I usually avoid talking about race, or at least I like to pretend that I do. In reality I get drawn into a debate by every Tom, Dick and Harry, or in my ideal world with every ‘Mohammed, Tyara and Zola’. I am a third generation immigrant who has always lived in the UK and never actually visited the motherland, which in my case would be India.
When living in the UK as a minority you often hear people say ‘yeah, but we’re not as bad as America though’ which is an interesting statement for a number of reasons. Firstly, to say we’re not as bad as America implies that just because we aren’t the absolute worst there is no need to address the problem. Which makes very little sense, because Call Me Maybe isn’t as bad as Friday by Rebecca Black, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good song. In fact, it parallels quite nicely. Just like Call Me Maybe, racism is a guilty pleasure for a lot of people in this country, but that guilt seems to be quickly remedied by the phrase ‘oh well! We’re not as bad as America!’
There are so many factors that have contributed towards the normalisation of micro aggressions and subtle racism that it has worked its way into our daily lives. Most people who are guilty of this wouldn’t even have a clue what they’d done wrong. I have endless examples of this from my own life but I want to tell you about one from this week that felt extremely personal.
Being Indian I’m no stranger to excessive hair growth, so I have a very close relationship with my waxing lady, the woman just gets me and always tells me she’s seen hairier, which is the reassurance I need. I went to get my first hair removal treatment post lockdown, I was thrilled to go in feeling like a bear and leave feeling like a dolphin. I never noticed before but she shares a waiting area with a chiropodist. While in the waiting room I overheard him speaking to his client as the door was open. They were discussing COVID and the UK government’s approach to keeping us all safe. From a personal perspective, I’m not feeling some of the decisions but that’s an issue for another time. The chiropodist is also not feeling, it but that is because he thought ‘if the government stopped letting immigrants in we wouldn’t have a problem, they carry disease, it’s not just COVID, they carry AIDS, syphilis and chlamydia. I say we just find an island at the top of Scotland, put them all there and let them fend for themselves, let’s see how well they cope then’. That is a legitimate quote from someone living in 2020. Although his client was silent throughout this, silence is compliance. It was like she either agreed or didn’t feel the need to call him out. Meanwhile, I’ve overheard this whole thing and my blood is boiling, I felt like a rat during the black plague. I was pacing back and forth choosing my next move, it was the most intense game of chess the chiropodist didn’t even know he was playing. I summoned as much courage as I could while swallowing my anger, I thought this would help me make my point more clearly. I knocked on the door and he turned to look at me. I told him that as a minority immigrant I was deeply offended by what he was saying and that he should be more careful who is listening before saying such things. He looked at me blankly said ‘okay sorry’ in the most monotone, disingenuous voice I’d ever heard. Once I had taken one step away from the door he continued on his anti-immigrant rampage. It was as if the embarrassment he was feeling fuelled his racism even further, making him believe he was more ‘in the right’ than ever.
Believe it or not, the part of the story that tipped me over the edge is yet to come. When I went to complain to my waxing lady about her racist neighbour her response was ‘oh no, I’ll have to speak to him again’. So this must be a common occurrence, and one he’s been getting away with too. The client my waxing lady was working with at the time then went on to compare the situation to times she has been called a ‘dumb blonde’. I don’t think I speak just for myself when I say they are not remotely the same. She then felt the need to tell me about a Jamaican girl she works with who is so funny, and always jokes about her Caribbean accent. I can not see what part of her thought now was the time to bring this up and how this is relevant to the immigrant hating chiropodist. In my moment of complaining about racism, she chooses to tell me she knows someone who’s funny…oh, and she happens to be black. It’s almost like this woman was shocked that a member of the BAME community possessed real human being characteristics and traits. In her head the chiropodist must be confused because some immigrants are just normal people. Who knew?!
I know that many people will read this and agree with me, and be disgusted and outraged too, which is great. But it takes more than that. Mainstream media has a painful bias and will never fully support this cause. Every time you say ‘we’re not as bad as America’ or ignore a micro-aggression from your hairdresser or tell a story about someone and say ‘this black boy’ when his race is in no way relevant to the story, you are perpetuating the us and them mentality. You are part of the problem. Reversely, every time you read an article, or do a BLM instagram post, or correct the racist chiropodist you are helping the cause. Taking us one step at a time closer to equality. So if you got to the end of this article, it is a thank you from me.