For the first time in my life something occurred that I thought would never happen; something that I thought was prevalent only in the media and portrayed in films about slavery. I don't know if it was the naivet honed back home where you were amiable with everyone and this was reciprocated- even if only through pretence- but it never crossed my mind that I could be referred to as the N-word.
Silly me, huh? This is what happened.
My family and I went out over the Jubilee holidays here in the UK. On making the necessary arrangements online, I noted that there were not very many ethnic faces featured on the website at the establishment where we were going but I thought that maybe I, as usual, was reading into things. We went anyway and had a good time.
Well, except for two things...
Remember the notable absence of ethnic faces? Apart from us, I counted approximately 10- if that many-black people using the facilities and 0 as staff (Opening hours 10am-9pm on Fridays and we were there from about 11am-6pm).
Because we had pre-booked online, we were privileged to join an express cue to order our meals. There was one person ahead of us who had an issue with the food he was served so we exercised some patience while this was sorted. Patience is a virtue! After this was done, however, we were still not served promptly and the non-express cue seemed to be moving much faster than the express one. I jokingly said to my sister it's cause we're black, ennit?' but we waited some more. It was roughly about 40 minutes before we were finally able to eat. Attribute it to inefficiency, maybe?
The good thing about waiting was that a lady who had been behind my sister complained about it which resulted in the payment of our meals for the rest of the day being waived. See, patience really is a virtue...and it gets rewarded too!
Wait!! Back up a minute! Before we got to our destination, we had to get a taxi. The driver was a friendly Asian (people of Indian, Pakistani origin are referred to in the UK as Asians rather than those of Chinese descent) with whom we conversed about living in Stoke-on-Trent rather than Birmingham. He said it was nice except for...the racisms! THAT had set alarm bells ringing which were shut off in anticipation of wonderful family time.
Fast forward to the end of the day.
Whilst waiting to return home we realized we needed something from the shops so I went to get it. On my way back, as I was crossing the road I heard Nigger, nigger,' being sung mockingly. I had not noticed anyone else except two white boys behind so I knew that their abuse was directed at me. They ran past still chanting and I gave them the darkest look I could muster and called them ignorant to which they responded with expletives. I fought with the Christian in me to retort in like manner and possibly get physical but Christianity won out.
I laugh now at the thought of me beating them with the loaves of bread in hand but at the time I was beyond upset. However I calmly continued walking back to my family.
I know that some may think that my experience is trivial in comparison to many others but it affected me deeply and led me to do some research on Stoke-on-Trent.
I found that a British National Party-BNP leader had appeared at the North Staffordshire Magistrate's court on charges of racially or religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress caused by words or writing around August 2011 to March 2012. I also found that Stoke-on-Trent was twice used by the BNP as a launch for its nationwide manifestos that can only be described as supremacist.
A November 2011 article by the Institute of Race Relations based on the report entitled The new geographies of racism: Stoke-on-Trent stated that the city, where the proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic population had doubled in two decades, recorded a series of serious and systematic attacks on the city's BME communities.
Dr Jon Burnett, the report's author, stated it is not a racism which ever claims national attention. It was only when there was a real prospect of the British National Party making significant electoral inroads that Stoke became of interest to the political class.'
Burnett's report highlighted that there were vicious patterns of attacks emerging in Stoke where asylum seekers have been forced from their schools, mosques defaced, Muslims assaulted and cab companies and takeaway restaurants attacked and BME residents harassed and abused.
Dr Burnett further stated that the attacks in Stoke have provided clear evidence of how moves to accommodate the message of the Far Right in mainstream politics have impacted at local levels and that although the BNP may have lost all of their council seats in 2011, the conditions for ongoing racial violence remains; with Stoke-on-Trent being an example of what could be a national trend.
Holding a Diploma in Sociology, I could wax lyrical from a sociological perspective and dissect this information by throwing in the theories behind eugenics and hegemony but I will not because the issue of racial categorization has become personal to me.
So what was it that prompted my categorization? Was it the fact that my natural hair was on show? Was it my gait or the view from behind? They didn't see my face until they ran past! For all they knew, I could have been one of their women with a serious case of tanorexia'; had strategically placed implants in my jeans or undergone hormonal treatments; was wearing an Afro-inspired wig and done plastic surgery to achieve my look!
What was it that made them think that I was less than a person, not worthy of being in the same place, breathing the same air and enjoying life?
I thought about the shooting of Trayvon Martin and about the Gwyneth Paltrow's tweet about Jay-Z's N-word song and myriad incidences that placed black against white, us against them.
I realized then that it was ignorance!
Ignorance kills! It is not blissful! It is a social phenomenon that poisons minds and creates hatreds for insignificant reasons.
In this instance, the ignorance of the two men was their limited understanding of humankind whilst my ignorance can be accredited to living in a self-induced bubble that made me think that racism was not a personal issue.
Thankfully I have an awareness of the world in which I live so by not causing an escalation through retaliation, I can label this episode as an enlightening experience which I can use to explain to my offspring that he too, may be eventually labeled, but that it was having a positive attitude that mattered.
Sadly, for many there is no one to provide that kind of guidance_
So to paraphrase a line from Bob Marley's song War', until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, divisions and insurrections to which no one is truly immune will be constantly maintained.
Photo Credit To Deviant Art