reality of Racism in Modern Britain”, which reviewed Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race“. Click here to read the New Humanist review for yourself. I took issue with this review and wrote the following letter to the editors of the magazine.
It saddens me to see that the New Humanist decided to publish (in the Autumn 2017 edition) a saccharine, ingratiating and sycophantic review of the blatantly propagandist, race-baiting and (ironically) racist tome, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.
In an act of, admittedly, masochism, I sacrificed precious hours reading this disgusting drivel and at first, I was convinced that only a self-loathing loser, could and would identify with such a profoundly terrible set of ideas. Turns out, there isn’t a shortage of the aforementioned.
In the visceral reaction to the article I almost trespassed the boundaries of decency; allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mayank Sharma. I am a 33 year old British citizen and also an immigrant from India. I know the meaning of humble beginnings and starting off without “privilege” because I have seen our family’s overall wealth reduce by 70% when moving from India to UK, purely because of the exchange rate.
My father was a flight steward when we lived in India (considered a fairly normal middle class career), and after we migrated to London in 1997 (a family of 5), he took a number of part and full time jobs, before finally joining Silverlink Trains (now called the London Overground). My step-mother, a British citizen originally from Kenya, worked as a customer service representative for high street banks, shops and at Heathrow airport (with her extremely ghettoed upbringing in London, her limited knowledge and proficiency of English, also limited her career options). I went to a state high school, a state college, and then took a student loan to get my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at Brunel University.
I even had actual racist neighbours – they suffered from dementia but that didn’t stop them from shouting “Fuck off you pakis!” whenever we walked past their house. Of course 5 minutes later they had forgotten they’d said anything and would start asking us if we wanted tea. One of the couple even burned a rubber tyre under my window because he didn’t like that my window opened in his “airspace”.
In school of course, I was bullied for my accent, for the fact that I was a teacher’s pet and that I was a “grass” – that all ended when I was rewarded Student of the Year.
12 years on from my graduation, I’m now an Assistant Director at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu UK. I should add that any and all contents of this email are my own thoughts and are neither shared nor endorsed by my employer.
I have given this short bio to alleviate any doubt that I may be one of those rich princes from exotic Indian towns, with ancestral wealth who study at a UK university and then go back and become film actors. I had no money growing up, and had to walk 4 miles back and forth to school and college, each day for 5 years because my family could not afford to provide me with a bus pass.
But none of the hardships I have faced growing up in London, would I ever attribute to systemic or structural racism. There just is no evidence for it.
The first thing that struck me when I came to this country was the fact that any and all government outlets had information pamphlets in every language conceivable; from English, to Swahili, to Gujarati, to Punjabi, to Arabic. This was of course in stark contrast to where I had come from and the first sign that this country was more welcoming than I had imagined.
At school, (I went to Gayton High, which subsequently rechristened itself to Harrow High), there were a total of 3 white students in my entire year. Just 3 – one was adopted who had some serious issues with his foster parents, the other two, children of single mothers. The rest of the year consisted of black, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, and Sri Lankans. My best friends were an Iraqi, an Afghani and an Armenian. There was ghettoism here too – the South Asians would sit together, the Arabs would sit together, and so would the blacks. Amidst this group dynamic – there was one constant – the teachers treated us all equally.
This theme never left my sight. They were the single constant that anchored the rest of the class. They saw no colour, they only saw students and potential. Whether it was the instance of a young student from Turkey who ran after another student to stab him with a concealed kebab knife, or the perennial bullying and disruption caused by the single white student in my class, or the case of my own tormentor, a black student named “Sledge” (seriously) who routinely smacked me around and stole my lunch; the discipline and punishments were consistent with the offence and did not take into account the colour of the perpetrator. I can categorically state that I am proud of having received my education in this city and in this country.
Throughout my higher education too, I can confirm without hesitation that I have not come across a single incident of racism that proved to be a hindrance in my journey to where I currently am. This isn’t to suggest that nobody experiences racism; however, borrowing uncharacteristically from Christianity for a moment, the idea of seek and ye shall find is almost axiomatic when it comes to the idea of racism in modern day Britain.
When I applied for my first job, before joining university, I read a number of books on job-hunting. The message across all of those books was “it is not easy to find a job and you may have to apply to a hundred vacancies before you get a single interview”. Do you think that the authors of those books knew whether their readers were going to be white, black, asian or a particular subset. I found that the suggestion was accurate – after scouring through various high street outlets for months, I managed to secure one interview for a part time customer service role at a new Argos store. I got the job. But do I think that all the other jobs where I didn’t even get invited to the interview was due to the colour of my skin? Of course, not! That’s patently moronic. Not least because, for months after when I would walk past the same stores, I would see Indian, black, and Chinese staff at those stores. I knew there was competition and I also knew that I had to differentiate myself.
Since leaving university, again, I had to spend months to find my first full time job. It was a very basic IT database administrator role for a PR measurement agency in Central London. For months after I left university, I searched and applied to various job adverts – as it turned out the key skill when hunting for jobs is not the right skin colour, but rather a mixture of persistency and patience.
I am a millennial so it doesn’t seem instinctively right to criticise other millennials outright but unfortunately this impatience is a disease that has plagued and been further perpetuated by my own generation. “We are all special so we must get what we want, when we want it, and if we don’t, it means someone has an issue with how much melanin is in our skin” appears to have become the maxim of our time. It’s time we grow up. And it is high time that we stop circle jerking over how virtuous we are for pointing to alleged instances of racism while demonstrating overtly the bigotry of low expectations towards minority groups. Allow people to be better; don’t give them justifications for mediocrity. That people may be racist is not what I am arguing against. My issue is with the perception that this article and those that promote it, are perpetuating, that any and all causes of failure, of ineptitude and of not being rewarded are down to systemic racism. The west, United Kingdom and the United States, are a beacon to the rest of the world precisely because they have codified prejudice out of the public system. It is something to be celebrated, not denigrated on the basis of subjective experiences of someone who has spent a considerable portion of their life trying to find “racism” as the cause of every type of slight they have experienced.