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» childhood Helluvablog

Adventures In Racism.

November 28th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

I don’t have the words to express my feelings at Racist Tram Woman (youTube. Warning: NSFW language, NSFAnwhere diatribe).
My first emotion – shared, I would hope, with most decent and educated people – is obviously anger. Crude ignorance of this level breeds rage more easily than anything else – a fiery, white-hot ire that takes your tongue and leaves you only shaking and clenching fists and jaws. Unfortunately, this vileness feeds on and, in the eyes of one so ignorant, is validated by, that same rage. It’s a horrific vicious circle that takes every whit of my willpower to break away from.
Beneath the anger is a numbing incomprehension.
I believe we all tend to cast the world and everyone in it in our own image, and that image can be as simple or as complex as our upbringing and as all-encompassing or non-inclusive as our education. Our beliefs and attitudes are informed by the environment we find ourselves in, particularly – but not exclusively – in our formative years, and then we spend our lives (hopefully) expanding on those values. I have a dual heritage – black African on my father’s side, white English on my mother’s. I also have a duality in my upbringing – I lived as one of only two or three non-white families in a predominantly white-Irish area of Birmingham (though the post-code hinted at the rather gentler Hall Green, the reality of the locale was entirely working-class Gospel Farm). Brought up by a single, white parent in this down-to-earth white area, what racism I encountered – and I encountered it often enough looking back – was for the most part lightweight and low voltage enough to wash over me as the norm. It was the sort of embedded societal racism that is administered without thought or hate or any real judgement; it’s “just the way things are”. Sure, I occasionally got called Tarbrush, but at least they let me into their houses and let me play with their sons and daughters.
Don’t get me wrong – the area wasn’t a hotbed of racist fervour, filled with a gaggle of cross-burning hillbillies, chomping on chitlins and waiting for their next lynching. For the most part the families I grew up round were salt-of-the-earth hard-working folks, kind and generous, from amongst whom I still have friends to this day. But the world was a very different place then – the world of Mind Your Language and Love Thy Neighbour on prime-time telly. A world where we read the tale of Little Black Sambo in infant school and I took part – in full black-face – in The Black & White Minstrel Show for one year’s school play. A world of a thousand constant tiny reminders that you were different and therefore not quite as good or important as everyone else.
It was just the way it was.
And anyway, I was okay because I was “one of the alright ones”.
I suppose this sort of thinking led child-me to reason that racism was something that everyone faced to start with but you could earn your way out of it by being quietly good-natured about the whole thing.
This ‘merit’ system held unacknowledged sway in my head for some time and I flexed my own racist powers in the same learned, low-level way in my young years, using “pakis” – newly arrived Indian and Pakistani families – as a handy bullseye that I could share with my white neighbours . As an added bonus, acting this way towards these Asian families made me even more of an “alright one” with the people around me.
I don’t remember the specific catalyst for my own eye opening, but, through a mixture of education, self-awareness and exposure – both as a victim to more sinister and violent forms of racism, and to the victims of my own prejudice – I realised that the world was not my neighbourhood, and my neighbourhood not the world and that what people around you do and say, though seemingly The Way of Things, is not necessarily normal or the norm. I learnt that the pakis and the wogs and the ragheads and chinks were people. Like me. Exactly like me. So much so that I myself was a wog when spoken of in my absence. And that these epithets, though mildly used and low in voltage, were a convenient first step on a very dark and nasty road, a road full of shambling horrors and pitfalls and danger that leads eventually to places with names like Lynch-Mob and Pogrom and Genocide.
And yet all of this was simply a learned way of interacting with those new faces and sounds and smells around our neighbourhood. The people there weren’t evil, they themselves were second and third generation immigrant stock who twenty or thirty years before had faced similar prejudice. Ninety-nine percent of those people were fine people, though as ignorant of other cultures or the niceties of social integration as I was myself. If I meet any of them now they are usually lovely, warm welcoming people, sometimes a little rough around the edges, but never anything other than that.
But the other one percent…
I’ve rather bizarrely had some Facebook friend requests from some of them, only to check out their profile and see that they are BNP supporters or that every other status update was about immigrants doing this or “blacks and pakis” doing that
In these few the low-level, low-voltage seed took hold and produced unreasoning, unquestioning hatred. They not only have no frame of reference in which to reconfigure their perception of other people and cultures, they have no need or desire for it, only a world-searing, animalistic malignance that should not exist in this day and age.
No matter how many times I come across, or am the target of, such blind hatred, the thing that I find most difficult to process is not the injustice or ugliness of it, but the utter lack of self-awareness that it shows. I can’t comprehend of a mind so lacking in compassion and empathy or just plain decency, that they can’t see that the people around them are just people. That the racist could really see those people as less than the racist themselves, simply because of their colour, is so utterly bizarre to me that just about every time it has happened to me in my life, my first reaction has been a surprised half-chuckle, followed by a blinking mental reboot as I realise that no, this is not a joke: This is what this person actually believes to be true.
As I said, I believe we cast other people in our own image and we tend to project ourselves into them. I want to believe that Racist Tram Woman’s scattergun ranting is a product of ignorance and environment. That, given a light to shine on herself, she would see – as I once did – just how that way of thinking robs not only her victims but also herself – both of dignity and of experience.
But in this case I think she is of the one percent, and the light would only find a cold core of hate in a dry void.
For this reason, and those listed at length above, I am as reflexively afraid of Racist Tram Woman as she is of me and my brown skin. And like her, I can do nothing but wish her away.