I was on the London Underground last week when a woman got on at Archway station. She walked through the carriage, placing packets of tissues on the seats between passengers, with a note that read: “I’m a homeless mother of two children and need to support myself.”
My reactions were, in the following order:
1) You’re probably Romanian.
2) You probably stole those tissues.
3) You probably don’t have children.
4) If I wanted tissues, I’d go to Boots.Congratulation, you’ve matched the internal thought processes of most regular commuters who are plagued by these pests (though thankfully, it’s an Underground issue rather than an Overground issue, in the main).
My first reaction was: "My god. Am I racist?"Well, no. You’re just observant. But despite that, it seems, you’re exactly the sort of guilt-trippable sucker that con-artists (like this one) rely on.
But to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never uttered a racist remark in my life. Perish the thought. However, later that day, as I blew my nose on a silky Kleenex (50p is a bargain to avoid an awkward silence), I thought of the times my mouth would have disowned my mind if it knew what it was thinking.You paid her. Thus encouraging her.
Well done, you…
According to a recent British Social Attitudes Survey, one in three of us admits to being racist on some level. It’s fair to assume my tissue issues place me squarely in that shameful third.*sighs*
My train shame throws into focus where the battle lines against bigotryare really drawn. Certainly not against the “boo hiss!” goons of the BNP. Those pantomime baddies are a clear and present danger. Far more worrying is the unspoken prejudice that informs our interactions with each other. Those daily knee-jerk thoughts that make us judge others, without questioning ourselves for thinking them.But wait, isn’t this a …
Well, what do you know!
Judging people is a vital survival skill taught to children.Hurrah!
But the gap between judgment and prejudice can be treacherous to navigate. Britain in 2014 is a tolerant place to be. But the Social Attitudes Survey should serve as a wake-up call to us all. Latent, if not blatant, prejudice bubbles beneath the surface of modern Britain.
If we remain blind to our worst instincts and their consequences, we lose the battle at precisely the point where it needs to be won. The next step is to change our thinking long before the words start spilling out our mouths.You change your thinking if you want to. I'll go on thinking as I do. That way, I'll save 50p.