Friday, 19 March 2010

I am not a racist.....but....I am

It’s been many years since I prefaced a statement with “I’m not racist…” and I don’t think I’ve ever said “I’m not racist…but…” before going on to be dreadfully racist. But, today I did something really, really bad. Before I go on to tell you what the really bad thing was, I am going to use my hormones as an excuse and do so unashamedly. Had I not been pregnant I would not have reacted in this way. It was sheer self-preservation.

It’s a complete misconception that as individuals we can be without preference towards, or prejudice against, groups of people. It is just impossible. Put a group of strangers in a room together and chances are they will gravitate towards their own cultural group. We feel safe with what we can identify and understand. For some time now I have stopped imagining that I am ‘not a racist’. Instead, I accept that sometimes I have involuntary, instinctive, racist thoughts; question them and then give myself a stern talking to. I have rationalised that these thoughts are natural, the important thing is not to act on them.

Well, today I acted on them.

It all began on a London bus this morning when I realised that I wasn’t yet fat enough for people to start kindly relinquishing their seats. Whilst this thought was still in motion, a lady with a muffled voice offered me her seat. I turned to see a woman dressed head to toe in black. She was wearing a Niqab (-see, I’m not so racist that I can’t be bothered to look that up!). The Niqab leaves only a small slit for the eyes and this lady’s veil was drawn so tightly, that it looked painful. She was carrying a Qu’ran and she was politely standing up and offering me her seat. I accepted gracefully, thanked her kindly and she asked me for some directions. As I was talking to her I couldn’t help thinking that it really would be much easier for us both if I could see her face. I had to lean in close to her and ask her to repeat herself and it felt awkward. Anyway, she got off the bus and as I settled into my new seat I started scanning my travelling companions.

I noticed a young Muslim man sitting opposite me. He wore a small white hat, in the Muslim style, a long shirt, sandals and a very large raincoat over the top. Then I noticed that he was sitting forward because he was wearing…yes, you guessed it; a rucksack on his back.

Then another gentleman sat down next to him and said hello. This man was dressed in the typical jeans and jacket, nothing to identify him as a Muslim but they began talking and it was obvious that they new one another. As I studied the first gentleman I noticed how he seemed incredibly ill-at-ease and nervous, as if the other man’s presence was causing him concern. The man with the rucksack was not particularly attractive or confident and I couldn't imagine him being popular with either men or women. Just the sort of person, I thought, to be swayed by an extremist group. It is now that my imagination, which served me so well at school, starts to work overtime.

My mind concocts a story whereby this man intends to blow up the 253 bus that I’m sitting on. I imagine that he is nervous because he doesn’t want to kill his friend but seeing as his friend is not a strict Muslim and possibly not one at all, maybe this has no bearing on the situation. Then I think about the woman who gave me her seat. She obviously was a strict Muslim. I start imagining that she had been given a sign by the Muslim man and that is why she got off the bus. I begin bizarrely imagining how much of the blast I might take if I remain in my seat. Will I lose a leg, an arm? Will I die ? I start imagining my other half losing me and our unborn baby, I start imagining him struggling to bring up our son. Before I know it I am standing up and getting off the bus.

I actually got off the bus.

I have lived in London for most of my life. After the 7/7 bombings I didn’t change my habits. I still got on the underground. I sat next to Muslims carrying backpacks because nobody else would and it was a free frickin’ seat as far as I was concerned.

So, since there has been no news of a 253 bus being blown up today, I can safely assume that my poor companion on London Transport this morning was not a bomber but merely socially inept. I on the other hand, am most definitely, officially and shamefully, a racist.

P.S If anybody is going to try and make me feel better by sharing their stories of racism, please don't. The best comment anyone could leave me right now is "Troutie, you are a racist".

I'm going away now to self-flagellate........


  1. I don't know. I've actually moved away from a tram for a similar reason, and the guy was as white as they come. He just seemed like he was acting weird and his jacket seemed to bulge weirdly. (I've been reading too much about white suicide bombers maybe?)

    Perhaps you should go a little easier on yourself. You are living in London, a place where people have actually blown themselves up on buses. If you think someone looks shifty and they make you nervous... you're not even being that paranoid. What if it actually had been a bomber?

    (I think a real bomber is more likely to be wearing jeans, though - for next time. ;-) )

  2. An honest and thought provoking post.

    I think you're right - we are all prejudiced to some extent - the point is to be as self-aware as possible and try to guard against our prejudices impacting on the way we treat others.

  3. Presumably you ended up having to walk further or at least catch a later bus. That seems penance enough.

    Well, if you feel really bad, you could force yourself to read the Daily Mail for a week or two.

    No - that seems too harsh actually...

  4. Haha, that is actually quite bad.. :D But to be fair, in London, you can never be quite sure. Or at least that's the picture that's been painted. If I went to the Glasgow airport and a car drove right beside the doors, I'd have the right to be scared...