01 March, 2011


Plus ça change

The response of the Righteous to Searchlight's embarrassing survey on attitudes to immigration has been more muted than I had expected. Perhaps they're hoping it will all go away. Fat chance.

But Lynsey Hanley is still up for a fight, with a rather shrill CiF piece proclaiming the benefits of immigration and accusing doubters of racism, etc, etc, etc. It, and the below-the-line shouting match, are pretty standard stuff. If you don't have time on your hands, just think of it as the 94th repeat of the same episode and move on.

But this only marginally on-topic comment caught my eye:

28 February 2011 3:35PM

I saw today an incident where an Asian boy in a supermarket was verbally insulted in language not fit to repeat
security was called ..but the person who verbally insulted the boy had gone

Racism is worse than ever .. I've witnessed it first hand ...

So have I, dear fellow, so have I.

When I first came to London as a young single man in the 1970s, I spent some of my free time exploring the city. Partly out of general curiosity, partly in order to check out potential places to relocate to: my initial rented accommodation in north Hendon was by no means a permanent prospect in terms either of its ongoing availability or the shit-awful public transport. One Saturday in 1975 I visited Clapham Junction. Like most people, the only thing I knew about Clapham Junction was that it had an enormous commuter rail interchange; possibly the largest suburban interchange in the world. So I went there and marvelled appropriately. And then had a look round the surrounding streets.

Clapham Junction seemed a fairly typical, reasonably well kept inner suburb. Pleasant enough. Wandering about, I decided to call into a pub for refreshments. I checked out the interior. Now, even by this early stage I had begun to learn the ethnic etiquette of London. On this quiet Saturday afternoon, not too long before the 3pm cut-off, the cavernous bar accommodated half-a-dozen middle-aged Black men. A Black man served behind the bar. Was this a Blacks-only bar, I wondered? But no, there was an elderly White chap sitting at the bar with the rest. So I ventured in and ordered a half-pint of lager.

The Black bartender served me a glass of what appeared to be froth, water and possibly line-cleaning detergent from what was an evidently out-of-use tap. No, I am not exaggerating or joking. That is an accurate and literal description of the contents of the glass. This was proffered to me with a straight face. I was so non-plussed I paid the man and retired to a stand-up table near the door, where I examined this concoction for a minute or two before leaving.

So bizarre was this experience, particularly in its blatancy, that on a subsequent visit to Clapham Junction perhaps 18 months later, I sought out that same pub and had precisely the same experience.

Now I wonder what that was about. (Answers on a postcard to that nice Trevor Phillips, please.)

Over the intervening years I have experienced a wide range of petty racism from persons of colour. I have been overcharged. I have been deliberately served duff goods, and all the rest of it.

Fortunately, I have never suffered violence, though I have received verbal abuse from "Asian" yoof asserting their territorial ambitions in the marches between White and Bengali East London. (There may be a bit of an evolving "front line" in the Three Colt Street area of Wapping, I notice, where Bangladeshi council housing abuts rich White middle-class private housing along Narrow Street.)

The closest I have come to suffering racial violence was a surreal incident a couple of years ago. This took place in what estate agents like to call Mid Town, the neither here nor there part of central London between the West End and the City centred on High Holborn. I was walking along what I suppose you would call a lane. Well, if you know the area, it's the broad pedestrianized lane that runs from Kingsway towards Lincoln's Inn Fields, between the Wetherspoon (Shakespear's Head) and the Catholic church.

As I walked, a strange looking group of boys appeared at the other end. There were about a dozen of them, aged 10 to 15 or so, all dressed uniformly in green tops and black trousers in what appeared to be a sports team strip or the uniform of a troupe of professional acrobats or whatever. They were of East African, possibly Ethiopian, appearance.

As we neared each other, the group stood to one side to allow me to pass. They stared at me fixedly. I maintained a neutral expression, totally ignoring them and refusing to engage in eye contact as one of the boys called out "Waht Man!" in a tone of voice which the tabloid prints would probably describe as "hate-filled". I walked on. When I was about 20 feet past the group, they began to throw stuff at me. Fortunately, the only missiles to hand were bags of shredded office papers left out for collection, none of which made contact anyway.

Yes, Paxandlove, I agree. Racism has not gone away. And my impression also is that it's getting worse. But it's not all in the one direction.

The commenter doesn't describe the abuser of the boy - he/she could well have been black/Polish/a.n.other. To the usual CiF crowd, of course, they can only ever be white.

Several years ago while walking home one Sunday morning (incidentally carrying the Sunday papers -- a habit I eventually grew out of) I passed a muslim man in the street. As he was almost level with me he made a theatrical show of spitting right in my path.

Two things happened. First I stepped over his attempt to deride me and smiled as I witnessed him trying to wipe the misaimed dribble from his shaggy beard.

I fully accept the man objected to my choice of The Sunday Times or felt aggrieved 'my kind' had invaded some shithole of a country and just had to demonstrate his disgust. Shame I was the best he could find.

Or it could have been sheer racism. But then, he was wasn't white but as I was, I guess that wouldn't stand up in a court of law...

"Or it could have been sheer racism."

Of course, it might well have been Sunni racism.


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