Archives For racism

England’s Shame

July 12, 2021 — 8 Comments

For shame England…. no, no, no, not the England football team who played their hearts out yesterday at Wembley in the Euro2021 final against Italy, and certainly not for the three gutsy young men who tried for penalties. No the shame lies firmly in the racist yobos who, undoubtedly, could not hit a barn door let alone bear the pressure of attempting to score a penalty against a giant of man, in front of a nation holding its collective breath.

Those screaming abuse both in person and on social media are quite likely of a similar ilk to those who forced their drunken way into Wembley stadium without tickets. By all accounts they stole seats from those who had paid, and hurled abuse at anyone who stood in their way. They couldn’t have cared less that their ignorant and shameful behaviour was witnessed not just by those who waited with bated breath for England to win after fifty-five years; they couldn’t have cared less that children saw and heard their foul language; they couldn’t have cared less that the world now looks on them and, by association, England as a bigoted and racist country.

Jadon Malik Sancho is twenty-one. Born in Camberwell, London to parents from Trinidad and Tobago – a Crown colony until 1962 – Sancho is considered one of the world’s best young players, a player of technical skill and creativity.

Bukayo Ayoyinka Saka is nineteen. Born in Ealing, London to parents from Nigeria – a Crown colony until 1960 – Saka plays for Arsenal and became the first player born in the 21st century to play in a Premier League match.

Marcus Rashford MBE is twenty-three. Born in Manchester and whose grandmother came from St Kitts – a Crown colony until 1983. Not only is Rashford a superb footballer but he has used his platform to campaign for those who are homeless, against child hunger and to encourage literacy. His activism and philanthropy was recognised by Her Majesty who made him a Member of the British Empire.

I wonder how many of those screaming racial slurs at these young men have done anything for anyone. Perhaps a reminder for these louts that, along with their grandfathers and great grandfathers who most likely were called to arms during the second world war, so too were men from Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, and St Kitts and Nevis.

45,000 Nigerian soldiers served in the 81st and 82nd West African Division of the British Armed Forces, mainly in Africa and Asia, and whose country was used a staging post for campaigns in North Africa. 

Men from the Caribbean had been recruited, or volunteered, for the British West India Regiments of the British Army from 1795 until 1962 when newly independent federations and countries formed their own defense forces. 

Following the outbreak of World War I many from the Caribbean Crown colonies answered the call for volunteers. Initially the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) served in support roles, however, as it became clear more men were needed in fighting battalions, the volunteers served in Europe, North Africa and Palestine. After the successful campaign to clear enemy posts close to the British line in Palestine and which involved advancing across three miles of open land under heavy fire, the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion BWIR, Major General Sir Edward Chaytor, wrote, ‘Outside my own division there are no troops I would sooner have with me than the BWIs who have won the highest opinions of all who have been with them during our operations here’.” 

The BWIR was disbanded in 1927 but during World War II nearly 10,000 British West Indians volunteered in the British Army, and in April 1944 the Caribbean Regiment was formed from 1,200 volunteers who served mainly in the Middle East and Italy. 

These three young British men, Saka, Rashford and Sancho should hold their heads high for their heritage is as proud and strong as they are. They must not let the benighted ravings of those only able to dribble beer and abuse to sully their extraordinary efforts both off and on the field of football.

And if Saka, Rashford and Sancho are in any doubt, they should remember those immortal words penned by Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers for the musical Carousel, now more famously associated with another football club, Liverpool, and which today is relevant for the whole England team.

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

Or your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on! Walk on! With hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

Where is that hope?

August 20, 2017 — 2 Comments

Work brought us to America in 1997. The suggestion had been presented a number of times in the previous years, but we had demurred. Not because we did not want to relocate – I had by that time lived in ten countries and my husband in six.

A panoply of color and creeds surrounded me and I did not know what segregation was, though at a fundamental level I knew I was privileged. My classmates were Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, animists.

My husband had been traveling to the US for many years but it was not a country I had ever wanted to visit, let alone live. Stories of inherent racism permeated the international arena, in some ways more offensive even than South Africa’s apartheid, because America was meant to be the brave new world where all men are born equal.

But years pass, times change and hope is always present.

We came to America with excitement tinged naturally with trepidation. Houston was to be our city. We chose our neighborhood based on schools and proximity to work but had not taken into account the politics and color of the area and had, unwittingly, chosen a white Republican enclave.

It did not take long to realize I was not considered to be in the middle of the political spectrum – a line I had straddled comfortably for years. I had in a few short weeks become a staunch Democrat. But it’s a big and beautiful country and we came to love it, flaws and all. Our Green Cards arrived as we relocated to Equatorial Guinea in West Africa where we lived for nearly three years.

On our return to the US we decided to stay put for the requisite five years so we could gain citizenship. I was able to write “The President lives in the White House” in order to pass my English test. We had our date to swear allegiance to the flag.

We had filled in the forms, waited our time, paid our money to get to this point – there had never been any real concern that we would not be granted citizenship. Gazing around the packed tiers of the sports arena of a high school in north Houston I was humbled. People of all nationalities were waiting, and a great many of them had sweated and cried to be in that courtroom-for-a-day.

