If I'm Mixed Race, How Come I Dance Like A White Guy?

Hey, everyone! Did you read my last blog entry? 2009 is a brand new start for me and I found out that I'd got a brand new spanking job to go with it, literally in the last week of 2008. The sense of joy at this Christmas present can perhaps be understood by the abject misery I'd faced in my previous job and the unexpected unemployment of October, November and December. It was a real two-fingered salute to 2008, a year of financial collapse and, perhaps poignantly, a two-fingered salute to a few people who would've been quite happy to see me fail for desperately superficial reasons. These reasons have come flooding into my frontal lobe again recently, mainly due to Carol Thatcher's rather clumsy apologies over her "golliwog" comment, made a few days ago on "The Wright Stuff".

Yes, the two are linked - and before I go on, I'll go on the record and say I quite like Carol Thatcher (although the less said about her geographically challenged, thick-as-pig-shit brother, the better - and, as for her mother, she needs her own blog entry for why I think she's a boorish vampiric vandal of Britain). But, I do realise why Carol's caused offence - it's a shame, because I'm libertarian at heart. Freedom of expression is something I believe in. But my problem isn't that she set out to make an offensive remark or even use racially-charged taboo words. It's not even with her failure to make an honest-to-goodness, gosh, hocky-sticks apology (which Boris Johnson, in similar red-cheeked huffing-puffing majesty, is known to do with frequent amusing regularity). No, the reason I found her behaviour crude is because of that slick-palmed, creepy over-familiarity someone like her occasionally exhibits; the assumption that she knows a group of people well enough that she can say what she wants; and then is incredulous when some other people perceive their personal space invaded. I guess it's racism of sorts; lacking the wisdom of social interaction. As an example that is nothing to do with racism, but everything to do with offence, I fucking adore swearing me. But I tend to do it raucously with close pals, not in the hushed silence of a group of Catholic Nuns praying.

I've had a multifaceted relationship with racism throughout my life. It's not something I perceive to encounter very much, but perhaps I should pay more attention. For a start, I've noticed close friends cringing on my behalf in social scenarios when some 'borderline' comments are made by some stranger professing to understand my 'culture' - something I usually miss, because I'm often not a member of that culture in the first place. Worse, this can cover a multitude of 'Scottish/UK non-conformist qualities', such as my skin colour, my English accent (of sorts; it slips around on an almost John Barrowmanesque journey), my religion, my sexual orientation, my music taste* or which sports team I support. Just for the record, I suppose I regard myself as a UK resident, living in Scotland and justifiably proud to be living here, as I was born and raised here. But I'm not a nationalist (either British or Scottish). Oh, and a little digging around in my family tree will see blood that is a mix of Spanish, African Carribean, English, Scottish (Isle of Skye), Chinese and Canadian. Any trips visiting British National Party (BNP) rallies in either Tower Hamlets or Yorkshire will probably involve four different types of shit kicked out of me. Five, if you include the Scottish.

However, before this turns into a straightforward attack on BNP ignorance, my encounters with barely-concealed antipathy of 'difference' goes way wider. It touches upon, for example, why I've (finally) got a job in Glasgow - but never managed to get one before, despite me living in the damned city for almost a quarter century. Don't try and convince me that it was innocent whenever I was asked at the end of every interview about which football team I supported. It bore only a sideways glance at kicking a ball around (Celtic or Rangers notwithstanding, is there a Glasgow footie team that atheists like me can support?). It also gave me a distinctly queasy sensation during interviews when I decided to say I wasn't interested in football at all; this usually meant the (always heterosexual male) interviewer's darting eyes would betray a panic of me 'not being one of the lads' or me having a 'sexually ambiguous orientation'. Oh, we're near the end of this paragraph and I've also failed to point out the hulking great elephant in the room. I was explicitly told that my English accent would be a barrier to getting jobs in Glasgow (despite the aforementioned Barrowmanishness of said accent).

My paranoia was understandably heightened during my unemployment recently, particularly after a decade of continuous employment, during which I always ran into 'social embarrassment' scenarios of the above two paragraphs. When the BNP membership list came tumbling out of the internet ether at the beginning of November, right in the middle of my unemployed phase, I scoured the list. I noticed a disturbing number of people living in my postcode, as well as seeing a name that appeared congruent with an ex-manager of mine who'd displayed a baseless immediate dislike of me (and, apparently, baseless no more?). Could the reason for all those failed job outcomes be the same reason that haunted me over a decade ago? Desperate times certainly lead to a more closed communities, that's well documented. British jobs for the British, ain't that what Gordon Brown endorsed? As an extra added twist for a Scottish-born Prime Minister, the nation that I was born in would probably want Scottish jobs for Scottish people; in other words, the Scottish archetype. White (or, more accurately for Scotland, cyan). Scottish accent. Dour. Dependable. Likes football. Heterosexual in a very obvious way, and not a threat. One of the lads! Like a slight madman, I started consulting the BNP membership list after every failed interview I had! After all, I surmised, if someone on that list looked like a previous manager I had, surely anyone could be on there?

