Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Roots of Racism

I like to think of myself as an open-minded, non-prejudiced person. This past week however, this virtuous view of myself has been challenged.

So I was back to work after a few days off, which meant going back to doing my usual commute. I’ve had some hellish commutes in the past, but my current one is ideal, lovely even: a scenic half an hour walk for an 8.30am start. At 1.5 miles each way too, it’s also good daily exercise.

However, as I’ve mentioned I’d had a few days off and when Monday morning came round, much to my chagrin, I was met with this lovely sight as I made my way to work:


A week off work and some visitors had decided to set-up camp by the local park.

It might not look so bad in the pictures, but trust me…it was. Especially first thing in the morning. The stench of dog sh*t/p*ss was overwhelming and I full-on felt like I needed a tetanus shot after I walked through it – it was like walking through a rubbish site. I don’t think the humidity helped.

This is what the area usually looks like:

At first I thought maybe there had been a festival nearby or something over the weekend. However, as I made my way through, it started to feel like I was walking through someone’s home and invading their privacy, and it dawned on me these weren’t people on a caravan holiday.

Then I heard the accents and I realised these were elusive Irish travellers…and I’ll admit, I started to feel on edge. I don’t know if it was them or the mess they had made that made me uncomfortable, but the thought well I guess I understand why people are so prejudiced towards gypsies! did run through my mind, I’m ashamed to admit.

Which is just an awful way to think. As an Asian person who has most definitely experienced racism or general ignorance and prejudices, I should know better than to tar people with same brush.

I think the problem is the area I live in. The cheap housing and good location to the city centre attracts buyers (hence some members of my family owning houses here, despite working and not being on benefits), but it is also where a lot of people who are housed by the council are placed…that includes ex-cons, crackheads and prostitutes, who are a regular sighting here. The way they conduct themselves in public confirms that most people who live here are indeed a little rough.

My next door neighbour is a case-in-point: the archetypal overweight white lady on benefits, she moved in at the start of the year, kids in tow. Her annoying tendencies began with her blaring her crap music out ALL DAY.

Now, I like loud music just as much as the next person, but I try to be considerate about it and I definitely don’t have my tunes playing to the point where the walls are shaking, from dusk till dawn.

The music took an urban/bashment/soca theme and I soon realised why: she had moved her African lover in.

I was then treated to numerous passionate lovemaking sessions, headboard banging against the wall and moans included. Pretty much every night, bang-on (pardon the pun) 11pm like clockwork.

Good on her though, with her active sex-life. Judging by the noises, he knew how to keep her satisfied, that’s for sure.

She was definitely really into him; my friend dropped me off home once, we ended up chatting in the car and we saw her strolling along, hand-in-hand with her lover. When they reached their house, they went inside and she didn’t even give the guy a chance to close the curtains fully before she was clawing at his shirt, no word of a lie.

A couple of days ago though, I heard them have a SCREAMING row (my bedroom walls are evidently paper-thin) and she’s now kicked him out. I guess the honeymoon’s over.

What I’m saying is, trash seems to invite trash. I’m not saying all Irish travellers are the ASBO types, but the ones who set up residence by me certainly were. Let's call a spade a spade. But there's no excuse to live like that. Much like my chavvy next door neighbour and various other types of twats we all encounter, it’s the difference between considerate and inconsiderate people.

However, I don’t like how this anti-traveller side of me has become apparent. It’s a prejudice in me I didn’t even know existed.

Recognising stereotypes is one thing, but when does that become flat-out intolerance and bigotry for certain groups of people... aka racism?

Perhaps it develops when a negative preconception or stereotype is reinforced by bad experiences from dealing with certain folk. I was expecting the new visitors to the area to bring disorder and chaos with them, and to that end they were successful.

It might not seem like a big deal but the area I live in has undergone redevelopment recently, so to see all of that work completely undone was annoying.

It seems when I see a sub-standard and unsanitary way of living, my snobby snooty side comes out. Especially considering that we live in the UK, a developed country where there really is no need to live like that… this is a country where you can turn a sh*thole into somewhere liveable, and it’s relatively easy to keep it that way if you have any standard of living.

I considered myself a tolerant person, open to different cultures and traditions. Yet when there was a chance I was going to be (indefinitely) living in close proximity to people who lived quite an extreme lifestyle that differed to mine, I didn’t like it.

But who are we to dictate how people live, just because it’s not the norm? If they’re not harming anyone, should we mind our own business and just let them get on with it? If the travellers had kept the place clean and tidy, would I still have had a problem with them setting up home in the local park?

I’ve learned that most prejudices are down to a lack of experience with people or just plain ignorance, so I decided to learn more about gypsy folk: I think education is key to understanding different types of people and being more tolerant.

It was definitely interesting to learn a little bit about travellers, their traditions and general way of life. It humanizes people, which I think goes a long way in being receptive to different types of people, despite their background or how they live.

As for the gypsy travellers who came to my area, they have now left. And I must admit, it’s nice to see the park return to the clean and pleasant state it was in before. Perhaps it's more that people don't like change (especially one for the worse), rather than an outright dislike for certain people.

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