Posts Tagged ‘Clare’

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racism in a modern age.

June 20, 2010

I just got home from my nan’s.  For the second part of my journey, I took the number 6 from town to Kingswood, and while I was on the bus, a group of Somali women were having a conversation.  Suddenly, an English woman (I’m guessing about 55 years old; she was certainly older than my mother, who is 50) turns around and yells at them “Would you please shut up?!?!” After everyone looks up, shocked, she continues her diatribe: “Natter natter (with hand gesture), shut the fuck up or get off the bus.”  The women began to protest, but the woman just got angrier and nastier, and the Somali women ended up getting off the bus at that stop.  The English woman yelled after them “Fucking go home to your own country!” After a beat of shocked silence from all the passengers, the driver (who was mixed race himself) got up and challenged the woman.  “They are allowed to chat if they want, everyone here is just trying to get home, there is no reason to disrupt anyone else’s journey or otherwise YOU will have to get off the bus.” At this point, the woman went to get off the bus, and the bus driver said “Ma’am, you can take your seat, but please respect other customers because we all paid to use this bus, and please enjoy your journey.”  The woman sat back down, but then got off at the next stop (I wonder if she was not too bothered about getting off the bus if she was only getting off at the next stop anyway?), and the rest of the bus breathed a sigh of relief.

I was shocked that in 2010, such blatant racism still exists.  Well, I am shocked and I am not; I’m not naive and I know very well that racism is very much alive and well, but I was shocked to be present at such an outrageous and blatant display of it.  I was tempted to say something myself, but at the same time it was not my place to get involved; these women are old enough and strong enough to defend themselves, and quite rightly the driver made a stand for his bus and for the passengers on it; he is running the service, not me or any of the other passengers.  I wonder however, if the driver had not said anything, whether I would have been brave enough to say something? Plenty of things sprang to my mind; to challenge her and say that if her problem was with the volume at which these women were speaking, then instead of yelling at them and thus making herself a hypocrite, she should just ask them politely if they could talk more quietly.  If this wasn’t the case, it would have exposed her own racism without saying any more (racism she already exposed with her parting comment to them as they got off the bus).  I felt like saying that if her problem was with the fact that these women were not English (I know this woman was English just by coincidence, as I saw her loudly supporting England at Rewind when I was out watching the game with my friends from uni on Friday night – she had memorable cuts and grazes on her elbow that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the same woman), then should I get off the bus too as I am half-Italian, and I would not be here if my family had not come from another country to live here?  Until she knows the story of these Somali woman, who is she to judge whether they have (on a journey which they paid for, just like the rest of the passengers) less of a right to be on the bus and talk on the bus than her?  If I were speaking to my friends in Spanish, French or Italian, would I be less entitled to talk on the bus than if I were speaking in English? Does the fact that my skin barely looks any different to an English person’s (I am a tiny tiny bit more tanned, but it’s negligible) mean that I am not as mixed-race, or as ethnically diverse, as someone with a different skin colour? Am I entitled to the same rights as an English person simply because I speak native English, have an English surname and my skin is light; in return for these rights do I have to sacrifice my own ethnic background in the process just to fit in?

When I lived in Spain, if someone had spoken to me in that way because I was speaking English on the phone or to my family, I would have been utterly outraged.  Are we literally rewinding back to the story of Rosa Parks on the bus in the USA, before Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement? It felt like it.  Another thing I wanted to point out was that, as a result of my colleague Clare’s presentation on breaking down cultural barriers in guidance, I know that Bristol is considered a popular (if that is the right word) destination for asylum seekers and refugees coming from all over the world, because it is considered a racially-tolerant city in England. This is my hometown, my city, and I am proud of that fact.  By demonstrating such a racially-intolerant attitude, this woman is not only giving a bad example of herself, but of Bristol as a city and of England as a country; in actual fact, she is making herself look stupid and only propagating bad feeling for foreign people, whatever their reason or length of stay in England, which in turn only reinforces cultural barriers rather than breaking them down.  We’re in 2010; this should never have been happening, but it should certainly not be happening in this day and age.  And so I felt that if I didn’t speak up on the bus at the time (and it turned out that it wasn’t my place, nor did I have to – quite rightly, the driver did so), the least I could do was recount the event on here and spread more awareness that these attitudes still exist in our country and are very much alive in everyday life and situations.  This needs to change, and this entry is my little contribution; in my forthcoming job as a Personal Tutor at Cirencester College, one of the things I may well have to do in both interviews and group sessions is work on challenging racial stereotypes and breaking down cultural barriers and misconceptions.

