Am I paranoid or are you racist?

Cropped photo of a billboard at St Pancras in 2019 showing a black boy gazing longingly at the crown jewels

Featured Image: Partial photo of billboard at St Pancras

3 Apr 2019

My head wasn’t right today. Still isn’t as I write this. It’s one of those days where I woke up with really low energy levels and I never quite managed to jump start myself. Maybe it’s the grey weather, the lingering cold that won’t go away and won’t let me sleep for coughing, that time of the month, inertia mid-project, deadline overload… whatever. The point is, I’m not a bright shining star today, unless you count the buss-eye[i] lime green jumper I’m sporting. I think I was hoping it would perk me up.

So I figured it was in the context of this low-energy mini fugue that I misinterpreted the first image I saw when we pulled into St Pancras (pictured).

Billboard on St Pancras platform in 2019 advertising the Tower of London with an image of a young black boy gazing with longing at awe at the crown jewels
Photo taken by S L Ross

The 4th time it flashed in my face I snapped a photo of it because it was bugging me. I knew why but I found myself rationalising – no way they did that on purpose. They wouldn’t. Maybe they didn’t realise how this could be perceived. I started looking for ways that this could be positively perceived. It’s inclusive, they thought it would be a good idea to show a face besides the default white, (and then of course, if it’s not them, it must be me so…) I’m just being paranoid.

The minute I thought that, I knew it was time to stop rationalising. I sent the pic to my husband with the caption, “When you finally wake up[ii], then have to remind yourself that not everything is a post-colonial poor taste joke.”

His response came in full-on Trinbago[iii] dialect, no less – “At least he not Indian. That’s where we teef [read: stole] all those jewels.”

In case you’re wondering, my husband is white British. He is not apologetic about being white or British (nor should he be). He isn’t obsessed with black women. His slang is born from chatting with me and my family and listening to lots of kaiso and soca, and he only speaks it with us. He’s just very aware of and honest about his country’s political history.

God bless allies because being a woke[iv] black person in a predominantly white country is bloody exhausting. Being a woke black person in Britain is an exercise in mental fortitude – the subtlety is killer. I totally get Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”[v] analogy – this shitty imperial thinking is inside my frickin’ mind!

Meanwhile, how many of you are reading this and thinking, “Oh for God’s sakes! You can see racism wherever you want to see it. First you complain, no representation. We give you bloody representation – it’s a little black boy, not a little white boy – and you complain about that too? What the hell do you want? Blood?!”

Don’t worry mate, I used to think like you too. I remember the blissful state of my ignorance. Life was so much easier, so much more comfortable. I never ever wondered if I was being paranoid because my default was to think we’re all colour blind. What a lovely delusional place to be… sort of.

It’s an easy position to take when you’re raised as the majority, as I was. Over 95%[vi] of the Trinidad & Tobago population would be considered BAME here in the UK. I was very much in the majority, even if I wasn’t in the upper echelons of privilege. Post-colonial inheritance still determines much of the wealth hierarchy in the Caribbean, but that is a whole different discussion.

To answer the question “What the hell do I want?” Don’t worry honey, it aint blood.

I want your discomfort.

I want you to be uncomfortable too.

I want you to acknowledge the shit that went down that you still benefit from. If I have to be uncomfortable wading through the offal of our shared imperial history, then wade with me my friend. Let’s look at the stinking debris together. Let’s decide how to best dismantle all the architecture that keeps racism alive. Let’s work together to decide how we can make the future better knowing that what went before should never be repeated.

I hear your frustration. You didn’t personally do it. You don’t condone it and would never support it. You’re not racist. You know racism is wrong.

Ok, so tell me, what do you do to stop it?

And having a non-white friend does not count.

If you’re still enjoying the perks then *newsflash* you are condoning it. You are supporting it. You are actually a big part of the problem. You are part of the machinery that keeps racist systems alive.

If you are happy to enjoy the open doors that slam in my face when we apply for jobs or go for a loan…

If you hear about a crime and if the suspect is black or Muslim, it doesn’t surprise you…

If you’re fine with working in offices where almost everyone looks like you, but when you step out of your office the community around you has very varied faces…

If you totally get why mostly non-white countries need letters of credit to trade with UK companies…

If you think black on black crime is a thing…

If you resent ‘affirmative action’ style programmes that give minorities opportunities to get into spaces they cannot access otherwise and you think such programmes are unfair to white people…

If you’re championing women’s rights, gay rights, disabled rights, etc but race equality isn’t a big deal for you…

If you see no problem or feel no need to speak up when someone has the bright idea to put a little black boy gazing longingly at the crown jewels – a symbol of the obscene wealth that generations of his ancestors were brutalised and murdered to produce…

If you do nothing to challenge the systems, stereotypes or privileges that benefit you at my expense then your hands aren’t as lily white (all puns intended) as you think, and I hate to break it to you but, you are definitely a massive part of the problem

You are the personification of wilful ignorance.

Don’t believe me? Answer this one question that I’ve borrowed from a little old white lady named Jane Elliott[vii].

“If you white folks want to be treated the way black folks are treated in this society please stand up.”

I’d bet money I don’t have that you’re not standing mentally or metaphorically. In fact, I’d even bet that if you were standing when you read that question that you’re suddenly itching to sit down.

Now tell me you don’t know there’s some shit going on. Otherwise, why wouldn’t you want to swap places with a black person.

PS: Repeat Jane Elliot’s question and substitute ‘black’ for any minority or marginalised group. Still sitting huh…

— References —

[i]              A lime green so bright it could pop your eyes! (Obvious exaggeration but you get the gist)

[ii]             Being ‘woke’ is fairly new to me. I reckon the scales fell from my eyes in 2016. See below for the definition of ‘woke’.

[iii]             Abbreviation for Trinidad and Tobago – the southern most island in the Caribbean where I was born.

[iv]             According to the Oxford Dictionary the definition of “woke” is: Alert to injustice in society, especially racism. Available at: (Accessed: 3 April 2019)

[v]             Get Out is a 2017 horror movie written and directed by Jordan Peele.

[vi]             UN Data (2019) Demographic Statistics Database: Population by national and/or ethnic group, sex and urban/rural residence. Available at: (Accessed: 3 April 2019)

[vii]            Alyssa Foster (2016) Speaks Volumes Anti Racism Activist & Educator Jane Elliot Speaks To White Citizens On Receiving. Available at: (Accessed: 10 November 2015)