The dirty word

‘Immigrant’ is a dirty word at the moment.  Mind you, it’s not a new thing.  When I was growing up, I’d often hear, ‘those bloody immigrants, coming over, taking everyone’s jobs’ etc.

But then, during the nineties and noughties, there was a time of peace.  Respite.  People learnt that that wasn’t the case.  It wasn’t kind to shout at people of colour to ‘Go back to where you came from!’.  It wasn’t fair to blame the financial state of the country on immigrants.  In fact, people began to realise that many people who were immigrants, added so much to the economy, were aspirational, hard working.  So, being kind to people, being considerate of others, ensuring that people – regardless of colour, gender, age, ability – this became ‘a thing’ labelled as ‘political correctness’.

You’ve got to see the funny side of things, haven’t you?  Whilst I was growing up in the 80’s – the colour of my skin was a major target.  Fair game, you might even say?  Sexist jokes about women was also – fair game.  This is the 80’s I’m talking about, things were different then.

I’ll never forget an incident, when I was younger than 10, I was walking to town with my mum and sister.  We used to have to walk along a street called Far Gosford Street.  In 2018, this street is quite trendy and studenty.  It’s been gentrified and urbanised.  There is now a cool, hip section called ‘Fargo Village’.  But then, it was just a long, never ending road, that we used to have to trudge along to get to town.  I remember there was a huge Lloyds Bank on the corner, where Mum would pop in to pay her bills, there was an interesting music shop, which displayed keyboards and an array of acoustic and electric guitars in the window.  There was a regular newsagents that for some reason, we never went into.  And a large shoe shop.  Sadly, I forget its name.  But this is where the incident took place.  The shoe shop no longer exists now, but when I was little, it seemed incredibly huge to me.  It must have been built by two shops being knocked together to make one.  There were rows and rows of shoes in the inside – all black, I seem to remember.  None of the colourful, beautiful designs that we have now.  And in the entrance were wired bins, full of discounted shoes that presumably nobody wanted.

On the day of the incident, Mum, my sister and I, were waiting at the bus stop opposite Lloyds Bank, wearily waiting for the bus to arrive to take us into town.  The shoe shop was on the same side as us, but we would have needed to cross a narrow road in order to get to it.  Whilst waiting for the bus, I was scanning my surroundings, people watching, wondering if anything interesting might be happening…and I noticed an extremely tall man, with long shoulder length brown hair, walking very speedily and jauntily in our direction, the opposite direction that we were intending to head.  My eyes fixed on him because I’d never ever seen anyone walk with such a spring in their step before, this man seemed to be holding the secrets to all the joys in the world as he strode merrily along Far Gosford Street, with his hands swinging by his side and a broad grin on his face.  I looked the other way in order to see if our bus, the number 13 was on it’s way, when all of a sudden, I heard an almighty smack, a scream of anguish and alarm, and a huge bellow of laughter – the whole cacophony of sounds seemed to echo along the street, which up until this point had been quite relaxed and sleepy.

Startled, I looked at the shoe shop where the noises had just emerged from.  A slim teenager, with porcelain white skin and long curly red hair, had been bent over the bins at the shoe shop, organising the contents of the baskets, when the joyful man, who had seen her backside bent over, decided to that he had the right to smack her as he strode past her.  He didn’t even flinch, he didn’t even miss a step, he simply smacked her backside, really hard, and carried on laughing with mirth, as she screamed in distress, and began to cry instantly.  Another lady who worked at the store leapt outside, the young red-head just crumpled into her arms and wept.  Even though I was so young, innocent and small at the time, I was hugely aware that she had been violated, and I was so confused.  Why did that joyful man do that?

The man walked on, remorselessly.  The girl was sobbing, devastated.  Mum, my sister and I were sat, like statues, at the bus stop, frozen.  What on Earth had just happened?  I looked at my mum in confusion.  She was staring after the perpetrator, eyebrows furrowed together in disgust, shaking her head.  She saw me looking at her questioningly and simply said, ‘You just have to be careful!  There are so many baje maanush (bad men) around.  You have to be careful.’

This was the 80’s.  Where casual racism, sexism and verbal, physical and sexual assault was rife – just a bit of fun.  During the 90’s though, I noticed a palpable shift in attitude.  Suddenly, it was not alright to call people names.  It was not alright to touch women inappropriately.  Political correctness kicked in.  I don’t know how many people must have fought and got hurt to make others realise that you had to behave like decent human beings and treat each other with respect.  And I began to feel safe.  And free.  For the first time in my life, I was able to walk down any street feeling like the world belonged to me.  This feeling of safety and being carefree carried on, well into the noughties too.

And then it happened – the recession – the double dip in 2008.  And things started to change.  Let’s not forget that the recession was caused by bankers.  That always seems to be forgotten, or not deemed to be important anymore.  Austerity kicked in.  People were losing jobs.  People lost their houses.  The living wage became a joke.  Prices of everything began to rise.  People – ordinary people were struggling…and the blame…not bankers.  Immigrants.  Those bloody immigrants.  People who advocated political correctness – or just common decency, were now liberal lefties or ‘snowflakes’, who got offended by everything.

Just when things seemed to be have been getting better – it all fucked up.

Hate  – that’s what drives the agenda now.  Hate.  And things feel like they are going back to the 80’s.

Immigrants and immigration – words that conjure up grasping, layabouts – who simply take and take – give nothing back.

I will say this – my parents were immigrants.  My father arrived in the 1960’s and my mum in the 1970’s.  I can’t even imagine what they went through, when they first arrived – my dad is not around to ask, and I don’t want to bother my Mum with questions like this.  But I do know that they were a generation of silent fighters.  Keep your head down and work hard.  I’ll never forget how many times both my Mum and Dad would tell me to value my education, how I was blessed to receive free schooling and that I should work really hard and get to university to make something of my life.  And I did.  I worked so hard.  And when I was old enough, took on whatever part time jobs that I could, so that I could help to pay my way, whilst I studied.  It’s probably why I became a teacher, because I know that education makes such a difference to people’s lives.  I’m living proof of it.

It’s too easy to give in to the ‘hate’ agenda.  That poisonous agenda that makes scapegoats of groups of people, whilst the real perpetrators – the bankers, the rich, the politicians who supply arms to others – get away scot-free.

We can’t give in to hate.  We must rally against the age-old ‘divide and rule’ agenda, that serves the people in power so well.  We, as a society have to be smarter than this.

I will say last week – on two separate occasions, I was in two different supermarkets recently, with my Mum, and both times, complete strangers, came to help me and my Mum when we needed it.  One helped us to get something that we were too short to reach.  Another person gave a yelp when he realised that my Mum was about to leave her handbag in the shopping trolley that she was putting away.

This is the Britain that I know.  This is the Britain that I love.  The one that supports people, regardless of colour, age, sex, ability.

We cannot, cannot, must not lose our way.

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