Linda Grant over at CIF recounts a tale of an encounter with a reality which was totally different to her own. As she visited a cash-point machine she came face to face with three men from a building site who proceeded to make a rather suspiciously hyperbolic racist remark and then loudly spun a yarn about one of their mates hitting a muslim woman over the head with his toolbag.
Linda exhibits all the proper guilt expected of a middle-class Englishwoman in such a situation:
I walked off down the street to the dentist. As I am walking, I’m thinking: I should have said something. But what should I have said? “You’re a racist?” To what end? There is no point having a political discussion with him. Had there been anyone identifiably Muslim present, I think I would definitely have said something to them. I’m very bothered at my inability to know what to do or say.
There is no point having a political discussion with him.
Why not? Unless you think that you are so markedly superior to such creatures that you are unable to craft your finely-honed language skills downwards to a level at which you could communicate your displeasure (in which case who exactly do you expect to have a political discussion with him?)
Isn’t it really the case that Ms Grant just wanted to get away and back into her safe cocoon where everybody sticks to the rules?
Those of us who live in London (and whose days do not consist of 23 hours of comfortable numbness followed by one exciting trip to a cash machine in a fairly well-heeled area,) encounter these situations constantly. This week alone I have witnessed skinheads on trains “staring out” foreign-looking passengers and a young black man sitting on a tube train and greeting every white woman who entered with a jolly blast of “cunt” and “whore.” I have lost count of the times when old people at bus-stops have started a diatribe about foreigners only to have it pointed out to them that Mrs Graham (being from Chicago) is actually a foreigner herself.
You either engage with such people or you don’t depending on your energy levels – end of story. There are too many such incidents to always argue – whatever the self-satisfied Trots (who in my experience are usually the last to actually confront anyone about racism- unless they are online or in a big gang) might say.
Linda eventually rationalizes thus:
The builder thought I was a middle-aged woman offended by a bit of effing and blinding
I somehow doubt it – I expect her builder picked his target quite carefully and got exactly the reaction he wanted – don’t you?