When my children were young, they thought I knew everything. You know what I mean, they would say “Mum, did cowboys drink fizzy drinks?” “Mum, why do stars sparkle?” and everything in between.
Then when they became teenagers, they thought they knew everything. We all know that one, no matter what you said they always knew a better way to do it and you were never just a bit wrong about something you were always completely wrong. Thankfully, my adult children have mostly grown out of both of these phases. They have worked out that they know a lot of stuff, they appreciate the wisdom of others and they understand that they have unique life experiences which impact the way they see and think about things.
Most people get to this point in their life, or do they?
The other day I was listening to the radio and the woman on the radio was talking about how we use leftover food and she said “well the only dish we British know for leftovers is making Bubble & Squeak” The radio had been on in the background whilst I was working and this sentence made me pause.
I wondered who she was talking about? You see, I am British and like many other black British people, I can think of a few dishes that I make from leftovers, so who was this woman talking about? Who are these British people? Am I not British because not only can I make more dishes than she can, but also because I think Bubble & Squeak is disgusting!
But you see what had happened is that this woman had not learned the lessons that my children learnt long ago (or maybe she had and she forgot at that moment). She forgot that her life experience is not everyone’s.
One of the fruits of my children’s experience is they will say “this is my opinion” or “I can’t speak for everyone” this is because as black people they want to ensure that it is very clear that they cannot speak on behalf of all black women or all black men.
You may well be thinking “oh what’s the fuss, it’s only Bubble & Squeak”. But that’s just it, everything is “only” Bubble & Squeak. One of the things about white privilege is that you become convinced that you speak for everyone, that everyone is like you, has your life experience, your opportunities and therefore shares your life outlook. That’s a big loss for you. I thought that the bubble and squeak woman has missed out on some amazing dishes because she assumed that she knew the only one. I mean, if she had read Original flava or Caribbean Vegan in the store, she would not have that opinion.
On the other side what that means is exclusion. Her throwaway comment meant that I (very fleetingly) questioned my Britishness once again, and I hear comments like this daily. In the street, in my church, on the news, in entertainment. Everywhere. These comments push out black people and they make it seem like we’re the “wrong kind” of British.
Here’s the key.
Because you are British, it does not mean you speak for Britain.
You are not the epitome of what it means to be British. I am as British as you, and my life experience, my knowledge and my culture are all very different from yours.
Together we make Britain and dare I say, it is only through truly embracing all of our different cultures and classes, that together we can make Great Britain.
So next time you are about, to sum up, or speak on behalf of.
Pause, take a minute and try just speaking for yourself.