Gary Younge in The Nation:
When I first moved to the US from London, I asked an American journalist what kind of reception I might expect as a Black Briton. “Well, when they hear an English accent, Americans usually add about 20 points to your IQ,” he said. “But when they see a Black face, they usually don’t.” Recalling that the authors of the book The Bell Curve had claimed that Black people have an IQ 15 points lower than whites, I figured that, at the very least, I would still come out at least five points ahead.
There were moments during my 12 years as the US correspondent for The Guardian when I needed all the help I could get. It could be a particular challenge when reporting from Republican events. Englishness, the American journalist had made clear, carried cultural cachet; Blackness did not. The two arriving in the same body could mess with some people’s heads. When I introduced myself as a British journalist, I was occasionally subjected to an interrogation of my credentials. “Were you born there?” they’d ask. “I don’t hear an accent.” (I sound like Ricky Gervais, with nary a hint of a transatlantic twang.)
But my point here is not partisan. Republicans could be, as it happens, ruder than most. But despite Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen, acclaimed author Zadie Smith, and actors Idris Elba, David Oyelowo, and Thandie Newton—to name but a few—the general American image of Britain (particularly outside the big cities) remains ossified in a time before the large-scale migration of Black people to Britain following the Second World War. (My parents came from Barbados in the early 1960s.) When I wrote an article for The Washington Post about being Black and British in the US, it ran alongside a picture of a Black man in a bowler hat carrying an umbrella in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.