Funnily enough, only earlier my nan and I were discussing the nature of football fans (topical considering that it is currently the World Cup).  English fans, deservedly or undeservedly, have a reputation for being violent, thuggish and neanderthal-like throughout Europe and possibly worldwide.  At the bar on Friday night, there was a fair amount of brainless chanting, stomping and cursing; but then, England did play poorly and I suppose that if so many people are passionate about this, it amasses a certain amount of volume.  I personally don’t like that kind of behaviour, but in itself it’s not racist; it’s only when it either causes damage or turns nasty against other ethnicities, races or against people of other countries that it’s inexcusable.  Nevertheless, I believe in conducting myself in a dignified way at all times whenever and wherever possible; by living up to hooligan stereotypes, England fans only propagate this image of themselves nationally and internationally; it’s not vogue and it doesn’t do the country or the sport any favours.  What’s more, my nan made a very good point that why do many England fans only support England during the football; if they really liked football, why do they not watch or show any interest in the matches involving other countries? Is it about the sport, or is it about the country? If it is about the country, why act so intimidating when watching the football (as opposed to other sports)? Surely this only sends out the wrong kind of message, a bad example to everyone – that this is how England fans behave, and that this country accepts that behaviour as tolerable and normal for football fans towards each other, and towards other people both from this country and from outside it?  I know that there are plenty of people who support England in the World Cup who don’t act this way – a lot of my friends fall under this category – and if I were them I would be somewhat embarrassed and angry that this reputation precedes me.  Everyone is entitled to behave in their own way, but I really wish we considered the feelings and cultures of others more than we do.

A final anecdote, in case I sound holier than thou – I’m not perfect.  When I was 12 years old, I once used a racial slur – I am ashamed to say.  Even more stupidly, it was towards a friend of mine whom I had known for 7 or 8 years by that time; he was acting in a very irritating way during a DT lesson, and out of sheer frustration and for pure shock value, I told him to “shut up you Paki”. Now, I am not racist nor have I ever been – so why portray myself in that way? Even though I was a child, I knew better before and after that event, and yet I did it. It had the desired effect, but I belittled myself by doing it, and my friend (to his credit) handled it very classily by laughing and saying in response to my immediate apology: “Um, no offence taken because I am Indian so that’s not what I am”.  His response made me feel all the more ashamed because not only had I attempted to use a racist expression in order to shut him up, I had used it in an incorrect context; it showed up my foolish behaviour for what it was.  Our friendship did not suffer for it; in fact I believe that the event was all but forgotten by breaktime, but it taught me a valuable lesson: that kind of behaviour is never acceptable, never appropriate, and never necessary.  I apologised profusely and he forgave me, but even recalling that incident makes me feel ashamed 12 years on; I was old enough to know better, and the lessons I learned as a result of that event are the redeeming factor; I have never thought or acted in that way since, and I am now in a position of responsibility to challenge others who do so. During a practice day, I successfully challenged one young person’s attitude to immigrants and the labour market; during my job at Cirencester, I anticipate doing this kind of thing more.  In this blog entry, I have also tried to challenge this behaviour.  Thankyou for reading.

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dream / nightmare – smurf exercise class.

February 26, 2010

I just woke up, and although I have work in a bit (I need to be dressed, teeth brushed and on the bus stop in 45 minutes, ideally), I just had to blog this dream, it’s made me feel really strange.  What’s worse is that it’s the closest thing I’ve had to a nightmare, and you will all probably think it is the most hilarious dream out of all of those that I’ve blogged.  Yet it’s left me with a really uneasy feeling… :S

I was the same age as I am now, but it was like we were back at school, and we were all in changing rooms getting changed back into our clothes after what was ostensibly a swimming lesson.   I was keeping myself to myself, but in the same changing room there was a group of 3 or 4 guys from my year group at school, one of whom was R whom I used to have a massive crush on back in the day.  Anyways, it was meant to be his birthday, and he was having some sort of party, and they were talking (the group of guys were all twats, essentially) and discussing how much they were going to drink, what they were going to do, who they were going to try and sleep with etc. I kept my head down and tried to get changed, but for some reason they were looking at me and asking why I was getting dressed so slowly, did I like being naked with them, I had no chance of anything happening, I should hurry up because I was keeping them all waiting.  I was getting changed as quickly as I could, but when I looked up, they were all dressed and suddenly a teacher came in and informed us that if we didn’t hurry up, the last 6 people might not be able to fit on the bus as there was limited space.

