Hello hello hello!
Sorry for not blogging, again I must blame my superlame office job and the fact that moving house isn’t as simple as I thought. FYI, the awesome cardboard box fort in my room has now been dismantled and recycled for health and safety reasons (read: I kept tripping over it).
I’ve been reading the internet with much aplomb recently. If you’re not already doing so, follow me on Twitter. I reply to everyone and I tweet solid gold.
I’m taking a bit of a gamble with this post, and I want to apologise in advance if it offends you, this is really not my intention. I’m gonna relay a couple of strange events that have happened to me over the years that concern my ethnic-minority-ness. I’ve been blogging about racism a bit, but it was suggested as a blog post by a friend and it seemed like a good idea at the time, here goes:
Between the ages of 11 and 16, I attended a prestigious Catholic school in South London, and excelled at everything except PE and Geography. Due to my innate enamour with learning, I was quickly placed in the “Alpha” stream (we had A, B and C. Alpha was one above A: oooh get me!) where we were taught at a faster pace than the rest of the year, and occasionally things that the year above were learning.
It was pretty obvious why I didn’t do well at PE. I’m very short, don’t like the cold, didn’t like the PE uniform, and always got picked last for teams. PE for me was a waste of time, and I became extremely adept at forging sick notes. Geography, however, was another matter.
My Geography teacher, Miss K, was a 20something blonde woman with a lisp. I had assumed that she would be a cool teacher on first sight because she was young, and most young teachers are pretty cool. A shock, therefore, when I received a mark from my first piece of homework: B. This was the first time in my life I’d ever got a B. When you’re used to getting A*s, and then one day you get an A but the teacher explains what you can do next time to get an A* it’s ok, but a B…? That’s just wrong.
The girl sitting next to me had got an A, so I asked her if we could swap work so I can see which answers I’d got wrong: hers were all the same as mine. After the lesson, I approached Miss K, saying I didn’t understand why I’d got a lower mark than Laura when we had the same answers and her response was “Try better next time”! This became a recurring theme, the last straw was when she gave me a C. During these few months, I’d been chatting to some of the other girls in my class and the same thing had happened to them, coincidentally all ethnic minorities, so I went to my form tutor, Mrs P, and explained why I was so upset.
I showed her my book, and how hard I’d worked, and my homework diary signed by my mum to show how long I’d spent on the Geography project compared to everything else, and then I mentioned that a few other people in the class had also been experiencing the same thing, and none of them were white. Mrs P went from being a sympathetic, understanding form tutor to someone that made me feel even smaller than I already was. She said very loudly “You can’t just go around accusing people of racism because they criticise something you do!”
This sentiment is absolutely true. You cannot go around accusing someone of something as serious as racism because it could ruin their career, imagine if it was unfounded? I’ve experienced racism directly – had bricks thrown through our window, violent threats, even sexual threats. To lump a teacher in with this group of thugs is a terrible thing to do. I went home and didn’t tell my mum how it went. Incidentally, the next piece of Geography homework I did, I got an A. I stopped bothering trying to do Geography after that. It was something I thought I found piss-easy but my marks clearly didn’t reflect that so I obviously wasn’t the best judge of what was good work and what wasn’t.
This tiny experience at age 11 makes me, as an adult, very reluctant to call someone a racist, unless they are 100%-without-a-doubt-all-my-white-friends-agree-racist, like N*ck Gr*ff*n. When people make racist remarks in a friendly way at work or out and about, I tend to ignore them and hope that someone else will call them up on it. The whole process of standing up for myself becomes a debate on whether it’s worth it, and experiences since then have taught me that no matter who they are, no-one ever thinks they’re a racist (myself included).
A couple of years ago when I moved back from uni, I was looking for a permanent office job. Nothing fancy, just something that I could do for a year or two to make my CV a bit more impressive. I went to several agencies, and after about 6 weeks of form filling and interviews, I managed to get my current job. Due to the relative success of my job hunt, a friend of mine asked me to look at his CV to see if there was any reason why he was less successful. My mum’s a career’s adviser so I’m a dab hand at updating CVs – I’ve even got into the habit of updating mine every few weeks whenever I do some voluntary work, or help out on events.
JR did all the same things as I did, went to the same agencies, did a few temp jobs that I forwarded onto him (I still get temp alerts), and then after about a month a new position happened to open at my office. I told him about it immediately, sent him the details, but he hadn’t replied. My manager was waiting for his response before they started interviews. When I called him, he said he’d been too busy to fill in the form, could I do it for him? I did (what an arse), and they were extremely impressed at how he’d *cough* even typed it all up. But they gave the job to someone who had a degree, and office experience.
