How Laurence Fox’s stance on racism made me think I was going mad – Ayesha Hazarika

Actor Laurence Fox (Picture:: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire)
Actor Laurence Fox (Picture:: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire)
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Actor Laurence Fox’s attack on a Question Time audience member for, in his view, playing the race card had Ayesha Hazarika worried. Could he be right? Was she just imagining racism? But then he complained about the appearance of one Sikh soldier for four minutes in the World War One film 1917.

I don’t even want to mention his name but I’m going to have to. Sorry. Laurence Fox’s eruption as the love child of Katie Hopkins and Tim Nice But Dim has had a really profound effect on me. Of course I was yelling at the telly and firing off enraged tweets, but it was deeper than that. His outburst made me question everything I thought I knew about what kind of society we live in and myself.

My confident public self was screaming rage at him with verve and enthusiasm. But my internal private chatter box was a frightened mess. For embedded deep within most people for colour who have managed to achieve even modest success is a deep sense of insecurity about our place, our station, and whether everyone is just madly bored of us bleating on about our struggles and feelings.

When Fox nonchalantly told that woman on Question Time that she was “boring” and that she was playing the race-card, it was the most horrible confirmation that my inner persecuted minority voice was looking for.

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I heard my mother’s worried words when I was growing up warning me not to pursue a career in something which was not for “people like us” and to be a doctor (to be fair she would have said that whatever career I chose). I was reminded of people who warned me against talking about my ethnicity when I first started doing stand-up, saying you don’t want to get pigeon-holed, stick with the knob gags for now (which to be fair served me well). It’s taken us such a long time to not feel embarrassed to talk about issues of race and identity – yet now we have to stop because some actor has ennui? But is he right? Is Piers Morgan right? Are we seeing shadows where there are none? Are we imagining racism? I genuinely felt I was going mad for a while. But I guess that’s the definition of gaslighting.

Toxic media bubble

Of course our feelings are not imagined. From the murder of Stephen Lawrence to the Windrush scandal to monkey chants at football matches to the only royal of colour being hounded out the country.

The thing that upset me most was the fear that Fox and Morgan speak for the majority of the country. A silent majority who hate us. That freaks me out. I don’t know the answer to that question.

My Twitter timeline is a fiesta of racist filth. But when I get out and about and meet people away from the increasingly toxic media bubble, like I did in Grantham yesterday, they restore my faith.

I spoke to a group of head hunters who are trying to improve diversity in companies and organisations, not because they are all mad lefties but because it’s good for business and that’s what their clients want. They are even giving all their staff training on trying to overcome unconscious bias which we all have. Someone joked with me that Piers Morgan should try it but it could be like painting the Forth Bridge – a job you can never complete.

One poor Sikh dude

I don’t want to believe everyone is racist. What a miserable way to live. I’m no bigot. Hey. Some of my best friends are privileged white men I used to make tea for and whose dry cleaning I used to collect. And I don’t want to be that person who screams “Nazi or Fash” at anyone who has a different opinion from me. And people on the left are as capable as being as idiotic and cruel as those on the right. The difference is that those people don’t actually have any real power or influence.

But when we have reached a stage where to simply call out racism is now a sin or a crime by people who should know better, on mainstream media platforms, this country has gone backwards. And what a crying shame that is.

I was really unnerved by that Question Time incident. Maybe he was tapping into something dark but undeniable? But mercifully his stunning stupidity about the Sikh solider in the film 1917 brought me to my senses.

The way he banged on about it being institutionally racist made me go see the film as I genuinely thought it was going to be like an episode of Goodness Gracious Me. There was one poor Sikh dude. Who spoke one line and was on screen for about four minutes in a cast of white men. I almost wept with joy. I’m not going mad. The guy is not some social soothsayer. His breeding may be high but his knuckles scrape the floor. Phew. Thank you Laurence for shooting your own fox.