Ukip’s Rozanne Duncan might not like ‘negroid features’, but we shouldn’t call her racist

Is Rozanne Duncan, the ex-UKIP councillor who made “jawdropping” remarks during the BBC’s “Meet The Ukippers”, actually racist? In her own words, she has an implacable hostility problem with “negroes” and negroid features. So far so prejudiced, I’m sure many of you will say.

However, in my opinion, as a “Negress” with classic “negroid” features all over, Rozanne is just stating what the reality is for many 66-year-old women. It would seem that she doesn’t have any black friends, or doesn’t know any black people at all (although she has said that she once visited the Caribbean and found it “okay”).

You have to feel for her: the nearest Rozanne probably gets to a black face is dusting the TV when Sir Trevor McDonald is on. And they took the golliwogs off the Robertson’s jam jars in 2002, so even her daily breakfast exposure to black faces has been depleted.

I’ve encountered many people with a similar attitude to Rozanne. While working as a barrister, I once met with a middle-aged female client, and they seemed surprised when they saw me. Their first words were “Oh, you’re coloured”. “Yes, I am” was my response, just to confirm what she was seeing. I felt like I could read her mind. What was someone like me doing, looking like…me? As well as having an English name, I’m well educated, politely spoken, and work in an almost entirely white industry. And as many people have pointed out to me, I even have a  “white voice”.

Since then, I’ve honed my response to such surprise. “Let me guess? You were expecting a petite, ginger-haired, Irish woman?” I say to break the ice. And we all smile. It’s tiresome, demoralising and demeaning. Although it’s happening less and less now. The internet now means that less people are shocked when they meet me for the first time. Especially if you’re giving them legal help, everyone checks you out on Google, which saves everyone from that awkward moment.

Of course, we can’t completely ignore the fact that what Rozanne did is technically racist. But the reason that I don’t think we should call her a “racist” is that it doesn’t seem to help remedy the situation. If we’re going to stop people like Rozanne being prejudiced, there’s a much better word: ignorant.

It’s a complete lack of education and experience that they really suffer from. Now, you might argue that ignorance and racism have a great deal of overlap, but the distinction is still important. Whenever we call someone racist, there’s no chance of rehabilitation for them — they’ve gone too far down the racist rabbit hole. But when we recognise them as more ignorant than racist — like Rozanne is — there’s at least a chance that they can learn from their mistake.

When outbursts like hers hit the news, I remind myself that even the Mayor of London once referred to black children as “piccaninnies” in a 2002 column he wrote for The Daily Telegraph. He also referred to the “watermelon smiles” of black people. Yet lovable Boris, who became mayor in a city that is 40 per cent black and minority ethnic, could be our future PM, and is now one of our most popular living politicians.

So I’m sure Rozanne can be rehabilitated. Being British, she’s living in one of the best countries to do so. There might be a certain number of black spots (or should that be white spots?) of racial ignorance across the UK, including Thanet, where Rozanne lives. But otherwise I’d say we were pretty great for racial harmony, at least when compared to many other European countries or the US.

Aside from the largely healthy relationships that now exist between different British communities, mixed race families — which were considered a faux pas when I was growing up — have come to define Britain, and have produced some of our biggest stars, such as the Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.

So I don’t think that Rozanne Duncan is really racist — or at least, there’s no use in labelling her as such. Instead of saying that she has“no regrets” like she did earlier today, she just needs to admit that she doesn’t know any black people. Then, once she’s come to terms with her ignorance, she needs to find some black friends quickly. Maybe I could help: if you ever feel like having lunch in London Rozanne, then I’m free whenever you are.

This article appeared in Independent Voices on 23rd February 2015.

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