Of Cabbages and Kings

October 12, 2008

The faces of racism

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , — Chinmayi @ 6:05 pm

can be any colour, size or shape. 

A brown girl looks up from the kebabs she is devouring in my kitchen and tells me that I should avoid all “black” men. She narrates how she (amidst a large group) passed a “black” man on an empty street late at night and was very relieved to note that the law enforcement authorities were doing their duty by aggressively interrogating and harassing the “black” man. That’ll teach them not to loiter, said the girl smugly. I was concerned – I pointed out that the man may well have been taking an innocent stroll like she was. But she wouldn’t have it – they  are always up to something and you should watch them carefully, she said.

Today, I went to visit a friend at Grosvenor House. Pudding clutched in one hand, the other hand balancing a mobile phone against my ear, I rang my friend so that she could come down and let me in. The door buzzed open. I waited because I knew that the Halls of Residence are not supposed to allow guests in unless residents come to claim responsibility for them. As I was waiting for my friend to answer the phone, a man opened the door and looked at me expectantly. I walked in and I thanked him. Immediately after, my friend picked up the phone. After my conversation, I looked up and noticed that a(nother) man behind the counter at the reception desk seemed to be addressing me a little aggressively. He announced that they (presumably employees of Grosvenor House) were not waiters and that I had to open the door myself in this country. He said it slowly, and several times, like people do in movies when they are addressing tribals on a newly discovered island. This may have been forgivable under other circumstances, but I look like a student and I was visiting a postgraduate London School of Economics residence – I do not think that no-speak-english-foreigner was really the most obvious inference to be made in that particular situation.

He repeated his concluding remark (“Do you understand?”) loudly and several times as if in addition to lacking basic comprehension of the language, I was also an idiot. I was tempted to inform him that while I was aware that waiting on people was not traditional England (or at least not London colleges) , I was under the impression that chivalry certainly was customary. My friend arrived while I was still reeling from the experience and so I said nothing. I wonder if it was the right thing to do.

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