Oh, and now that I've mentioned I'm libertarian, but understandably wary of BNP members (for personal skin-deep reason), it shouldn't surprise anyone that I support their right to uncensored free speech. Even if that is a right to say they want me out of their sight. Or for me to keep my eyes off their white blue-collar jobs. Democracy, particularly in these internet-savvy times, tends to throw up diametrically opposite parties to the BNP that will protect my interests anyway. And, of course, the police will protect me in the likelihood of BNP harrassment - unless my police friends happen to hate liberal, pussy-footed Guardian readers. Oh...

On that subject, I ended up having an interesting discussion with a friend from school, who now serves in the Army. You'd think that an army soldier would disagree with a wet lefty liberal like me. And you'd be right... just not in the way you'd stereotypically think. Broadly, it was pro-censorship vs anti-censorship, particularly in light of a fellow unit officer being found to be on the BNP membership list. I've already voiced anti-censorship for the BNP (or, indeed, for anyone who might have 'controversial' views in UK society). However, my soldier friend made it quite clear that allowing the BNP to have inflammatory opinions would hamper his job in protecting British people and he made it explicitly clear that he counted me amongst them. His upbringing was the same as mine, in a state school that had a rich heritage of Scots with Pakistani, Chinese, Indian, African American and French backgrounds; in other words, his job hinged on him being not just concerned about the 'enemy', but equally protective of British citizens - no matter what their colour. More intriguingly, he also argued that it wasn't the business of anyone in the Army to belong to any political party, mainly because it involves swearing allegiance to the Crown (and the currently sitting government). So, as an example, an Army Officer with paid-up membership of the Labour Party (or New Labour) might not be a problem now, but should there be a Conservative government elected in future, you have the problem of an Army officer perceived as no longer being loyal to the government. The nutshell summary of this whole paragraph is that he was disgusted that a fellow officer could be a member of the BNP, or, indeed, a member of any political party.

All of this I knew in November, which made me feel slightly more secure with it all, even in the midst of my interviews and anxiety of not being Scottish or British enough. I even had a perceived boost to my job prospects. A day before a job interview, for a job I was certain was mine for the taking, Barack Hussein Obama got voted President of the United States of America. The first Black president of USA? Actually, no he isn't. Hands off, you gangsta rappers and African Americans - he's mixed race! He's my golliwog President, not yours! However, 48 hours later, he was a mixed-race President Elect that still never helped me get that sodding job, as I walked out of my prospective new office, utterly disheartened and rejected. Except, while I attempted to jump a Lothian Bus on the way home in the heavy spattering rain of the rapidly approaching night, I laughed raucously at something that had happened a full year before. It's a story that has turned into something of an internet apocryphal story, not owned by anyone. So, I'm claiming it back for me and my pals...

In November 2007, I decided to go and have a quiet drink on a Friday night with my friend, Big Kenny. It was the end of harrowing working week. Seeing as we were of a sufficiently braindead state of mind, we decided to just go to the nearest pub - in other words, a pub full of suits. Full of respectable finance types. Scrub that. A pub full of finance slags in suits who had successfully hidden the impending bank crisis. Anyway, Big Kenny warned me that two pisshead mates of ours were in Edinburgh that weekend, down from Inverness. They were in town, mainly to sample the delights of some scantily-clad female Philosophy students, trying to plug a gap in their student loans, by lapdancing on their clumsily inebriated erections. With that in mind, we glanced nervously at the door of this 'faux posh' wine bar, while we downed our pints and tried to block out the invariable shitness of our working weeks. However, after about three particularly stale beers, our two pisshead mates staggered in. Promptly, they announced loudly, in loud, ciggie-hoarsed voices, "Yaay, guys! We've just been to a fucking ace titty bar! And I got a lapdance off this gorgeous Negro woman...". At which point, we had to stop them in their tracks, before the wine bar bouncers threw them out. "You can't say Negro in front of Chris," protested Kenny nobly, "he's part Black!". Quick as a flash (and still in the same loud volume), pisshead mate claimed reasonably, "Yeah, I know, man, that's why I never said nigger!".

The resulting crash of me hitting the floor, while I laughed uncontrollably for a full seven minutes, was probably a sight to behold. I couldn't work out what I found funnier; the speed of my pisshead mate's delivery, when he'd drunk a brewery's worth of Tennent's industrial strength piss; or the shocked look of approximately forty Standard Life/Royal Bank Of Scotland employee WASP suits. Of course, if any of those strangers had patted me on the shoulder and repeated the joke, with a faux Thatcher-like familiarity, I would've said, "That's offensive, don't you think? Considering you don't know me?"

I don't think they got the joke. I don't think Carol Thatcher would get the joke either.

* I quite like reggae, some hip-hop and grime, but I dislike most rap. I like a fair few skinny white boy guitar bands, but dislike 'new MOR' such as Keane. I can't stand music that speeds along at 400bpm and you need to be off your tits on drugs before you can 'truly get it'.

Chris Nicholson is terrified that this blog entry's reference to 'nigger', 'Obama' and the 'BNP' will line him up with some rather extremist Google searches.