We were all becoming American. We were signing up, as Paul Krugman wrote in a recent New York Times op ed piece, to become part of a “multiracial, multicultural land of great metropolitan areas as well as small towns”.

But here’s the thing, before we got to that point on April 19th, 2010, we, all of us in that auditorium waiting to raise our right hands and pledge the Oath of Allegiance, had to swear we had never been, nor would become, affiliated to any organization that might harm the United States.

Us new Americans promised old Americans to abide by the laws, to live up to the ideals of equality and basic human rights, to respect the values of decent people irrespective of their color, where their ancestors or they came from, or their religious affiliations. And with the exception of handfuls, I believe most of us live by that credo.

But what about those born American? The flag might be raised in school yards and the Pledge of Allegiance sworn in rote each morning but what about the disengaged men and women who have forgotten, or reinterpreted, those words? What about those who spew hatred at anyone who does not believe white is might?

I find myself, as a relatively new and proud American, thrown back to the those days of reluctance. Those days of not wanting to live in a country where the color of skin, or what is worn on the head – whether it’s a hijab or a turban or a yarmulke – labels people in the eyes of the ignorant and angry as unAmerican.

And I find myself sad and despairing at the arrogance and nepotism emanating from that great White House. The days before rage and intolerance flew from vitriolic tweets, the days before innocent people on the street were mown down by bigotry and fanaticism.

Where is that hope? Where are those heady days of proud to be American, old or new?

At the End of the Day

April 23, 2017 — 2 Comments

Clouds drifted through the sinking rays shimmering through palm fronds and across the bay. A magical end to an interesting day. I was sitting at the corner of a long bar at a pink hotel, my elbows resting on the brass rail held to the counter by ornate elephant heads. It was crowded and from the murmur around me I gleaned a plane load of tourists had recently arrived.

We like visitors on St Croix. Mostly. If they enjoy and respect this beguiling island which has so much to offer. We like them to help prop up the economy. Buy rum. Buy the famous hook bracelet, or the many variations thereof. Revel in the ever-changing colours of the sea as it filters through aquamarine, turquoise, lapis lazuli and occasionally grey when a storm scurries in from Africa. Hike the rain forest or down to the tide pools. Ride the beaches. Immerse themselves in the history of what was the Danish West Indies a hundred years ago.

People are friendly here. No conversation starts without a good morning, a good afternoon, and once the sun goes down – even if it has only just dipped – a good night.
And that was why I was so surprised. I have sat at many bars around the world. When traveling alone it is by far the most interesting place for conversations and the barman, if experienced, keeps an eye out for his solo female patrons.

It was busy but barmen are used to that. If they are good they acknowledge the person waiting – it is the polite thing to do and defuses any possible irritation. Not a nod came my way. I continued to wait and watched, piqued, the two white men dance around each other like mating praying mantis. Arms reaching and cocktails shaking. I listened to the patter of one, an aging Lothario, as he placed a chocolatey concoction in front of an older woman – a grandmother sitting with her granddaughters.

“A Bushwhacker, dear. It’s an adult MacDonald’s shake!”

His manner was unctuous and I expected him to wring his hands any moment, Uriah Heep style. Friends know how much I loathe being called ‘dear’ by anyone, particularly in a restaurant or bar, and even more so by those much younger. Familiarity really does breed contempt for me, though it did not appear to irk the customer. Fortunately I was served by the other barman, harried and not being particularly helped by his older cohort, he did apologise for the delay and promptly poured my wine.

My acquaintances arrived – we met at the VI Literary Festival and I had agreed to join them for a sundowner at their hotel. To some we may have appeared a motley crew: a white woman with an English accent – me; an African American writer from the mainland with numerous books and accolades to her name; a black man from Antigua known throughout the Caribbean for his calypsos; and a swarthy, though attractive, young man originally from Leamington Spa, England but sounding American, and who is a respected editor and publisher from New York.

I turned my barstool as more drinks were ordered and we formed a tight group. Banter and laughter were interrupted as a hotel guest, a white man of retirement age, pushed past us. With not a word of apology to our young companion whose rum he split, not once but twice, the tourist leant against me and signaled the barman.

Edging away, and about to admonish this rudeness, I caught the eye of my Middle Eastern-looking companion with an Arabic name, who shook his head. I learnt later that there had been a similar incident with the same man at the breakfast bar that morning, where words had been exchanged. I also learnt this erudite professional was regularly hauled out of lines and subjected to unpleasant grillings in airless little rooms at airports around the world.

The jostling of an ignorant man led to a discussion about the assumptions we all make. My writer acquaintance, invited to St Croix to be a speaker by the VI Literary Festival, commented on the whiteness of the pink establishment in which she was a guest. The Antiguan shrugged it off with a flashing, toothy laugh and the words, “Tourists are like that everywhere.” Perhaps lyrics will be borne from our conversation.

I wonder, as I sit at my desk and these new friends fly back to their homes, what sort of impression they have of this island I love. I hope it is positive because the pink hotel and its guests, were not a good indication of the friendliness of St Croix.

And I wonder why some people travel if they are unable to be polite and pleasant to fellow travellers, and I can only presume their hosts. But, at the end of the day, maybe I’m the one now making assumptions.