01 November, 2012
The breaking point
We do not see the entire incident of course, only from the point at which the busybody decided it was interesting enough to capture. But let that pass: I don't know the whole story and probably you don't either.
What I can bring to this incident is local knowledge. I know the Woolwich and Abbey Wood areas — their local character and their demographics — very well, having lived in the general area for over 30 years. I am also familiar with the Woolwich line trains, travelling on them most days.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, the Woolwich area, until the late 1990s certainly multiracial but recognizably majority White British, has undergone a massive influx of immigrants, overwhelmingly from West Africa. In the early noughties when I was still commuting to work each morning, it was not unusual to see several Africans alighting from a down train hauling their airport-betagged wheelie suitcases along the platform. That was pretty well every morning, and just in the ten minutes' or so
wait before my own train arrived.
Walking the streets and using public transport in South East London often becomes a genuine "spot the white man" experience. My own Damascene moment, when I made the transition from complacent White Liberal to angry, resentful White man, came in the autumn of 2002, pretty well exactly ten years ago as it happens. I made a bus journey across South East London. Without getting bogged down in detail, I would say that approximately 100 passengers used that bus during my 5-mile journey, most of them making relatively short journeys. I was the only White person on the bus, the remainder being mostly West African with a sprinkling of assorted other Vibrants to lend a little diversity to this monoculture. The streets we passed through were quite busy too, and overwhelmingly Black or Brown.
Since then the enriching vibrancy has extended fully to the trains and it is not unusual to find yourself the only White person in the carriage. And if there are other Whites present, when they answer their phones they are invariably speaking Polish. You know that situation where, while travelling abroad, you chance upon a compatriot in some foreign clime. You feel a bond of solidarity with them, purely out of shared identity in the midst of a sea of alienness. I've experienced that. As a White Brit in London.
It is a genuinely alienating experience. This is my people's tribal homeland and yet I am as a foreigner here. Imagine that if what passes for public transport in Lagos were packed to the gunwales with Han Chinese escaping poverty in Fujian for the relative wealth of Nigeria, and the working language of the street was shifting rapidly from Yoruba to Min Nan. The writers of the Guardian would be brimming over with vicarious outrage on behalf of the poor deracinated colonizees of Africa and CiF would be awash with indignation, most of it ingeniously managing to blame the whole situation on the British. But if I complain about the state of London I am a Racist of the most execrable stripe, piteously whingeing in the face of entirely deserved retribution for the sins of my/our imperial past. Or something.
So, no. I am not shocked or surprised by the behaviour of the woman in the video, and I hope for her sake that she remains unidentified in the forthcoming witchhunt. In fact, I know exactly how she feels and I will not condemn her rude behaviour. The closest I've ever got to an angry train rant was accidental and thankfully contained without consequence. It was a lesson learned. Personally I tend to withdraw and grey the vibrants out and minimize commercial and social interaction with them. It's a lot less dangerous than seething confrontation.
Update (2012-11-01 14:20
Something I'd forgotten. I was watching ITV 's Daybreak this morning — yes, yes, I know, but a bit of occasional cultural slumming is good for the soul; sharpens the critical faculties, so I'm told. Cordelia Kretzschmar was despatched to stand in front of Abbey Wood station and tell us:
"Interesting to think that here at Abbey Wood we're just a couple of miles down the road from Eltham, where, of course, Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racist attack all those years ago. And the racist EDL do have a fair amount of support in certain pockets of South East London, so the transport police, the police generally, today, are sending a very clear message to people around here that racism will not be tolerated. Verbal abuse will be punished."
Nice one, girl. You forgot to work in a mention for the BNP or the NF. Shows how far they've declined in importance, I guess. I like the way too that "racist EDL" was spoken as a set phrase, a single lexical item, rather than as an ad hoc adjective+noun phrase. The differing intonation is quite distinctive.
Personally I blame Tommy Robinson. Oh no, maybe not, he's on remand until January for some dubious passport offence, isn't he? Do people get remanded in custody for passport offences? Jus' wondrin', innit.
Anyone also know about this?