Exhaustion & Distress

Otegha Uwagba isn’t the only person feeling the stress of the modern fashion for confrontation. It’s exhausting for everyone. Here’s Afua Hirsch, reviewing the progress made towards racial liberation in 2020 (The Guardian, 01/01/21), “being exhausted became a state-of-the-black-nation fact…tiring as hell.” 

It’s interesting that, when everybody was struggling with life dominated by Covid-19, and the fear, confinement, isolation, grief, and vulnerability it brought with it (its financial and general anxiety further amplified by Brexit), Afua Hirsch is claiming exhaustion as an exclusively black experience, and referring to black people as a separate nation. 

Like Otegha Uwegba, she is putting the blame for this elsewhere – on white people. And it’s not just white supremacists who are at fault, it’s friends and allies, as well: “It was exhausting when institutions, white friends and co-workers refused to acknowledge the murder of George Floyd; it was exhausting when they did…this demand that black people explain racism, from those who have not previously made the effort.”

Earlier in the article, she’d written, “Until this year, even attempting a conversation about anti-blackness, structural racism – or, God forbid – whiteness was often liable to provoke the most extreme hostile and defensive reactions…. A black woman who wields enormous power in the TV industry…has developed a massive rash all over her boobs. ‘It’s years of bullshit – racism, micro-aggressions,’ she told me in a matter of fact tone. ‘I have never had eczema before. My doctor said it’s erupted now because I’ve finally given myself permission to acknowledge the toxic stuff I’ve been putting up with during all those decades of my career.’”

Of course, I do not have access to these women’s experiences, or their doctors. I only have their words, but this seems a worryingly alienated perspective. These British women are living through what may be the most stressful period of British life since the blitz, yet they attribute their suffering to racial antagonism. By implication, they cannot imagine that “white” people might share their suffering. 

This assumed division of experience is perhaps a more savage criticism of British society than the specific accusations they level at white people. How have they travelled so far from their fellow citizens? What relentless othering has led them to believe that they have so little in common with the rest of us?

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