But, if British racists are an unrepresentative minority of resentful xenophobes and sadistic trolls, and if they have little real power, how can we explain the racial inequality so starkly displayed by the statistics?
First of all, I think it’s important to remember that statistics are not lived experiences. The data sets are so large, the prohibiting factors so multifarious, that even if most company directors and government ministers are white males, the typical experience of white males is of NOT being a company director or government minister, just as it is for most people of colour. If an unborn white boy was to ask his guardian angel, “what can I expect from this life that awaits me?”, the angel might reply, “Well, you can forget being a captain of industry or a government minister. That virtually never happens to kids like you.” That’s the same message that an unborn black girl would receive.
At the same time, the occasional Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Dr David Olusoga or David Lammy (or Barack Obama, in the United States) manages to outwit and outperform the limitations placed on people of colour, although the reasons for their achievements – good fortune, supportive parents, self-confidence, intelligence – could be framed as unfair advantages by begrudgers. In America, blighted by much more overt racism than the UK, many people of colour hold positions of responsibility and respect.
All this means everyone, whatever their background, can aspire to greatness but most must content themselves with a much more modest level of achievement. To be identified as white does not mean that you will personally experience a life of luxury and ease; to be identified as black does not mean you will automatically be doomed to abject poverty and social marginalisation.
So, statistics do not reveal any single person’s experience or quality of life. Being white is no guarantee of being socially and financially successful, or of living an easier, more graceful life. It just means that factors other than race are limiting which of them can achieve. Identifying these factors allows white people also to claim to be part of a marginalised group. Perhaps they are women or working class, or have dyslexia or a Northern accent or Polish or Irish names…
For this same reason, while white people cannot, by definition, experience being of colour, most should be able to understand and imaginatively engage with minority struggles. Empathy, imagination and the ability to communicate our profound, interior existence are our greatest assets as we try to build community.
Of course, no one should assume they are above generalising and racial bias. There are always going to be divisions, tensions and suspicions in society. We were born to theorise and predict; to form tribal alliances, exclude and fear exclusion. But we should monitor and control these tendencies. To assume anyone’s character or attitudes or experience is the same as a generalised trend you’ve identified across a whole data set is to deny them their individuality and, if done on racial grounds, is racism. And racism is bad: divisive and discriminatory. To use terms like “White Privilege” is to surrender to the mind-set of the oppressors and thus to justify their way of organising the world. You are colluding with racists. You are “part of the problem.”