I may be employed again, but I certainly still need work — on my mind and my personality. I’m worried, as should any decent member of society, that I’m starting to become racially intolerant — not of everyone, but certainly of large swathes of society…
I still recall how delighted I was to see how ethnically diverse London was back in 1995, when I came up for university interviews; it was such a disappointment to return to bland old Worthing (at the time about 99.99% lower-middle-class white) at the end of the day. When I became a post-grad in east London in 2003, I was again pleased to see first-generation immigrants walking proudly in their national garb… and annoyed to see their teenage offspring dressed in trackies, just like the white chavs (once I learned the word “chav”, of course). Britain is like a jelly mould, I decided, and those born here conform to our ways, sadly including the bad ones.
So why is it that nowadays I’m feeling so oddly intolerant towards Middle Easterners (including those from the Indian subcontinent) and East Europeans? It’s something I can’t explain — nothing to do with terrorism (though I did get a little worried one time when the old man next to me was reading from a prayer book on the Tube, probably during Ramadan), but purely irrational. It’s particularly weird, because I feel no animosity towards Far Eastern people (perhaps because I speak Japanese), or indeed black (of the African variety) people, who are usually the first people that white racists tell to “get back to yer own country!” Nor do I have anything against white Europeans, unless they’re being particularly loud, as tourists in London often are (sadly).
I’m particularly fed up with the kind of blokes who, apparently for cultural reasons, wear too much aftershave and/or deodorant, to the degree that they’re pungent at ten paces (even on the street). There’s also the generic shopkeeper in a small shop, who spends all day yammering into a mobile phone, or to his colleague a few feet away, in a language I don’t understand (Polish?), but speaks more quietly to me when telling me how much I owe for my shopping, before resuming his overly-loud conversation without even a pause for breath — thereby showing he was talking quietly to me not for my benefit, but so the other person wouldn’t think he was talking to them, since clearly they’re more important than a damn customer.
(How many cashiers complain on the Internet about customers who talk rudely on their mobile? Sauce for the goose, and all that…)
Then there’s that special kind of first-generation immigrant working as a shop assistant who, when I’ve finally managed to explain to him what I’m looking for, says with a condescending smile: “No, we don’t have!” — as though I’m some kind of naive child to think a supermarket might sell drying cloths. And don’t get me started on the two East European blokes who came to our door when our bathrooms were being stripped down and redecorated, and politely asked if they could take away the old radiator left on our front lawn so they could sell it for scrap metal (with no indication that we’d get a cut of the dosh)… and really don’t get me started on whoever keeps putting business leaflets through our door, even after my drummer housemate put a sign up telling them we don’t want any leaflets, circulars or other junk mail!
I think the worst recent incident was a balding, dark-skinned Asian guy on the Tube, with a strong accent, who, after talking to a woman about the dog she’d brought on and that I’d briefly petted, turned to me with what I imagine he thought was a friendly grin toward a fellow dog-lover — it made me very nervous, and if anything reminded me of this creepy fellow (yes, I know he’s from the Philippines, but still). I knew intellectually he was harmless and just being nice, so why did I feel such instinctive loathing, even for just a brief moment?
The truly scary part is how I’ve been thinking these days, unable to stop myself: regarding someone on the Tube as “yet another generic Muslim guy” (and no, not someone dressed like a dignified desert nomad, but a young bloke in a suit), mentally labelling the noisy East European workmen doing up a house across the road as “Dothraki” (yes, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones), and blanching at having to interact with a strongly-accented Asian guy at my new job (not to mention annoyance that 1st line IT has been outsourced to Bangalore).
(I’d probably feel something instinctive against my downstairs housemate — the guy who cut us off the Internet in 2013 — because he’s Indian and has a strong accent… but he’s so seldom home, I can’t seem to work up any antagonism!)
This situation can’t and shouldn’t continue: I don’t want to feel loathing for people who have done me no harm, who have committed no greater sin than “looking different from me”, and I have to hope it’s just the tail end of my unemployment-related anxiety working its way out of my system that’s giving me these heebie-jeebies, much as my house search in January 2012 made me afraid of being outside old houses on cold, dark nights. Hopefully once I actually speak to people again, I’ll be just fine, and can look back at my current self with pity, instead of finding myself agreeing with the dreadful Nigel Farage about feeling like a foreigner in my own town.
All that said, it’s interesting to note that foreign women don’t bother me at all (perhaps because I no longer have to put up with a certain annoying woman?) — not even Muslim women wearing the hijab, who just seem like ordinary people to me. It’s not a sexual thing: I just somehow feel safer around women, perhaps because I know they’re far less likely to lunge towards me with arm outstretched, thinking it’s their duty to shake my hand (something I’ve been finding increasingly threatening these days, as per my last post). This isn’t particularly new: evan back at university I much preferred being around female students to guys, as they wouldn’t drone on about (a) football and (b) their sexual conquests.
Conversely, there are plenty of white guys I can’t stand to look at (especially fat bald middle-aged blokes — I dread having to partner with them at yoga!), and indeed I gave up a double seat on a crowded bus recently rather than have a creepy-looking old man sit next to me, since I assumed he reeked of tobacco and/or beer (he thought I was “stupid” for doing so, apparently not realising it was him personally I wanted to get away from, not just any neighbour).
Perhaps I’m not racist… but sexist, against my own gender? Ah, but I said that already — it takes a really amazing guy to break through my barriers and demonstrate his value to me, and until then most blokes are, at best, in my way. Maybe I’m predisposed to feel antagonism towards blokes, and pick on any “flaw” I see in them instinctively — even things which shouldn’t count as flaws, like (ahem) “being foreign”.
But as to why it’s dark-skinned Middle Eastern or Indian subcontinent blokes I’m most resentful towards these days, well… could it be because my supervisor at the bad job in November was Indian? Did that job freak me out more than I thought? I got on with the guy fine at the time, but perhaps the fact that, as I noted recently, almost everyone in IT departments these days appears to be Middle Eastern makes me subconsciously resentful, since I wonder how many times during my soul-destroying job search I was the victim of a kind of positive discrimination…
What a stupid mess I’m in, eh? Still, here’s to recovery — before you know it, I’ll be a nice guy who isn’t intimidated by inoffensive people, and uniting all the races of the world in an era of peace and harmony. Well, as soon as they all stop being racist, that is…
As a postscript, let’s ponder why I never really get intimidated by black guys (leaving aside the chavvy student-age kind I encountered while working in the IT department at that college last autumn), unlike “normal” white racists. Indeed, my latest male friend is of the Africanised persuasion — and also a plus-size gentleman, proving that I don’t automatically hate fat guys.
However, this may itself be a form of racism: I always seem to expect black dudes to be “cool” and interesting! If so, I had a wake-up call in my final undergrad year, 1999-2000, when my neighbour, who was black, turned out to be completely devoid of anything other than sneering, superior ultra-capitalist tendencies (I belive his personal credo was “take, take, take”) and humourless chauvinism (of the straight-faced “women are sex objects” variety).
Then again, he was studying Economics and wanted to become a businessman, so he’d probably been brainwashed or something — so it was nurture, not nature, that led to him being such a miseryguts, and it’s possible that black guys really are born awesome! Fo’ shizzle, my ni… er, brizzle!