A question of … racism

Gotta post this now, before I lose the nerve.

This morning I turned up at a pub/restaurant at just gone 8am for a big veggie breakfast. A young woman and man were waiting outside. They worked there, and the manager had not yet turned up. By the time they’d be ready to open, it would be 9am. I retraced my steps, got on my bike and cycled on to a supermarket. As I passed the place, I saw an older black man standing outside the window, looking as cold as I felt. I don’t remember what I thought.

As well as buying breakfast things for myself, I bought two jam donuts for the pair of stranded workers, and gave them to the woman as I cycled back past.

This evening, in a bizarre coincidence, I bumped into her  in the city centre. She said something that jarred – that when she’d turned up that morning, she’d said “hi guys” to her colleagues. Plural. I didn’t ask her, but I had a sinking feeling…
So, back to the supermarket to buy another donut. Then into the now very busy establishment. Spoke to the manager, the one who’d been late. She quickly realised I was the “donut man.”
“Do you have an older black guy who works here?”
“Yes.” (inward groan from me)
“Is he still on shift?”

At which point I explained what I’d done. The donut would be stale by the time he got it (and that’s hardly the fricking point, is it?). She will pass on my apologies. And next I am in there, I will ask for him, to apologise in person.

I loathe the openly racist political parties. I hold politically correct views. I [insert protestations of moral superiority here, evidence of aid work etc etc]. But there’s this thing called the Implicit Association Test. (I’ve blogged about it here). Well, this morning, around ten past eight, my implicit associations were tested.

We don’t need any fancy MRI of my amygdala or pre-frontal cortex or whatever to figure this out. There’s a simple test, a simple question. Would I have made the same snap assumption – that the guy was not a staff member – if he’d been the same age, in the same clothes but white? Almost certainly not.

Sir, I only know your name, your place of employment, and that this morning I failed to treat you in the same way I treated your co-workers.

It was cold, you were waiting to work, and it must have felt like a kick in the teeth. I’m sorry.

Black Like Me (read it when I was about 19. Seems like I need to again.)

To read
bell hooks

other suggestions welcome…

Ah, someone has suggested this –
The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon… a great short book


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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5 Responses to A question of … racism

  1. Antonio Dias says:

    Glad you posted this!

    I just wonder though, isn’t it possible that racism begins where we decide what to do with the responses we’ve been conditioned to?

    The whole “I don’t see color!” thing is a joke! We are immersed in conditioned responses, but it is what we do with them that defines us, no?

    • dwighttowers says:

      I think I agree? I am not quite sure what you’re saying though, so please amplify.

      I am not responsible for having imbibed the racist shite of my country (and trust me, there was a LOT of it). I *am* responsible for my (in)actions, and for whether I make serious efforts at uprooting my prejudices. And, on the evidence of today, I am not making serious enough efforts. There is much more to be done…

  2. Antonio Dias says:

    First. I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m writing to find out what I mean.

    I don’t trust the emphasis you put on effort.

    I just watched a documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen. I think it’s a wonderful corrective to see what real racism is like and how strength of spirit overcomes it.

    Risking one’s life in training and combat flying and then being sent to the “back of the bus” in one’s own country while enemy POWs are given every courtesy was trying in the extreme. The bastards who went out of their way to show hatred and threaten and harm others out of racists hate were, and are wherever they may be, despicable cowards.

    You are relating an incident that may be more about you and your relationship to your own sense of guilt than about racism. By guilt I don’t mean guilt for being a racist, but free-floating guilt, that “you haven’t done enough!” Enough anything when it comes to everything! In that Ego-dominated position you were ready to turn someone who was just having a blah day into a victim of your horrible actions.

    I doubt your “victim” would see this “incident” as cause for him to feel oppressed. It certainly trivializes what it means to be seriously oppressed.

    You show courage in writing about it. But maybe you did it also as a way to chastise yourself and not to redress a wrong.

    We are neither of us part of a racial minority. Neither can speak for someone who is. It would be good to hear from someone who had those experiences themselves. But I don’t agree that we should segregate ourselves by particular grievance when all of us are suffering under the violence of a system that isn’t just out to make us feel bad, but to destroy all life on this earth.

    I guess I’m suggesting that you make a poor villain. That your guilt is misplaced. That you’re looking for ways to punish yourself for the shadow you are unwilling to own. That letting go of these dramas will bring you to a clarity that cannot be reached while you carry an oppressor on your shoulder. You are the victim in this story, and you are the oppressor too.

    Well, this did get quite pointed! Blame it on Vera! You know what I’m talking about!

    • dwighttowers says:

      Obviously I will cop to the narcissism. I am not so sure that I am trivialising. Certainly people have more material things to worry about than whether they get given a donut (like crappy wages, crappy services, the threat of random violence). There is, of course, a spectrum, but we don’t just live by wages. There’s the basic acknowledgement of humanity that matters too. Did I burn a cross on the guy’s lawn? No. Did I not extend him the same gesture I did his work colleagues. Yes. Is he going to lose sleep over it? I don’t know.

      I don’t think I am encouraging anyone to segregate themselves by particular grievance – just hauling myself up for my (latest) failing. I certainly DON’T want to get into any “I’m a more unworthy piece of toe-jam than YOU.” “No, I am” self-flagellation contests – that’s too much narcissim, even for me.

      I wrote the post so I can’t repress this incident (well, I will doubtless repress it, but this is here as a book mark). I tried to redress the wrong with a face-to-face apology, and will try again, next I am there.

      I am not quite sure which of my many shadows you speak of – perhaps email off-line?

  3. leavergirl says:

    Ah, some mercy for your own self would not hurt, no? And still be aware.

    Or, when in doubt, blame me! 😉

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