Racism Is Alive and Well - Yet So Polite
Wed 18th Dec 2013
Carol Anne Grayson's 'Nelson Mandela: Lest we forget “Madiba” was supported from a Britain which is still riddled with prejudice and racial inequalities' (LPJ Friday 13 December, 2014) evoked so many memories of my own life in Britain since the late 1960s. Grayson is undoubtedly right in feeling so uneasy at what she had experienced of Britain's racism.
After reading her excellent article, I found myself visited by endless images of what we all considered as ordinary behaviour in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Indeed, even at my grand old age of 65, I still can not understand why we put up with such arrant racism. But we did. Was it the position of a vulnerable minority that could not stand to a powerful majority? Was it because I, as a Palestinian refugee, half believed that my race was indeed of less significance than the white races whose success I so wanted to emulate? Were we so busy with the daily battle for life to see anything wrong with the endless obstacles that racism sprang on us always unexpectedly? I still do not know the answer.
The racism I am talking about is not the nasty physical attacks that one was subjected to. I was beaten up in London in 1968 because as a "Paki" I really thought that "I could do better than the white folk". I remember lying on the pavement hearing that refrain and hoping that they would leave me alone. I was lucky because they pushed me down the stairs into a basement flat and ran off laughing. A kindly elderly lady cared for me in the flat as she incessantly apologised for her "peoples' cruelty". I remember thinking that her kindness showed how decent the majority of British people were. There were other unsavoury incidents. I survived each tolerably because in each case someone was decent to me: a police officer, a nurse, a bank employee, a teacher outside a school...
These were not the memories that came pouring out as Grayson described each phase of her own anti racist development. The memories were of the insidious polite racism that never went away. Indeed it is still there today although I can deal with it better.
I remember my girl friend describing her mother's shock when told about me. The girl friend told me how she put her mother's mind at ease by telling her that I was not very black. Indeed, she told me that she resorted to filling several cups with coffee and then slowly adding milk till she got the nearest colour - which apparently put her mother's mind at ease. Subsequent events proved that this was not the case since her parents' polite racism hounded me for years thereafter.
Another image that came to mind was my landlord in Eastbourne giving me notice because I was sleeping with a white woman. He felt that his house could not be used for the purpose of "fornication by white women with your lot". I left quietly as one did in those days.
I had many other images coming back to me. Being complimented by a headteacher after doing particularly well who then told me that "I was as good as a white man my boy... As good as a white man...". As he stood towering over me sitting in his office with his thumbs in his waistcoat in the melodramatic style of Sir Winston Churchill. A new girl friend's mother warned her daughter that Arabs like me could not control their sexual urges and that such people particularly enjoyed "bestial intercourse" that was prohibited by the Holy Bible.
These were but a few memories that went side by side with Gayson's own recounted memories. I found myself wishing that I had met persons like her. Of course, I was not likely to do so. She lived in cities. And I was terrified of cities after the London beating. I was also desperate to live in very "English" areas because I so wished to be "white". I did not scrub my skin with bleach. But I scrubbed my very soul with a worse substance - pure Uncle Tom cowardice.
It was very late in life that I learnt to 'deal' with racism - intentional or otherwise. I have written elsewhere about my awful experiences at work both in Suffolk and Wiltshire. I fought when I could and I mostly lost because racism is notoriously difficult to prove. By its nature, it is not public. When a particularly vicious line manager told me that writing any articles about Palestine would lose me my job in the Local Education Authority, I really learnt to fight. He did this despite my employers giving me 'permission' to write a bibliography on Margaret Thatcher, another on Gamal Abdel Nasser and many other works. But not Palestine. My boss, a born again Christian, threatened me and I fought. And lost my job, suffered a severe break down and became a self employed consultant.
And I learnt to fight when I needed to do so. But, commendable as this may sound, it is no good. Fighting racism often fills the victim with negative feelings of anger, hatred, desire for vengeance...etc... This is where Mandela comes in. And it took me several years to get here.
Where is 'here'?
I will forgive. I will patiently explain when I can. And I will remove myself away from those whose racism continues in a world of denial. Consequently, I have a quieter life. I also have a slightly closed circle of 'acquaintances' or, even, family friends. For sadly, unbelievable as it sounds, racism also comes from family members.
But then, I am quite happy not to see such family members as I am very happy not to see many of my old employers or colleagues.
Racism hurts the victim badly but I dare say s/he survives and moves on. Racism, though, always diminishes the perpetrator and continues to do so well after the event.
Thank you Carol Anne Grayson for another small Road to Damascus experience.