Clenton Farquharson MBE: A Conversation for Today

Imagine that life is a game of monopoly.

In the game, the white players begin playing three days before the black players do. In addition to having a head start, the white players already possess the properties, wealth, resources and decision making abilities to succeed in the game. The difference between the players, is power.

This is an analogy used by Clenton Farquharson MBE to answer the question: what is white privilege? Clenton sees white privilege as a game of power dynamics, which highlights the discriminatory way that power is unevenly distributed. When Clenton was younger, his parents told him that in life he would have to work twice as hard as any white person does to achieve the same success. In terms of Monopoly, his parents’ advice came from a place of disadvantage, where they were powerless in the game, having been invited to play three days late and having to work twice as hard to catch up.

As a consultant on inclusion and equality, Clenton questions people about their understanding of white privilege in his workshops. He finds that white privilege is a concept which white people find difficult to grasp and often provokes a defensive response, such as ‘well, I didn’t ask to be born white.’ People confuse racism with racial abuse; racial taunts and jibes rather than as an institutional problem. Highlighting links between white people and race inequality can be interpreted as a challenge to people’s sense of identity. As a result, white people might find it difficult to accept the reality of white privilege.

Clenton uses the Three I’s model to summarise what he believes to be the biggest issues surrounding racism. The first ‘I’ is ignorance. There is a lack of understanding around racism and white privilege. The term ‘wilful blindness’ is used to show how people will choose to stay ignorant or ‘blind’ to racism to avoid implicating themselves in injustice. This concept describes the way that society will shy away from learning about racism, despite the evidence of racism being widely available. A white dominated society has the power to be wilfully blind to racism and to white privilege.

The second ‘I’ is indifference. The majority of people have a lack of interest or concern for racial inequality, largely due to the lack of inclusion of black role models in British culture, particularly in education, religion and politics. In schools for example, rather than celebrating the achievements of black figures in history, black people have traditionally been portrayed as slaves who were conquered. The lack of celebration and appreciation for black culture contributes to a racist society by creating indifference. Clenton points out how the church has also contributed to this feeling by portraying Jesus as a blue eyed, white man. In such a way, religion has contributed to a racial divide and fuelled the sense of indifference. In recent years, the crackdown on immigration, the Windrush scandal and Brexit all have demonstrated society’s indifference to members of the BAME community.

The final ‘I’ is inaction, an issue which Clenton partly puts down to identity politics. He suggests that everyone is fighting for their corner of the world, in favour of their primary identity. For example, some may argue that disability is a more important matter than race, or that race is more important than gender, or than gender is more important than sexuality, and so on. This turns people against one another, as it creates a hierarchy of disadvantage; where people compete for whose disadvantage is worse. Identity politics has prevented all people, as members of the human race, from fighting together to achieve social justice. To move on from this, society must become intersectional, where identities overlap and our awareness of them can help to identify the differences between us. In an intersectional society the patterns and trends that cause disadvantage can be unpicked and eradicated.

The above insights are those of Clenton Farquharson MBE, who works as a consultant, trainer and coach on inclusion, equality and disability. Clenton is listed on the Disability News Services’ list of influential disabled people and works closely with disability groups in the West Midlands. He also helps to run Community Navigator Services, working with disadvantaged people and the Department of Health.

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