Why I Don't Hate White People by Lemn Sissay

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BBC Radio 3, 16 October 2010
In this monologue, recorded in front of a live audience, Lemn Sissay reflected on the experience of growing up in rural Lancashire as the only black person in a predominantly white community; as well as the trauma of being a foster child in a white family who subsequently spent most of his formative years in a home.
Sissay assumed the identities of different people he had encountered in his life, and reflected on their vagaries. These included the so-called white 'mate' taking him on a cheap Spanish holiday, white liberals protesting that they don't hate black people, social workers and other members of the caring professions organizing race awareness workshops, ignorant white members of the working class protesting against the presence of black people in their midst; and the working-class drinker making racist remarks and pretending they were only a joke. Sissay impersonated them all and dramatized his reactions to them in a plurivocal analysis of his experiences of what it was like to be British.
As the monologue unfolded, it emerged that Sissay basically spurned those liberals who denied the existence of blackness, or subsumed colour issues beneath the catch-all term "we are all human beings." Such rhetorical strategies not only deny incontrovertible facts (Sissay is black), but actually represent an implicit admission of otherness.
Sissay also suggested that black people in Britain had to adjust to white-formulated cultural and rhetorical strategies; the entire concept of "not hating white people," just like the idea of "not hating black people," presupposes the existence of love and hate between people of different races. Sissay satirized this by imagining a group therapy session in which people of different cultures insulted other and had a mutual hug afterwards. But perhaps the only way to move forward was to raise awareness of how inbred such strategies are; not through workshops or "consciousness-raising" sessions, but through illuminating the strategies through comedy and/or monologues.
Sissay's most important point was to show that white people simply do not understand what the experience of othering means. They might feel isolated in an all-black club, or in an all-black sports team, but they can console themselves with the thought that such isolation is only temporary. Black people experience that kind of isolation every day of their lives, even in those societies that profess to be liberal-minded. Perhaps this form of discrimination might never change, but at least monologues like Sissay's help to make manifest the cultural and rhetorical strategies that reinforce it. The director was Claire Grove.