Don’t call me white, call me Tom

“You,” a fellow delegate at the NUS conference told me, “are white…”

When did we get to the point that it became normal to identify others by their skin colour?

I am not white. My skin may well be coloured white, through low levels of pigmentation (melanin) in my skin cells. But this does not make me, as an individual, “white”. Indeed, you might as well call me blue because of my eye colour or dark blonde because of my hair.

Why do I draw this distinction? Simple. Nobody is a colour. Nobody’s personality is predetermined by the level of melanin in their skin, or indeed by their race. Unlike gender or sexuality, race cannot, in itself, have an influence on one’s behaviour. Nevertheless, many officious groups continue to classify people by their race or skin colour, and not all of them are the usual racist and extremist suspects such as the BNP.

The NUS attempts to address racism by being racially selective itself. The NUS has a ‘black students’ campaign officer for students of ‘African, Asian and Caribbean descent’, but oddly no representative for ‘white’ or ‘European’ students. Racism cuts all ways, regardless of colour and race, and it is extremely sad that the NUS provides support only for a selection of those affected.

The problem isn’t black and white however, the problem is “black”, “white”, “brown”, “asian”, “mixed” and “other” (not forgetting the myriad of further racial categorisations). The process of labelling – effectively “boxing” – people into various categories that they have no control over does nothing to help the fight against racism. Neither does it actually empower people with anything. Instead it burdens them with whatever associations may go hand-in-hand with those racial terms (for good or ill).

You do not need to go far to find colour or race mistakenly associated with cultural stereotypes. This practise is well-established and is even used by respected bodies. The BBC’s digital radio stations are a perfect example of the nonsense of applying racial classification to musical genres.

BBC 1Xtra’s brief is to play “Black Music”. What is black music? There are many DJs and songs by groups with various skin colours played on the station (do I even need to mention Westwood and the ever-resurgent Eminem?). Although the title “BBC1 Urban” would describe the mix of music on the channel much better, the BBC has directly tied the channel to a skin tone instead. The Mobo’s – Music of black origin awards make a very similar mistake.

The BBC repeats this fallacy in regards to race with its “Asian Network” radio station. Why the Beeb thinks that it can lump together those with links to the largest continent on earth is beyond me.

Farrokh Busara, Reginald Dwight and David Jones, under the names Freddy, Elton and Bowie respectively, became three of the biggest singers in British Rock and Roll without using their arbitrary birth-born labels. Who cares if one of the three had darker skin colour than the other two? How can we seriously ask the question whether or not they were playing “white” or “black” music? The question that will bother most people is ‘who is the best musician?’

“Race-orientated” music and a race-obsessed society reinforces the suggestion that it is normal to think of people in terms of their skin-colour or racial background. It also suggests that elements of music, culture and behaviour are somehow naturally shared amongst people of a certain skin tone or race. They aren’t. The process of boxing people within certain racial identities is itself what exerts pressure to conform to racial stereotypes.

Whilst some may say that the force to conform to stereotypes only has seemingly innocuous effects, influencing choices of musical genres, clothes and turn of phrase, the creation of divergent social groups can also contribute to greater tension between races.

The racist BNP want racial identities to remain in the forefront of people’s minds however. The party ties racial identity with national identity in an attempt to obfuscate the issue. A recently leaked BNP training manual told its activists to describe any British citizen without white skin as ‘black residents’ or ‘racial foreigners’.

The BNP relishes the opportunity to be able to point towards different racial stereotypes to support their view that certain races cannot integrate and as such should be ‘repatriated’ from the country as soon as possible.

Skin colour never determines your nationality; national and geographical identity differs considerably to race. In this day and age it is possible to be a citizen of, or hold an attachment to almost any region of the world.

The recent St George’s Day celebrations in England have demonstrated how regional identities can have the effect of bringing people together. Racial identities, on the other hand are so varied that they cannot be shared by all. This is further complicated by the fact that you are stuck with the racial identity you were born with.

We cannot defeat the white nationalism until we stand together as one people.

So long as we continue to arbitrarily label people “black”, “white”, “asian” etc. purely upon their appearance then we will not be able to destroy the (false) stereotypes that have built up around such labels.

The closer towards a truly colour-blind society we get, the more and more unreasonable the BNP’s assertion that race is the true measure of “Britishness” will become.

The next time someone describes you as being a colour, stop them, explain to them your skin may be that colour but that you are not a colour.

The next time someone says that you are a certain race, whatever it be, inform them either of your regional identity or membership of the most important race of all – the human race.

Next time, be open to who you really are. Demonstrate your real personality and tell them your name. If you are not happy with it, you can always change it in some way.

Changing your skin colour or race is much more difficult.

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