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Monday, 4 April 2011

Casual Racism

No memory lane again this week because I'm having a bit of a rant.

So I'm walking down the street and I'm accosted by someone on the sell. It's some kind of joke book (actually more of a pamphlet) and he's wanting £3 for it.

I have some experience of being homeless and have a degree of sympathy for those who find themselves in that situation so I figured I'd do my bit. The thing is, though, that £3 is quite a hefty sum. Last I bought the Big Issue it was £1, I don't know if it still is, and that is a proper magazine with a decent page count and some halfway interesting features. This joke thing was about 10 pages if that. Nevertheless, I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out a handful of change. There wasn't £3 there. The man in question simply grabbed it (literally - it was quite disconcerting) and said "Give me that, we'll call it quits". If it had been my bus fare home I'd have been stuffed.

Then he said something else. Something which, had I not been so flustered by his forwardness, would have prompted me to take my money back, if not actually complain to whatever organisation/charity he was operating for. He said "cheers mate, you're a good 'un. And at least I'm English eh?"

Is our society so institutionally racist that people collecting for charity now see it as a selling point that they aren't of foreign descent? Actually, as I'm writing this, it occurs to me that the woman I occasionally buy the Big Issue from, who hangs around outside my local WH Smiths, is of some kind of Eastern descent. I must be a bad Englishman, mustn't I? Buying from a filthy foreigner. Shocking.

Let me tell you a joke. You will likely have heard it, or one very like it. They seem to be all the rage lately.

A man walks into the Job Centre. He approaches the woman and tells her that he would like to make a claim on behalf of his dog. When the woman explains that dogs are not allowed to claim benefits the man is indignant.

"What do you mean he can't claim? He's black, he stinks and he's never worked a day in his life."

"Why didn't you say so", says the woman, "the money'll be with you by Monday."

Have you heard it before? If so, did you laugh? And was the laughter embarrassed, polite laughter or was it genuinely amused laughter. If it was the latter, I don't think we are going to be friends.

I heard that joke during one of my interminable IAP sessions. It was told by someone who, up until that moment, had seemed like a perfectly reasonable chap, to a bunch of people whom I had been conversing quite happily with, and they all laughed. Every single one of them. Not little chuckles, or wry half smiles. They bellowed. And I'm sat there thinking, does this mean I'm the abnormal one? Is it wrong of me to not find that funny? The thing that really wound me up was that one of the staff at the centre, one of the people running this Government mandated session, was laughing along with everyone else. What chance do we have?

I'm starting to notice it more and more now. Someone who I worked with for many years, before I lost my job, and whom I am now back working with on my 'work experience' days, has some very, shall we say robust, views on certain things which I had never noticed first time around but which are really stickin out like a sore thumb this time. Immigrants eh?

I seem to be surrounded by a kind of low level background bigotry. This is not the country I thought I lived in. It's certainly not the country I want to live in.

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