Today I saw overt racism at a bus stop outside a supermarket. I live in an okay area in a large Scottish city. The majority of people are from a white background and that is what I am from too. There are several ethnic minority groups including people from mixed race, Asian, African and Afro-Carribean backgrounds.
I had come out of the supermarket behind a black 30-40 year old woman and a teenage black girl (I got the feeling this was her daughter from the way they acted together) and wandered behind them to the same bus stop. I was standing loss in my own thoughts and noticed that the adult woman was talking to another black woman of about the same age who was just in front of her inside the bus stop. I didn’t overhear what they were talking about as I was standing outside the bus stop.
I was lost in my own thoughts again for a few minutes until I heard “… go back to your own fucking country” from a white man who was about 40-50 years old and had the local accent. I was so shocked. One of the two older black woman said something short to him and then both stared ahead. They were between the white man and the young black girl who was staring at the ground. He kept on speaking and said “you’re fucking parasites, that’s what you are” and repeated that a few times. He also said the British government were “arseholes” to let “you people” emigrate to this country – I can’t remember his exact words here except those phrases. He also said other things and again I can’t remember the words exactly but that it was very aggressive and racist. I got the impression that he had been drinking from the way he moved. The two adult black women continued to stare straight ahead and ignore him. There was another white woman standing next to him and she was staring at him and moved away from him nearer to me. I caught her eye for a second as I was staring at him too.
I said that when I had noticed what this white man had said that I was shocked but I was also sort of stunned as well. I was thinking “I have got to do something!” and “I have go to stand up for these women!” but I was afraid of this man. I was thinking that if I challenged him that he would start on me and that maybe nobody would stand up for me either. So all I did was glare at this man and I am so ashamed of that.
Then the bus came and the black women quickly picked up their bags and moved towards the bus. The white man kind of followed them and I thought he was going into this bus too and I thought “I have to tell the driver – make the driver not let this white man on”. I moved round the bus stop and got onto the bus stop behind the black woman who had already been at the bus stop when I arrived. I said “I am so sorry …” I didn’t know what to say but I wasn’t going to let myself chicken out again and say nothing. Surely saying nothing was worse. She said something “no, it’s alright, people say these things to us all the time, don’t worry” and I thought this is fucking appalling what has happened here. I then went up inside the bus and sat down. A white woman who was coming onto the bus after me was shouting at the white man and I didn’t hear what she said at first but it ended with “he’s a fucking idiot” and I was grateful to her that she said something. The black woman who was on her own sat next to the driver and the other black woman and her daughter sat near the front too. I wonder if that was for safety? To be near the driver and with lots of other people rather than at the back where there was more space. I’ve never had to think like that here when getting on a bus … that would be white priviledge. The racist white man didn’t get on the bus.
As I was sitting on the bus waiting for my stop to get off I couldn’t believe I hadn’t said anything to the racist white man. I had thought before that if something like that happened in front of me I would step up but it turned out I was too afraid for myself. As my stop got nearer I got up and stood near the door (that’s what everybody does in this particular city – it’s the convention for indicating to the driver that this is your stop) and so I was standing next to the black woman who was on her own. I glanced at her and looked away and then stepped up. I said to her, “I am sorry I didn’t stand up for you” and that said he had no right to say such things. She said again “don’t worry, he is entitled to say what he thinks” and I said “no, he isn’t entitled to say that”. She said something back that I can’t remember the exact words of but that meant that this is the way things are and I said “I’m sorry” again then thanked the driver and got off the bus.
I was crying as I got walked up the stairs to my flat. Partly out of anger and frustration and partly out of shame for my lack of action. It wasn’t even about me. What must it have been like for the teenage girl as she went home? After hearing such things from a random stranger. And most likely not for the first time. What was it like for her mother? Was she afraid for herself and her daughter? Is she forced to teach her daughter about racism and physical safety and a whole load of other issues that I can’t even imagine? What was it like for the other woman? Did my little spiel to her make the situation worse for her? I really hope not. Is this really something you can get used to? Should a person even have to get used to such things? I don’t know what it is like to experience overt racism like that and while I can imagine a little I have to respect that I can’t fully understand. I can be sure of the pretty general statement that what happened was not fucking on and should not happen.
This weekend I’ve been reading some articles about racism starting with Guest Post: The Fantasty of Being White on Shapely Prose and then the articles linked on Required Reading on The Angry Black Woman (link courtesy of SweetMachine via that Shapely Prose post). So I’ve read enough to know it isn’t up to the White Lady to rescue The Poor Black People but also that racism flourishes when it is unopposed. Perhaps I would have made the whole situation much worse if I had challenged the racist white man and escalated the verbal abuse to physical violence but I don’t think so. It was mid-afternoon in front of a lot of people and there was CCTV outside the supermarket. My instincts told me there was danger and that is what I obeyed but now I think I over-estimated it. I should have spoken up. I wish I had spoken up to him. Even if I had only said “no, you are wrong”. I wish I had shown support to those black women and my contempt of that white man.