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Sam Smith’s surprise at racism in London shows he is ‘colourblind’

21 Jan 2016

Sam Smith took to Twitter to air his surprise during the early hours of Wednesday morning, after witnessing a racially-aggravated attack of a friend.

Let’s get this straight.  Racism is unfortunately still very much alive, even in the colourful, bubbling capital that is London. While the nature of British reserve means that much of the racism experienced is covert and sinister in its nature, taking the form of subtle microagressions, it still exists. It would be wrong of me to expect Smith to walk around looking at the world with a brown tinted magnifying glass, but to claim that he “never ever ever thought that (racism) would happen here (in London)”? Really?

Smith continues his public revelation of racism while hearing Nina Simone on the radio with fresh ears for the first time.  Yes babes, that’s what she was singing about all those years ago.

It’s not annoying that Smith spoke out about his friend’s experience of racism, it’s annoying because up until that moment, Smith appears to have not understood that racism exists. Because of people like him, people of colour (POC) are shut down for ‘bringing race into everything’, and even victim-blamed. We get asked “what did you do to put yourself into that position?” or “how were you behaving, are you sure it wasn’t your fault?” We are made to feel guilty about voicing isolated incidents of microagression in lived experiences of everyday racism.

I imagine Smith spends a large amount of time with POC on his worldwide tours, in his music circles, and brushing shoulders with on the street, living in the city of London. He also earns his money from dominating a genre of music which has been historically black. Sadly, he clearly hasn’t taken the time to understand it. If that isn’t appropriation then I must have misunderstood Amandla breaking it down for us. His blindness to racism is frankly insulting for an artist that operates in the domain in which he does.

Back in 2014, Smith won ‘Best Soul/ R&B act’ at the MOBO’s and last year, won the BET Award for ‘Best New Artist’. Without, undermining his undeniable talent, the results began to stir criticism of white excellence. Black British artists struggle to stay afloat forced to go to America before they are recognised as being excellent themselves, as we saw with Omar, Estelle and the whole of the Grime genre. In contrast, often when a white person says or does something that POC have been doing for ages, it’s immediately merited as extraordinary. Think Zendaya vs. Miley, think Sheeran, Igloo, J-j-j-Jessie J.

You don’t have to be a person of colour to speak up about witnessing incidents of everyday racism, but it becomes a problem when it takes a white voice to make it legitimate. Smith taking to Twitter to voice his need to shine a light on the incident is all well and good, but he seems to have swooped in with a white saviour complex, spreading his ‘discovery of racism’ to his ‘Little Sailors’. His words reinforced the fear that POCs’ collective experiences of everyday racism do not amount enough to be valid.

Sam Smith is just one example of many who walk around colourblind whilst mooching in colourful circles. It’s time to grant POCs the same credibility to be able to take to the podium and speak about our own experiences, instead of being blamed, undermined and ignored.