I was a hip-hop wannabe celebrating my GCSEs, when four police cars pulled up | Romesh Ranganathan

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On the BBC Two show The Ranganation a couple of weeks ago, I opened with a short monologue about the Black Lives Matter protests, and some reasons why I found it unacceptable to counter that chant with the response “All Lives Matter”. When the show went out, there were some people who agreed and some who passionately disagreed. Others said they got what I was saying, but still disagreed.

There were some who accused me of being racist; who told me they would never again watch anything I did. That reaction, if I am honest, is par for the course in comedy, and certainly not the preserve of the right. I was subjected to similar vitriol for making a joke about Jeremy Corbyn in the previous series.

One man who got in touch was incredibly angry. He personally messaged to tell me that all lives matter, and went on to add that if he heard me say anything like that again, he would kill me.

I don’t think this was a genuine death threat, but it was disturbing nonetheless. I checked his profile: he was a family man with a steady job, who looked, if you hadn’t read the message, like a normal bloke. And that is what is so worrying: that man was so angry. As an ethnic minority, you start to become paranoid about how many other people feel like that. You see somebody give you a funny look and wonder if that’s because they have made a similar judgment. I am arguably in the position where it’s less likely to be racism than thinking I’m deeply unfunny, but you get my point.

I agree that it is an extremely high-risk action to go on a protest right now. I understand the sentiment that this goes against what we have been doing to protect ourselves from the virus. But imagine how angry and tired of a situation you have to be, to risk going out during a global pandemic to make your voice heard.

Obviously, I am not black. On the show, I wasn’t speaking as one of the oppressed, but as someone who wanted to show support. I have experienced racism, of course, but Asian and black people in this country experience it in markedly different ways.

I know this first-hand because I have seen racism from the South Asian community towards black people on numerous occasions. I have memories of going into shops run by Indian families with my Asian friends, and being treated with suspicion and spoken about in languages I couldn’t understand. I would then come out of the shop to have my Indian friends explain that the shopkeepers thought I was black. I have heard Asian people who listen to black music and immerse themselves in black culture be ignorant and offensive about black people. Our community needs to do a lot more to be anti-racist and to challenge those stereotypes when we encounter them.

After I finished my GCSEs, I went to the shops to meet my friends to celebrate. I was in my usual “hip-hop wannabe” attire, when four police cars pulled up and I was approached by officers wanting to know my movements. They said a burglar who had committed crimes in the area fitted my description. When I told them I had been doing exams all day, they wanted to know who could vouch for me. Thankfully, my friends turned up and were able to back up my story.

That happened once. Black people have these kinds of experiences all the time. We need them to know that we don’t think it’s right. That’s part of the reason I spoke about it on the show. It was also a great way of flushing out all the undercover twats.



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