The Piccadilly line is one of the most ‘happening’ places in London. Nope… I don’t have a crack pipe in my hand, nor am I a deluded train driver with an insatiable passion for the underground. But like many of you, I’ve collected a wealth of educational experiences from plotting myself on a carriage and absorbing the fragile ecosystem that is a TFL tube. From friendly conversations with commuters, to drunken songs with strangers, eye opening chats with homeless travellers and awkward moments with sleepy tourists… the really memorable experiences have (sadly) always been race related.
The most prominent of the lot was the first time I decided to intervene in a situation that just appalled me. It was the evening commute home, and this young Indian guy was sat down across from me. He was engrossed in some work documents and had no clue that he was suddenly surrounded by a group of large Caucasian males who’d clearly spent a substantial part of the day drinking… something (the carriage smelt like a nail salon).
“A bit smart for the corner shop aren’t ya?” said one of the giant xenophobes,
“How bad is it cleaning toilets in your 2-piece?” added another burly jester.
Now just 2 weeks before this I witnessed a similar situation where an English lady yelled “FUCKING PAKI!” to an Arab woman who mistakenly pushed passed while entering the carriage with her two daughters. I said nothing and it ate at me for ages.
This time I wasn’t going to let that happen!
I made eye contact with their target; I could see his discomfort and fear of being left to deal with this abuse alone. So I stood up and took a shot…
“Can’t be worse than realising your self esteem has plummeted because you see Asian youths excelling after a single generation, and you haven’t been able to shift out of whatever working class hole you crawl out of everyday, despite your ancestors having been here since King Canut!”
I visualized myself taking a deep breath, but held a stern gaze for effect. The carriage was frozen for what felt like 20 minutes and everyone was doing that typical Londoner ‘staring-but-trying-not-to-stare’ thing. I looked down and carried on reading my ironically titled book ‘The Men Who Ruled India’. The four men just glared at me, they had no words, only dumb expressions and pulsating temple veins… then they left the carriage. My initial feeling was the relief that I wasn’t having my head smashed in against the ground. I had the smiles and admiration of the other commuters, and most importantly, a look of genuine gratitude from the guy opposite me. But that sense of victory quickly faded as I began to realise what I had said to those men.
They say, “The best defence is a great offence.” That type of mentality only applies when your objective is to win the game, not when you’re trying to teach someone a new one… that requires patience.
To chastise a person on the basis of their social class is something I strongly stand against because I too hail from the working class. But I succumbed to my frustrations and impulsively spread a little bit more hate, disguised as heroic action.
I firmly believe education to be the key solution in resolving tensions between ethnic groups, which makes aggressive retaliation nothing but counterproductive in my crusade to ‘reform racism’. We can only educate others by creating an open dialogue.
What does that show?
It shows that you care enough about the issue to hear another person’s point of view, regardless of how opposed to them you may be. People really respect and respond to that, even if the entire conversation is based upon their hatred for you.
A person’s ignorance is not a mark of their value, only of their experiences.
So what should I have done instead? I could have asked questions, “What makes you assume he cleans toilets or works at a corner shop?” Questions make situations of this nature awkward for the abuser; because most of the time they themselves don’t know why they say the things they do, feeling too uncomfortable to shed light on their antiquated opinions. It’s an impulsive act and comes from a place of confusion and frustration. If you retaliate with the same energy you only enhance racial tensions and contribute to a culture of bitter 2nd and 3rd generation ethnic minorities.
I guess what I’m saying is if we can remove the subject of race from uncomfortable race-based situations, we stop assessing a faceless institution and begin to question the individual and their reasons for racially provoking another… and let me tell you something, if you successfully dodge the subject of race in a scenario of this kind, you will either expose a person for their brain-washed ignorance or wake them up to a new perspective.
Gwan… Give it a go!