Originally published on The Body is not an Apology, reprinted here with permission.
The weather app had predicted sunshine, but the sky was crying and helped by a bottle of white wine, I was crying too. Manchester, the city of my childhood, had been attacked and the victims were children. At the close of an Ariana Grande concert, a suicide bomber pressed the detonator and blew himself up along with twenty-two others. Those who rushed to help spoke of the smell of barbecued meat whilst pulling nails out of children’s faces.
I grew up in repressed middle-class Britain and my mind has developed the defense mechanism of emotional blindness when it comes to my own sadness. We’re English, and we mustn’t grumble. In many ways my emotional blindness has been beneficial. I go where others dare not tread, into the no-mans-land of the discomfort zone and walk the flaming coals without batting an eyelid. On the downside, I am often unable to access my own grief without some tools to help me. Writing is one such tool, resonant movies another. But a more immediate method like so many of my compatriots, is alcohol. So I didn’t fall off the wagon by accident, rather I plunged willingly into the frenzy of my id.
Binge drinking is destructive, yet I needed it to purge the red hot lava scalding my insides. I needed to let out the volcano of pain. As the victims were named, I saw the smiling face of a schoolgirl the same age as my own beloved daughter and as Ariana herself tweeted in the aftermath, there were no words. No words can capture the scorching heartbreak of losing your children. There is only the screech of chaos and pain which drowns out all reason. But the day after, as my hangover provided its sweet catharsis, I searched for meaning in the tragedy. What could possess someone to so brutally target young children? And one out of countless possible motivations presented itself to me. Because it hurts the most.
Manchester is a hugely cosmopolitan city, my own school class had a wide variety of ethnicities and religions. Most of my classmates with non-white ethnic backgrounds lived around Fallowfield, in the heart of the city. Us white folk lived in the rather more well-to-do suburbs, the ones from where Posh Spice takes her moniker. U.K. immigrants and their British born descendants not only have racism to contend with, but classism. Class privilege is alive and well in modern day Britain. It’s about money, profession, accent, skin colour. It’s all those things combined, it’s about bloodline and privilege. And those with foreign ancestry especially, non-european and those of colour can rarely ascend the closely guarded ranks.
There has been talk of the attacker–who was a second generation immigrant born in the U.K.–and his recently radicalisation abroad in Libya, but this radicalisation is only the last step in what is a meticulous systemic failure. Since the June referendum there has been a ‘dramatic rise in the number of racially and religiously-motivated crimes’ with the Independent newspaper reporting an 100% increase. The vote to exit the EU was in many quarters motivated by anti-immigration sentiment. In a poll taken in 2016, 40% of respondents considered immigration to be the most important issue facing Britain, and three quarters—seventy-five fucking percent–wanted to see reduced immigration. There is no excuse for murder. But oppression, exploitation and injustice over centuries is guaranteed to rouse the mildest of hearts and push a small number of them to calculated revenge. When who you are is reviled, shamed and blamed.
The West hates you, the fundamentalists whisper. And it is true.
Britain has never taken responsibility for the bloodshed and exploitation which built the empire. This is evidenced by Theresa May’s hardline on Brexit. We want to take without giving anything in return. We make no apologies for our xenophobic attitudes; our comedy ridicules ‘those bloody foreigners’, our narrow-minded and disrespectful behaviour often shames us in the countries we visit. The majority of us cannot speak a second language.
In her statement after the attack, the home secretary Amber Rudd promised an ‘uplift’ in the Prevent programme, which is aimed at stopping the radicalisation of the youngsters in Muslim communities. That means cutting their ties with roots, with their language and with their identities. It’s regarded by Muslim communities with the utmost suspicion. I wonder how exactly ‘Prevent’ will help these youngsters, when the new identity they’re expected to assume exists predominantly in the lowest echelons of society, a stratum which is overtly excluded by those ruling the country and is now more than ever the target of assault by white nationalists. Britain is doing what it has always done, systematically erasing minorities and begrudging them their poverty-stricken existence. Minorities are hurting and have been hurt by Britain for centuries. By murdering our children, this attacker struck back where it hurts us most.
The predominant message resounding after the bombing was that despite the tragedy, Britain would conduct business as usual. No doubt with a strong cup of tea. But at the bottom of the bottle last night, I knew with Cassandra-like clarity, business as usual–doing business the British way–is what got us here in the first place. And since the attacks on children is what has the most potential to disrupt business as usual, they will most likely continue.