25 October 2006

Is it 'cos I'm white?

This started as a comment on Elsie's blog, and then became a bit of an essay, so now it's here! Elsie's post was about people being racist in this day and age, for those who've not read it...

I've recently moved to North London, and as a white, female, middle class-ish person, I am finding it hard to get used to being a minority where I live.

Weirdly at the bus stop the other day a guy came up to me and started a polemic about "where have all the white people gone" and "Muslims don't integrate with society". He was quick to point out that he wasn't being racist, it was just a "respect" thing (when did "respect" lose it's original meaning?). The thing is he was, (as Elsie's acquaintance would put it) well, black.

Obviously, there is no problem with him mouthing off at me, as he obviously needed someone to rant at, but it lead me to the realisation that I had been singled out for my colour - he thought he'd get empathy from me. Whislt I didn't entirely emphathise, I nodded politely and breathed a sigh of relief when the bus came.

What made it worse was, because I was nodding at him, I looked like I was wholeheartedly agreeing with him (instead of nodding in a "scary person, nod and smile" kinda way) at a bus stop full of Muslims. So now I was the only white girl in the area, agreeing with a man who was basically saying "get rid of the Muslims". A very very strange situation...

6 comments:

Liz said...

That must have felt weird! I am so confused about colour and religion and integration; I can't come down on either side.

On one side I think integration has to be the way forward to a peaceful society; on the other I think people should have freedom to express their religion and maintain their national identity (as long as it doesn't hurt others). Vive le difference, as someone once said, probably about something completely different.

Now I think I'll go and write all this again on my blog!

Elsie said...

The two great divides: color and religion. Oh no, don't forget the third: gender. And the fourth: education. And the fifth: economics. And the sixth.... I could go on and on. I tend to be one of those who looks at the world through rose-colored glasses and simply can't understand how the world can be such an angry place. But we're all part of it, and I think that many of us American feel we're the cause of most of it. I just try to change things for the better in my little part of the world. I don't know what else to do.

As for the head nodding, Clare, it sounds to me as though you probably were nodding in a "scary person, nod and smile kinda way." Don't worry about the rest. Your heart knows what it meant.

Clare said...

AND another thing...
When I was in Tescos a few weeks back, there was a guy putting stuff into his rucksack. I wasn't sure, but I thought he was possibly shop-lifting. This is a whole other ethical issue, but the reason I didn't do anything about it (other than that I am a wimp), was that he was about 6'5" and black, and I didn't want to be the girl who accused an innocent black guy of stealing. Was this a racist assumption of mine, was I just being stupid, should I have reported him? Still pondering it, even though there is nothing I can do about it now.

Liz said...

If he'd been a white 6'5" skinhead would you have reported him? I wouldn't have.

Elsie said...

I once was in a cab accident in Boston. It was snowing, almost a blizzard, and the driver smashed into a parked car (hard enough so the hood popped open, leaving a nice dent in driver's door). He then said, "Whoops." Backed up and continued on his merry way, me in the backseat, heart pounding, thinking I can't believe this. When we stopped at an intersection near my home, I hopped out, threw $(no tip), on the seat and walked the rest of the way, in the scary dark. When I got home, I wanted to call the police to report the accident. Boyfriend (husband now) said no. "You gave that guy your address and we don't need any taxi driver showing up here because you turned him in. Insurance is mandatory, so the guy whose car got hit will be okay." So, I never called the cops, and I've felt bad ever since. Some poor person came out of work that night to find their car smashed up and no one to take the blame. And I didn't call because I was scared. By the way, the driver was white. The point is, as Liz said, it was the situation (someone stealing) that probably made you wary and uncomfortable, not skin color. I think it's great that you're thinking about this at all. A lot of people never do.

Anonymous said...

My main issue with anything at all to do with freedom of religios expression is: why can't I expect to practice the Christian faith wherever I go in the world? Or, those that do travel, which I don't much.