After that, I remember some sort of classroom game, but only vaguely.  What happened next was that my school colleagues appeared to vanish, and were swiftly replaced by the people on my careers guidance course at uni.  Our tutor, Mary, came out and split us into our two practice groups (which is how we’re split up for quite a few of the activities on the course) and told us to go outside, where we’d receive details of the task we would have to prepare.  We all crowded outside, a lot of people were chattering excitedly but I was feeling somewhat melancholy after my earlier experience, so I was still quiet.  Outside it was a replica of my patio at home, but a lot larger in order to be able to fit 23 people sitting around the edge.  Mary stood in the middle and told us that one member from each group had to be a Smurf and entertain a group of youngsters while also doing some sort of exercise instruction class.  I was immediately horrified, while several members of the group laughed.  Then Mary announced that she had chosen one person from each of the two groups to perform this task, while everyone else was going to role-play being the children and watch in the audience.  I don’t remember who she chose from the other group, but from my group she chose me.

I was mortified, and I sat still as the group became more excitable.  I wandered around the outside of the patio trying to evade the task, but the group of my friends started heckling me and told me to be a good sport and have a go.  I was so uncomfortable, I didn’t want to dress as a Smurf, and I didn’t want to expose my body. I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me. Plus, it was also a ridiculously stupid activity, and would be of no value to the kids, and I don’t know why Mary would have selected people (let alone me) as normally she would let us come to a democratic decision. So this made me feel pretty upset, and as I stood in front of the group of my friends, I had to fight back tears, and I started to dance awkwardly before abruptly stopping and pleading with someone to swap with me.  Mike got up and stood next to me and put his arm round me and told me it was going to be alright, that it was just a bit of fun and not to take things so personally.  I felt a little better for that, but I still really didn’t want to be a Smurf. I asked if someone would please swap with me, but the group was too busy talking and laughing, or watching the other group’s Smurf, to really pay attention.  Finally, my friends started paying attention to me, and I repeated the idea of swapping out of being a Smurf, since I didn’t feel up to it. My friends started going “aww” and “it’s only fun!”, but then I realised that Mike was volunteering to swap with me.  I was not happy about this, because I would have liked to sit and gossip with Mike (as we usually do), but since he was the volunteer essentially saving me from a fate of wearing a nappy and being giant and blue, I let him take over and sat in the corner.  Immediately, Clare put her arm around me and told me not to worry and just to relax and enjoy myself, but I felt somewhat disappointed in myself that I didn’t have the strength to perform a task I had been chosen for.  I looked up and was again horrified by what I saw: Although Mike’s face was normal, he was now stripped to his underwear, grinding while my group were all heckling, laughing, whooping, trying to reach out and touch his body which was ridiculously thin, muscled and tanned to a deep bronze like that of a body builder (but slim) – in reality, I have not seen Mike naked but I am quite confident his body is not like this! I was horrified and as Clare and some of the women in the group started to grope his underwear (which seemingly fell away), I began to cry with embarrassment that I had been chosen for such a task, that I couldn’t do it, that Mike had had to save me and yet was enjoying being naked and playing the clown in front of the group (which I thought was utterly humiliating and sorta disgustingly prurient), and then I woke up.

Very bizarre. 😦

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sexy fresh.

January 17, 2010

This weekend I haven’t felt particularly sexy or fresh, considering I have a cough like a foghorn and a proper stinking cold (as we say in England).  Yesterday I bought some new jeans from Topman, which are slim fit 32″ light grey.  Before Christmas (in anticipation of the sales) I had been appraising my wardrobe and working out what items I needed, considering I’ve lost a fair amount of weight since starting uni and a lot of my clothes are no longer fitted enough for my liking.  In view of my weight loss, I can’t believe I was ever big enough (read: heifer) to fit into my old clothes.  The problem which is slightly worrying, is that my old clothes were often no bigger than a Medium.  Now I’m a Small, I’ve got a slimmer waist (which still requires toning) and I feel a lot better about myself.  Ironically, swapping my gym membership for an increase in cigarettes and a closer monitoring of my evening snacking post-dinner (and reduction of it) has worked wonders for my frame and for my self-esteem.  But I do question my body image.  Is what we see in the mirror really ever accurate?  How do we know what to trust?

