Having recently read a lot of the going’s on in The US, and in the UK (less so) regarding the divide between the white race and people of colour, it compelled me to put fingers to keyboard to recall a couple of experiences which happened to me.
I am from England, and grew up in a relatively normal environment, at a time when people of colour were established in society to a large degree, but were still not near the finishing line (we are nearer now, but still not there). I lived in several cities in England and experienced mild forms of racism (implicit, mainly through preconceptions), but overall, led relatively good life. I worked in The City of London for financial institutions for more than a decade, and found in the main, people to be sensitive, even in a white, male dominated arena.
Moving on to the story. When I was in my early 40’s I had a rush of blood to the head, and decided that I needed to travel the world ( a seed that had been sowing in the back of my mind for years, but always dismissed). I quit my job, etc…., After 3 months of organising I found myself on a flight to New Delhi, on the 1st stage of my journey. I spent several months travelling around Asia, and finally arrived in Sydney, Australia.
I spent a week in Sydney before boarding a bus up the coast, stopping at various destinations leading up to Cairns. After 4 days in Cairns, I flew to Alice Springs to see Uluru (Ayres Rock as it was formerly known). One cannot go to Australia without visiting this landmark. After meeting a tour group there, all of differing nationalities (French, German, Japanese, English, Swedish…) we set off for the rock, and were going to camp out under the stars. The stuff of dreams. the group were all people on vacation and a few on short term travels, when compared to mine (I was on a 1 year trip).
The driver (and guide) told us that the following morning we were going to a centre with a swimming pool and activity centre to relax for the afternoon, which was just what we needed after the intense heat of the rock.
We all disembarked from the bus and i was the last one to get off, the others going on ahead. I had experienced heat stroke the day before (I do not recommend anyone get this. It is horrific). I was drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration. I then made for the group, who were all sitting by the pool. On my way there I stopped at shower to wet myself down before entering the water ( a sign was there asking everyone to do this). The was a ‘white’ guy standing there trying to get water to come out of the outlet. My first thought was that it was not working, so I waited behind him. After about 20 seconds or so he turned to me, and without breaking breath said ‘the showers not working mate.’ I replied ‘oh, OK’ and began to walk off to look for another shower, but he called me back, and looked me squarely in the eye and said ‘well aren’t you going to fix it then?’
It looked at him and replied ‘why would I do that?’ to which he retorted ‘because you work here’ (now I understood how the aborigines are treated). ‘What gives you that idea MATE?’ which was meet with a wall of silence. He obviously had realised his mistake but did not apologise (a lot of people the world over believe apologising is a sign of weakness. Strange idea. If you are wrong, apologise. This is how I was raised) he just started walking towards his group of ‘white Australians’. I however, calmly walked to the pool and joined my group, who were asking me where I had been, as they were waiting for me. He looked over, and knew by then that he had screwed up big time. I actually felt quite pleased with myself because I had not lost my cool, or became abusive, complained to the management or anything else. His uncomfortable feeling for the remainder of the time was apparent. I just stood my ground and indicated that he had made a mistake, in not so many words, and left it at that.
After leaving Australia, and going on to New Zealand, I flew to South America, where I spent 5 months travelling around the region, joined by my girlfriend at the time (who is white).We visited 6 countries, the 2nd to last being Bolivia, and La Paz, the famous capital known for its altitude (it is one of the highest cities in the world, and you get breathless just walking around). We stayed at a really nice hostel in the centre of the city with, again, lost of different nationalities staying there. We made friends with many people, did lots of things. There were communal showers/bathrooms and a kitchen. One evening my girlfriend, was in the kitchen cooking for us (we did take turns cooking). Our room was on the 1st floor, which overlooked the foyer and breakfast/lounge area. I was on my was down to the kitchen to help my girlfriend and talk to some of the people we were with. As I got to the bottom of the stairs and walked past one of the toilets, I heard someone calling to someone, but not by name. I looked around to see what was happening and a girl (white and blonde) , with an Australian accent (why again???) said, quite clearly to me, ‘the toilets broken’ My reply “yes, and?’ ‘Well I want you to fix it’ (I was thinking by then, maybe when I return to England I am going to open my own plumbing business, even though I do not know the 1st thing about plumbing). I immediately thought of the previous situation and said, ‘but I do not work here. Why would you think that I do? Is it because I am black? There are many other nationalities here, why choose me?’ This time there was no obvious embarrassment on her part (certainly none on mine, although I was slightly annoyed inside, I tried not let her see this). she just looked at me and said “Oh”, and went off to look for another dark skin person I guess.
What really surprised me, on the one hand, and did not on the other, was that in both incidents they were young white Australians. I had Aussie friends in England, and worked with some great people, who seemed to be more racially aware than their older counterparts (see picture of ‘Aussie blokes’ above). I did experience another episode of racism during my 5 weeks in Australia, when I was sat next to 2 Spanish guys in a bar and I tried to strike up a conversation. Even though they spoke English, I had the distinct impression that they did not want to speak to me for the obvious reasons, but they were Spanish, who are known to have these traits (not all, but a few). But as for Australians, there was no overall feeling that it was a general thing. Maybe I was just unlucky, or maybe (which is my belief), we still have a long way to go to get to the finishing line.
The remarkable thing about this story was that I travelled extensively and visited 17 countries on my single journey, and overall I found that people of colour are more tolerant of other nationalities (with dark skin), in general than white people. To only have encountered 2 single incidents in 1 year does speak volumes for the changes in society. I don’t believe that this figure will ever be zero, but I live in hope.
It is now 2019, and with ‘Trump-ism’, The Wall, the Islam issue in Europe, and the rise in nationalism, I hope that these things do not push us back from the ongoing progress which has been made.