COLUMN: February 2, 2017

newquay
Newquay. Picture by Giuseppe Milo (via Creative Commons)

I HAVE spent most of the past week arguing with people about the issues raised in last week’s column, in which I described going to a rally against Donald Trump.

Much of that time was taken up in conversation on Twitter with white men of a certain bearing absolutely incensed that I had called them racist for asserting that all Muslims are rapists, terrorists, or both, and for saying that Sir Mo Farah is not really British because he is black.

It is an odd symptom of the time that there are some people who very much object to being called racist, while at the same time are not prepared to put in the hard work of actually not being racist.

How strange it must be to hold a position that you know is wrong. It must be like knowing you should eat salad if you want to lose weight, but fancying a bag of chips and a dandelion & burdock.

“Gah!” they must think. “I know that racism is wrong and the thin end of a wedge which has genocide at the other end, but I REALLY enjoy the feeling of superiority I get from having this colour of skin – the best colour – rather than that colour of skin.”

I will just say that if your response to hearing that a Muslim or group of Muslims have committed a crime is to call for a ban on people from Muslim countries, then you already did not trust Muslims before – “because they’re not like us” – and you are using this to justify your prejudices.

White English-speaking people commit crimes all the time. Come back to me when you want to ban people from New Zealand.

Anyway, there is quite enough division in this world at the moment, and it is time that we looked at something Donald Trump and I have in common – an inability to wear fake tan convincingly.

I am a very white person. Most racists are jealous of how white I am. Cameramen can use my skin – and have done – to check their white balance. I make milk look like caramel. I don’t need to wear reflective clothing when I am running at night, in fact oncoming runners tend to scream when they see my disembodied ghostly head.

But when I was 15 I went on summer holiday with family to Newquay in Cornwall. The beaches were filled with golden people, the colour the Orange Don believes he is in his head, while I looked like an animated sheet of foolscap.

And then one morning I saw her – a raven-haired vision, sitting at breakfast with her parents, looking about as bored as a 15-year-old girl on a seaside holiday with her parents as you might expect. She would have stood out anyway to me in a Newquay hotel dining room in which the occupants’ average age was 48, but she was genuinely very pretty.

How could a pasty youth like me compete, I wondered, with the bronzed beach gods? Expose me to sunlight and I shrivel like a crisp packet under the grill.

But that evening, I was in the bathroom, and I noticed a bottle on the shelf. I expect it belonged to my uncle or auntie, who had taken me on the holiday, and it was an artificial tanning product, I presume, in retrospect, for fading out tan lines.

However, I was 15 and stupid. This was the answer to my problem. I “borrowed” some and smeared it all over my face. I looked in the mirror and saw no effect.

“I probably need more,” I thought. And I smeared more on. Still no effect. I shrugged and went down to the hotel’s “disco”, where somehow I managed to dance with the girl, who told me her name was Christina.

The next morning I woke and examined my white hotel pillow. It looked as if I had engaged in a dirty protest.

Horrified, I dashed to a mirror. My body was as radiantly white as ever. But my face… Oh, my face! It was not so much golden-brown as conker brown. And it was white around my eyes, where, presumably, I had been wary of smearing the artificial tanning cream.

I spent the rest of the holiday wearing long sleeves and sunglasses, with my hands in my pockets, avoiding Christina. It was the only time in my life I believed that being white was superior.

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