As one of my role models is Mariah Carey, so I can empathise with her desire to flaunt her body.  As a guy, I did this in a slightly different way, but after some really bad fallout from a broken friendship at school, at age 14 over the summer I shed a ridiculous amount of weight due to funnelling my anger through situps.  Suddenly, all my clothes fell off, instead of baggy t-shirts and jeans to hide my figure, I discovered fitted clothes, ways to expose a little bit of skin and just daring to dress more provocatively and wearing clothes and jewellery that my peers hadn’t thought of wearing.  In retrospect, it was perhaps a cry for attention, but I don’t think the emphasis was on “LOOK at me!”; it was more like “Look at me NOW!” For the first time in my life, I felt attractive, and I felt like a normal teenager like those I saw on television, like those who did lots of sports around me and appeared to have no body image hangups.  Between the age of 15 and 23, my weight fluctuated somewhat (again like Mariah 😉 ), but I never allowed myself to get out of proportion or feel “fat” as I had done throughout my childhood.  I learned how to dress and experimented with fashion during my time at university, and now I really like my sense of style, and having shed a lot of weight again, I feel attractive enough to wear whatever I want.

More or less.  I mentioned the grey jeans that I bought from Topman.  They look fine on, but the slim fit needs a slight bit of stretching before I can wear them in public without suffering from whatever the male equivalent of camel-toe is (TMI I know! but I’m getting there more or less, just another day’s wear I think), and pale colours make my legs look elephantine. Except I know that in reality, my legs don’t look massive.  Depending on the mirror I’m looking in, I see a completely different version of myself compared to the one I see looking down at myself.  What do I trust?  I know that my clothes sizes are shrinking down and down, and I can’t ever believe that I used to wear Large sizes, and even Medium sizes are baggy on me – yet I don’t see myself as Small or slim.  I know it must be true, because all the evidence tells me so.  But looking in the mirror, I still see a flabby stomach, a waist and chest which needs toning, situps and pressups (ceasing the gym hasn’t meant ceasing all exercise – I still try and keep fit in my own way), and all the imperfections that were there no matter what size I was.  I don’t know if I’m suffering from body dysmorphia, but sometimes I don’t see myself any differently to how I looked 1, 2, 5 years ago in terms of my body. I do feel better about myself, but that’s mainly from the sizes of clothing I’m buying, people’s nice comments and flattering compliments, and other positive things which have been happening in my life.  Buying a new wardrobe is a lot of fun, and I don’t aspire to go down another jeans size – I’m 6′ tall and anything less than a 32″ waist would look too skinny on me.  Except how would I know?  I can’t trust what I see, I just have to make my best guess.

I don’t know how to explain it any better, so I’ll say this: Before Christmas last year, me and a few of the guys from our careers guidance course ended up going for lunch together in Chipping Sodbury.  Because there was about 13 of us, there initially weren’t enough chairs around the table where we were all sitting, and I’d been upstairs watching Pete & Simon play pool. I came back, and there was a space next to Clare who was sitting on a bay window seat.  I asked if I could squeeze in next to her, and she looked at the space and said “Yeah, you’re only little!” We made a joke along the lines of “how rude!” but I don’t think I’ll ever forget her saying that, even though it was a throwaway comment which wasn’t supposed to mean anything.  I’ve never thought of myself, I’ve never felt “little” in my entire life.  She must see me in a different way to how I see myself.  Lately, people are falling over themselves to tell me how attractive I am, how I’m pretty, how I am sexier than them (even when giving an impromptu presentation at university, which is honestly not when I am trying my utmost to radiate sex appeal).  It’s bizarre, and it’s welcome and flattering because these are compliments and the validation that I’ve been aiming for my whole life (I know that I shouldn’t need it, and I don’t always, but other people’s validation feels awful nice).  I’ve never really felt attractive or sexy before, and now I do. Or at least, I’m closer to that now than I have ever been before.  But it also seems to have come at a price, and I wish that I could look at myself objectively and see what other people seem to see.  Because otherwise, will I truly know when to stop?  I feel that now is probably the time, but I know what improvements I still want to make and I just hope that I don’t go a step too far and mess it all up.  At 24, my looks haven’t come easy, and I don’t want to lose them before I can learn to appreciate them.

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power couples.

November 17, 2009

Looking at the current music industry, I find it interesting how a lot of the biggest stars have attached themselves to one another.  Beyoncé and Jay-Z are considered the golden couple of R&B / hip-hop, and although they are both megastars and extremely talented in their own right (and have lots of independent ventures, and carved out their own careers independently before getting together), it’s the fact that they are together which makes them seem almost invincible.  When you listen to some of Beyoncé’s love songs, you can imagine her singing about Jay-Z; when she has a song like “Diva” which exudes confidence in a hip-hop style, you assume that Jay-Z had something to do with that attitude.  Even if it’s not the case.  Likewise, on Robin Thicke’s new song “Meiplé”, Jay-Z raps about Beyoncé being the “black Brigitte Bardot”.

