I did a Zoom talk with the Royal Conference of Nurses and heard that the documentary has shaken the medical profession. It showed that there is a problem. Who were the people who were asked to work these extra shifts who felt they could not complain about the lack of adequate PPE?
It’s the same with my book. Many institutions have found that the people doing the front line work are black and the leadership is white. And, when black people ask for help, they are turned away. It’s about changing structures.
Memories have been a real opportunity for me to open all the cupboards in my life and do a good spring cleaning, to review my faults and my insecurities, to put myself under the microscope. The starting point was a documentary I made for the BBC, My psychosis and me – but it quickly became a commentary on this country.
Because by examining my own breakdown, I understood the pressures of growing up at a time when we had NF sprayed on our door. Programs like Love thy neighbor were on television, the Black and white minstrels show portrayed blacks as singing buffoons, Alf Garnett on television using the terms “wogs” and “coons” was followed by canned laughs. All of this tainted whites’ idea of ââwho blacks were and made it difficult for us to get a perspective on who we were.
There was a point after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 where there was such a surge of empathy, there was a worldwide revulsion at this man’s death. People said, oh wait, black people live To do matter. We need to reassess our attitudes towards black people.
Yet there were still voices on the right in this country saying this is an American problem, we have no racism in this country.
Even the Sewell report says it doesn’t exist here. I was fucking outraged by it – just bluntly saying that my lived experience was a myth, that it was my imagination. It made me angry.
So that was the backdrop to the writing of the book. And that’s why we call it Maybe i don’t belong here. It was about explaining how a black man can lose him in an environment like this, where one is denied, where it is difficult to move forward.
I have lacked this sense of belonging throughout my life. For the past 10 years, I have spent time in North America. Even though the racism may be more overt there, at least I feel seen. Whereas in England, we don’t even see you. The idea that racism exists is something we don’t talk about. The Sewell report was like a kick in the teeth for many blacks.
Write a book so honest and so fiercely self-critical, then play a borderline conservative white racist in The best of enemies – I was talking to my therapist the other day and he said to me: âDamn, you like challenges.
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I hadn’t realized how difficult it would be, after having laid bare myself, to then superimpose all this artifice and this character. But now that I’m back in the groove, these challenges inform your work. I feel very much alive on stage there. After such an extraordinary year of self-discovery, feeling at ease on stage has been a real treat.
But at first I refused. I didn’t really see why I would play this role of Buckley – a well-known white conservative and borderline racist. He was right-wing, voted against civil rights, supported police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Montgomery. He was a figure of law and order before Nixon used the phrase. And âlaw and orderâ has always phrased racism – âKeep blacks away, keep blacks downâ.
But his views have changed. I think losing control like he did in debates taught him a lesson. He went to the ghetto and met many civil rights leaders. He interviewed Muhammad Ali on his show Line of fire and you could see him really listening and learning. His views evolved when he realized the violent effect of his rhetoric.
We live in a time when fear has stuck in our throats. Fear of the Other, fear of viruses, fear of refugees or people who look different
In this play, you are introduced to a character on the left and another on the right, who hate each other. But in the end, they almost come close – and what they both fear is democracy. It’s fascinating. And so timely.
When we retreat to our respective silos, we are not listening. And television presents people in such a bizarre light that someone who is a gifted telegenic character can, just because they are a television host, outweigh someone who is righteous. This is exactly what we had four years ago when Trump was elected. Gore predicted it in 1968. The current state of American politics is frightening, especially on the right. Some people in America only watch Fox News. Some people only watch MSNBC. And it’s like two completely different realities – which cannot bring a sense of unity to a country.
We live in a time when fear has stuck in our throats. Fear of the Other, fear of viruses, fear of refugees or people who look different. It’s just the warmth of it. The abominable Snow BabJust take those same fears out there and turn them down. It’s a story of accepting and not being afraid of strangers – even big, abominable strangers who look different.
Julie Walters is fantastic and she voices a wonderfully eccentric grandma who opens her doors to this creepy stranger and is rewarded for it in the end.
It is such a beautiful parable. A magnificent story, beautifully animated. It’s a Christmas classic. I watched The Snowman and all those classics, so when the opportunity arose, I jumped on it.
I was about to buy my first England shirt at the age of 55 – Gareth Southgate did a wonderful job galvanizing these players into a group of young activists
So it’s been a tough year, tough year but I feel stronger and I’m ending the year in a much better place.
On my book tour, someone asked me if I felt like I belonged now. This is still an open question. I have never bought an English football shirt. I have a Brazilian jersey. I bought an Italian shirt. But I’ve never bought an England shirt – and after the fury of kneeling at the Euro, people will understand why.
But I almost bought one over the euros this year, however. The squad is very diverse, they have a purpose and Gareth Southgate has done a tremendous job galvanizing these players into a bunch of young activists. It was inspiring. So I was very close to buying my first English shirt at the age of 55 when they reached the final. Maybe if they had won, I would have …
Terry Pratchett’s The Abominable Snow Baby airs on Channel 4 and All4 on Christmas Day / Best Of Enemies airs at Young Vic through January 22
David Harewood was talking to Adrian Lobb
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