I came across this interesting article in the Independent entitled “What's the most racist thing that's ever happened to you?” which asks prominent Black Britons the question, with some disturbing results.
It got me thinking though, about my experiences:
The times growing up I get snide comments and dirty looks (“God they’re everywhere!”)
The time I got spat by a young skinhead soon after 9/11
The time an old lady man swore at me in the city, again soon after 9/11
The time I was stopped by enormous, tattooed, armed police man and had my personal details taken in Westminster – not knowing what they would do with them.
The occasions I have been out with my children and had nasty comments and swear words muttered under people’s breath (although, these people don’t seem to have the nerve to say it to my face).
Reading what some of the contributors to the Independent article went through, the above lists seems pretty tame in comparison.
But the examples above have not particularly had an impact on me, apart from making me rather short-tempered with rude and racist people. When it comes to this kind of petty, spineless racists, you know where you stand and you move on and up and leave them standing open-mouthed.
The type of racism that has always bothered me is the more insidious kind. The kind that can come from the nicest people. People who don’t have bad intentions. The kind of prejudice that is built into their thinking and perspective. The times that come to mind include:
The time when a very nice lady at work tried to explain a very basic proverb to me, in a meeting.
The times I have overheard conversations about literature and culture that people never think to have with me.
The numerous times I have walked into shops and up to stall and had someone point at an item I am looking at and explain what it is (“Candle? You know, you light?” – honestly!).
Silly little things, but also daily reminders that people can’t imagine me as being British, a part of this countries culture or knowledgeable about “English” things.
Sometimes, this is understandable, there are lots of ladies that dress like me (abaya and scarf) that don’t speak English well, or are not interested in dystopian literature or art deco. But I am sure there are enough eloquent, intelligent, cultured Muslim sisters to challenge the stereotype that people have. What gets me is when it is people that should know better, who have good intentions who hold onto these stereotypes. These are the kind of people who are convinced that they don’t have any prejudices, when in reality, we all have our prejudices – it’s human nature I think.
Which makes me think. What prejudices do we hold? What stereotypes do we hold and how do they impact on the way we treat people. Something to think about.
There is one benefit to being stereotyped in this way. Whenever I am approached by the tenacious charity representatives with their direct debit forms that proliferate through London (called charity muggers or “chuggers” Shutterbug Sister informs me). I just turn to them and say in my poshest accent “No thank you, I don’t speak English”, the look on their faces is great fun.