Running with the Beyoncé example, she teams up with artists such as Shakira and Lady Gaga (whoever’s hot, basically) to cement her status as one of music’s elite.  Just like Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, or Timbaland and Nelly Furtado.  Relationships-wise, remember the furore over Britney Spears and Justin back in the day?  Their relationship elevated them to supernova-level megastardom, and was a massive element in their fame and success.  Interestingly, when they broke up, things just weren’t the same.  I think as members of the public, we like a couple who are balanced musically and seem to fit each other personally – it seems like fairytales can happen.  And when they self-destruct and we’re forced to admit that the fairytale was something created by the public and the media that the celebrities could never live up to, it’s just not the same.  I’m sure that there are some people who would attribute Britney’s entire marriage to Kevin Federline and her subsequent meltdown to the fact that her and Justin broke up, regardless of the reasons behind that breakup or the other factors in Britney’s life that added to her downward spiral (and subsequent resurgence).  I think that the same is happening with Rihanna and Chris Brown at the moment – however good their music / dancing / fashion might be, the fact that they were part of a couple – however much they would deny it to the paparazzi – made them seem that little bit more gilded in superstardom.  Now that they’ve split up, regardless of who beat who, they’re both experiencing some backlash (despite the fact that in both cases, their new material is certainly up to par, if not better, than their previous work).  What’s up with that?

I was thinking about this not because I ruminate daily on Beyoncé and Rihanna’s love lives, but because the same kind of thing has happened at uni.  Consciously or not, several of us within our course have paired off – not in a romantic sense, but just attached ourselves to one best friend.  There’s Pete and Emma, Penny and Daisy, Julie and Clare, among others – and of course me and Mike.  Talking about Mike and me, we’re the unofficial ‘leaders’ of our group – everyone seems to look to us whenever we speak in class, whenever someone needs to volunteer to do something in the group, organising social events.  I dread to think what would have happened if one of us didn’t smoke – we wouldn’t have had the chance to gel so instantly (on the first morning, Mike came up to me and said “Do you smoke?” “Yes.” “I thought it was you outside.  THANK GOD.  I smoke too!” and that was it!).  But I still think that because of the people we are, we would have found each other before too long.  It’s interesting how we seem to attract others around us, be they members of the aforementioned pairs, or others.  At first, there was a pair of the two youngest girls, Jenny and Sian, but as time’s gone on, Jenny has started to explore life on the dark side (i.e. she’s hanging out with me, Mike and Vikki) and loosened up to have some fun.  There’s a sense of charisma and magnetism that pairs who get on well exude without even much effort.  I wonder if those in our group who don’t come out for social drinks, who turn up to uni alone and go home alone, are enjoying it quite as much?  I know that the point of the course is not to have fun and socialise, but I like to work hard and play hard, and I think it’s a good balance for getting the most from this experience.

The funny thing was one night recently when Mike couldn’t come out.  I was still the social ringleader, but I did have a couple of comments such as “So what is Mike doing tonight?”  “How is Mike?” “You won’t smoke as much tonight since your smoking partner isn’t here.”  Me and Mike texted during the evening (he was sad he couldn’t be there, I was updating him on the scandal and gossip as the night progressed), but I thought it was interesting how people still kinda saw me as the ringleader, but thought that he and me were inseparable to the point of knowing each other’s business inside out.  I told Mike about it on Sunday when I saw him, and we laughed at the fact people seem to have the conception that we cannot exist without one another (I’ve heard one person say “Mike loves you, he follows you everywhere!” when I don’t see it as following, I just see it as a natural gravitation towards one another) – last time I checked, I managed 23.8 years of my life without Mike, and he managed even more without me.

Once you become a part of a “power couple” in whatever sense, does that make you inferior when you act on your own?  As much as I enjoy being part of the “Mike & I” leadership party, I’m still my own person.  Me and Mike have a lot in common, but we’re different in a lot of ways too, and I don’t need him to function.  And vice versa!  I think that having a companion or partner in crime makes you feel stronger, bolder and more confident, but it doesn’t mean that without the other person, you’re nothing.  I wonder what Jay-Z thinks about his position in hip-hop’s elite, and whether this position would be compromised were he to divorce Beyoncé tomorrow.  Sometimes a friendship or relationship brings along with it a certain amount of social bank or clout, but that’s not the sole reason why we should be friends with anyone – we just gel with people and connect from there.  Because at the end of the day, people may see a certain facet of us in the public eye – whether we’re celebrities or just day-to-day people – but behind closed doors or in the privacy of our own relationship, we have that connection for reasons people don’t understand unless they’re willing to plumb the depths below the surface.