I called him on my way home and he said to me “It’s ok for you, you’re not a white guy, you find it much easier to get a job than I do.” It didn’t matter to him that he had two C’s and an E at A-level, that he’d never gone to uni, never had any previous office experience, and wasn’t particularly assertive when it came to job interviews. Nor did it occurr to him that I have two A’s and a B at A-level, 11 A*-C GCSE’s, and have been temping since I was 17. Or even that the woman they offered the job to had a degree, office experience, great references and was asking for less money. Clearly, it was the fact that he was discriminated against.
This kind of lazy rhetoric about blaming others for your own shortcomings is something that I’ve seen all too often, disturbingly with friends who accept me because I’m not like the immigrants filling up this country, I’m into heavy metal and heavy drinking, and I dress like they do (to a certain degree) and I write sweary pop songs on the ukulele. If you read a list of all the things I do in my spare time, and saw my wardrobe, and read my Twitter feed, you might never know I wasn’t white. It opened my eyes a bit to how easy it is to blame positive discrimination, political correctness, or sexism on the fact that life sometimes dishes out lemons. It how we cope with these bum deals that makes us successful, strong, and ultimately happier individuals.
This last one is a bit weird. I wasn’t going to put it in, but then @aliunwin posted:
“Where are you from? No… originally? Yeah, but where are your family from? Originally? #thingsracistssay“
My utterly perfect response goes something like this:
Customer: “Where are you from?”
Customer: “No… originally?”
Me: “Well… I was born in Thornton Heath but don’t tell anyone!”
Customer: “Yeah but where are you actually originally from?”
Me: “Well… I was conceived in Hammersmith I think, but I don’t really remember it”
You’d think by this point that the customer might have taken the hint…?
Customer: “Oh right… but where are your parents from?”
Me (looking quite flustered): “My mum grew up in Croydon, my dad grew up in Hammersmith.”
Customer: “Yeah but where are they from originally”
Me: “It’s a bit complicated.”
Customer: “Try me.”
Me: (I give them a heavily abridged family history)
Customer: “Oh right, I thought you might be Turkish… I went there on holiday once.”
It’s not racist to enquire about someone’s family background. Mine, genuinely, is very complicated. I look Indian, but I’m sort of Anglo-Indian, but I also have a Portuguese name, and my own family tartan, but my grandparents were born in East Africa on one side, and (what is now) Pakistan on the other, but they’re still sort of Anglo-Indian, and have their own family tartan as well, and we have French, Irish, Dutch ancestry, (and according to a controversial Aunt’s interpretation of the family tree some Protestants in the family*gasp!*) and it’s all a bit much. That isn’t the whole thing, that is the semi-abridged version. It really is complicated. I hate explaining it to people because to understand it, you’d need to have a working knowledge of British colonialism, which curiously isn’t taught in schools in the UK, and a very large bottle of wine. Where was I…? Oh yeah:
It’s not racist, but it’s a bit odd that no-one has ever asked me in that same level of depth about my tattoos, or my music, or my bank details. Maybe my ethnicity is just more interesting? It isn’t when you have to explain it all the time, trust me! The other side of it, though, is that I feel slightly bad for the person asking, because often it seems they want to talk to me about my “mother land” when the furthest away I’ve been is Aberdeen last year on holiday. I cook a great curry, but I couldn’t give you it’s proper name. If it’s anything, it’s called ”Chicken Curry”. I also discovered (from my housemate, who’s a professional chef) that I’ve been pronouncing “Raita” wrong! I’d love to be able to say “It’s my fucking language” but it really isn’t ….. :-/ sorry to disappoint!
Racism isn’t just in the violence and hatred you see on TV and online, it’s in the subtle attitudes to a minority, which from a young age cloud their behaviour, which after a while can confirm your casual prejudice about them into something that can be statistically proven.
I’m not trying to accuse everyone of racism, merely to highlight some of its forms, and to explain why sometimes, you can say or do something and you might not mean it as you say it. Regardless of intention, you can only go on the words and perceived context of something someone else says. Whether or not you get offended might have more to do with the accumulation of a lifetime of stereotyping than an inability to laugh at yourself.
I always like to end my blog post on a good note, so check out this awesome funny video, tweeted to me today by @chriscoltrane: