Thursday, July 02, 2009

Being different and being accepted

While browsing around the Internet for something entirely unrelated, I came across this article on the Hindustan Times from 2007. I found it interesting for a couple of reasons - firstly the way it refers to the city of Bombay (not Mumbai as the BBC like to call it) and the other for this little aside.

Ponytails turned heads on Delhi roads, just like they did in Allahabad. So did white skin. I was once walking with an English friend in a posh South Delhi neighbourhood. A couple of lads arrived on motorcycles and tried to run him down. It was all in good spirit of course; the boys saw a foreigner and decided to rag him a bit, make him jump around. Just like they would have in Gorakhpur.

What a lark, eh! Running down whitey with a motorcycle just because of the colour of his skin - what a laugh they must have had. Hey, it was all in good spirits!

The thing is, though, I agree with him - it probably was a bit of a lark and, although it is undoubtedly inherently racist - so what? Personally, if that had been me - and as long as it wasn't done in a more threatening way - I'd be glad that I was accepted enough by the locals that they'd include me in a bit of "ragging".

The thing is, there is always a tendency amongst a group of people to place a focus on certain attributes of their friends and peers. At school I had a friend who we used to call "shorty" - even though he was over six feet tall at 14. There was also a "ginge", "pikey" and "vesta" (a skinny girl with very white skin and red hair who we likened to the Swan Vesta matchstick). As it happens, there weren't any black kids in my year, but there was one Asian who we used to call "Sam" as it was an abbreviation of his full name.

Actually, that reminds me of an incident when a new teacher pulled me aside to give me a ticking off for calling him "Sam" - which she took to be an abbreviation of "sambo". Sam patiently explained to this young teacher that it didn't mean that, that everyone - including the teachers - called him Sam and he actually preferred it anyway. The teacher duly apologised - to Sam, not to me. She didn't seem to think it mattered that she'd just called a white kid a "racist" in front of an Asian. I wonder who was more racist - me for playing catch with an Asian I called "Sam" or her for assuming that "sam" nust be short for "sambo"?

I watched something on TV a few months back which was some sort of homage to the TV series "On The Buses" and that had someone remarking on the racism of that programme. I couldn't for the life of me recall anything racist about "On The Buses", but the person explained that there was a black bus driver who was known as "Chalky" and this was clearly a racist slur.

Indeed there was a Chalky - and it might well have been a nickname in reference to his colour, but so what? Is that any worse than calling a redhead"ginge"? I also recall that the nickname "Chalky" was given to an awful lot of people who had the surname "White" -regardless of the colour of their skin - a common surname for black people.

I also recall a football team manager some years back who was known by the nickname "bald Eagle". I don't think it was because of his lush head of hair. I doubt that he particularly enjoyed being reminded of his gleaming pate, but he seemed to take it in good spirit.

What's my point?

My point is that we'll all get along a lot better if we stop being so bloody sensitive about our differences. To be honest, I don't think it helps that black and Asian people are encouraged by the various agencies to make a big fuss over these things - much like that young teacher who intervened between me and Sam - and I'm pretty sure a lot of them would rather not bother. All it does is drive a wedge between groups which gets bigger each time someone hammers home the point.

Most of us can tell the difference between a bit of banter, mickey-taking and ragging - it usually indicates your acceptance into a social group - and those that can't can always join the Lib Dems.


JPT said...

I was going to say all sorts of things but I'll just settle for 'well said'!

JuliaM said...

"My point is that we'll all get along a lot better if we stop being so bloody sensitive about our differences."

Very well said!

Richard Dale said...

But then where would the equality commmisioners, the lawyers and the Labour Party be? Without these manufactured differences thousands would be out of work.