Common Ground

Race. It's not a competition.

Common Ground

I once dated someone who insisted I was white.

(Don't get me wrong: we'd met.)

She just thought my colour was only skin deep.

We argued about it for a while, but reached an impasse.

To me, it was ridiculous. She was white; we were clearly different.

But to her, my race was ornamental.

Culturally, I blended into London - just another guy.

Unknowingly, not in so many words, of course - she was calling me a coconut.


The fact every culture has an equivalent slur shows how sensitive this is.

Coconut. Bounty Bar.


Uncle Tom.

Coloured on the outside, white inside. A race traitor.

Or at least - race unfaithful.

It's a way of calling someone out when you think they don't know who they really are.

Mixed-race progeny who 'pass', second generation try-hards, 'sellouts' in colonial cosplay. Culture's so blended these days, it's mostly bullshit - usually failing to follow racial cliche.

It's calling out Idris Elba as Luther for not having any black friends or eating jerk chicken.

It's finding fault with Gigi for being a plastic Palestinian.

Haranguing Andrew Yang for not being 'an ally'.

The trouble with race is we so often mean culture.

Race is real, of course. I know that not everyone is lucky like me: I move through the world blissfully indifferent to being the token brown guy. Even when it confronts me directly - a casual office romance that ended because she 'could never take a brown guy back to her dad' - I'd shrug it off. Her dad wasn't my type.

And in any case: race is intrinsic, unchangeable, and kind of boring.

I can't change my colour, but I can embrace cultures.


The best truths tend to be dull, and in this case, the reality is that if we are living life with meaning, we're multifaceted.

In England, I blended. I was different: because of my Sri Lankan heritage, or religion of my youth.

In Australia, that's irrelevant. The fact that I'm British is in the foreground; I'm more "British" here than I ever was in Blighty. On the rare occasions someone speculates on my origins, it's secondary (I've had everything from Egypt to Jamaica).

Of course, I could choose to identify with any number of facets of myself: find solidarity with bald men, the left-handed, brown-eyed miscreants, half-hearted pianists, ad people, Richmond Tigers fans, etc.

People engage with me for the aspects they like, kind of forget about the other sides. And outright racists don't tend to self-select as friends.


To progress as a species has required us to expand our horizons beyond racial and national tribes, embrace others. Cultures who despised one another would still trade; indifferent cultures would still inter-marry. Our paths towards each another have been forever guided by communal forces, whether commerce or love.

So we're tribal, but move through different tribes: circling over meaningful common ground.

Selvedge denim lovers in Hackney might have more in common with those in Harajuku than Hull. As national politics disillusions us, we might find solace with virtual communities.

That girl I dated? We'd found common ground - so much fucking common ground that race had elided into nothing; superceded by more important preoccupations like where to go for dinner, her lingering scent on my clothes, or whether or not she would go back to her ex. (Reader, she married him.)

This is why endless discourse about race frustrates me.

It forces fragmentation of our glorious multifaceted psyches, stuffs us into narrow shells.

Ticks boxes for us before we open our mouths; flattens us into caricatures.

I'm all the things you can see, mostly things you don't, and a few secret things.

At any time, I've settled with you on common ground, declared it mine.

So consider the flag planted.


Maybe I am white.