“The white person in this debate always centers it on themselves,” author and broadcaster Afua Hirsch told CNN. “It would make more sense if somebody said: I haven’t got a lived experience of racism. I would like to understand your perspective.”
Her claims were deemed as “boring” by white panelist and actor Laurence Fox. He then said that Boyle was “being racist” after she described him as a “white privileged male.” The audience applauded Fox, and the pair’s altercation trended on Twitter.
“I am often requested to go into spaces where I’m the only person of color on TV debates and primetime shows,” Hirsch told CNN, describing the experience as “entertainment” for viewers.
“[They] expect me to single-handedly show them what is racist, prove that racism exists. That in itself is a manifestation of white privilege.”
But Hirsch believes it is important to keep educating people.
“People think racism is when somebody has in their mind that they hate people of color. [They] will say, ‘I don’t have a racist bone in my body,’ while perpetrating racist narratives. This is an opportunity to show people what racism can look like.”
Stormzy’s comments were misinterpreted by a number of media outlets who suggested he had said that the UK was 100% racist.
Broadcaster ITV News later issued an apology for its characterization of the story, but the incident has added to a simmering debate on race that was already in full force.
Some experts make the point that support from people in influential positions can encourage others to listen and to pay attention to an issue.
“What we really need is allyship,” Frank Starling, global VP of WERKIN, a London-based tech company that advises organizations on inclusivity, told CNN. “People that understand that they may have a privilege or a voice over others and they’re willing to share that platform … It’s definitely not just the responsibility of the victims … to solve these challenges.”
Harassment and victimization are a daily occurrence for many people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds — and not just from ordinary people on the street.
In 1999, an inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, and the botched investigation that followed, found that there was “institutional racism” in the police.
Growing up in the 1980s, Starling said he would wear smart shirts instead of casual clothing at the weekend, after he was stopped by the police multiple times.
Even today, he says he is careful about what he wears on a wintry morning. “Because I’ve grown up in a society where the idea of wearing a hoodie as a black man may make people feel fear, I’m concerned about that,” he told CNN.
‘Racism is not a matter of opinion’
The UK is often praised as a melting pot of cultures. But research shows that multiculturalism is now under attack.
“I got more racism last year than in the previous 25 years, all of it online on Twitter,” Sunder Katwala, director of think tank British Future, told CNN. “We should protect free speech, but not racist abuse.”
Social media squabbles also distract from the real problem.
“They are part of our wider intellectual and cultural heritage,” he said. “Frankly, it’s embarrassing we still don’t recognize this, and instead prefer social media or personality spats instead of actually tackling racism and its consequences.”
Starling said that an overall lack of diverse representation in influential positions is a major reason why certain perspectives are less accepted.
British society is known for its traditional “stiff upper lip” and “reserved” attitude, but Starling says it must tackle this issue, regardless of how uncomfortable it might be to do so.
“Being called racist indicates that we might be a bad person,” he says. “We might hold a bias and that’s really scary and very uncomfortable.”
Someone’s lived experience of racism, though, should not be open to debate. “Racism is not a matter of opinion,” says Khan, “but of evidence and reality.”
In fact, like Meghan and Harry, Hirsch says some people subjected to racial discrimination are considering leaving the country too. “I’m not saying people should leave… [But] I don’t feel this is a healthy place to be right now.”