Posts Tagged ‘silence’

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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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creepin’.

January 21, 2010

So I’ve been seeing T for two and a half weeks now, and I’m slowly starting to get over my apparent fear of being with someone and letting someone in.  I had some fantastic advice from a multitude of friends, which was just to take things as slowly as I feel comfortable (and verbalise this if necessary, though I haven’t felt the need to yet), and not to feel guilty about not wanting to rush nor about keeping this blog private from him, because this is all very new and I don’t have to reveal every facet of myself right from the jump.  I think that it makes sense to keep some stuff back for me.  I’m still scared of what happens in the future, but as long as I just deal with right now, that’s fine for the moment.  Mike, astute as ever, said that “you seem to enjoy being with him a lot more than you enjoy the thought of being with him”.  I took that to heart, because it’s totally true, and realised that as long as I don’t overthink any of this dating / seeing each other / relationship etiquette, then I can enjoy myself and just relax.  I guess that I just get scared of calling someone my “boyfriend” and someone calling me the same, giving us that status and that link, with which comes a whole load of responsibility that I don’t really need to be dealing with just yet.

So we’ve been seeing a lot of each other, eating, drinking and getting jiggy.  It’s all good and I’m enjoying the cuddles, the conversations, the various excursions and my growing competence at Mario Kart Wii.  But between seeing T and socialising with my other friends (I had a wonderful afternoon of epic shopping and eating with Karina on Tuesday) I’m not spending much time at home with my parents.  I have absolutely no problem with this, but I feel like not only is it obvious that I don’t really want to spend time with them, but that I have to lie about who I’m with when it comes to T.  I mean, the past few days I’ve dropped his name to introduce a new person to my mother’s ears but inevitably I have to make up excuses about who I’m seeing or where I’m going.  When I got my tattoo done, I was “meeting Deena”.  When Mike & I were going to the tattoo studio to book my next one / enquire about his first one, we were “going to uni”.  When I stayed over at T’s house a couple of weeks ago, I got “carried away watching Gavin & Stacey at Hannah’s house”.  I’m 24 years of age and I feel I have to lie, not only about the fact that I might be having actual sex with an actual boy, but about simple, innocent things just to save questions from my parents on things about which they either would disapprove, or which they are suddenly intrigued by.

The logic of all this is based on my parents’ “all or nothing” approach. Usually, they couldn’t give a fuck about me, but occasionally they hitch upon an idea, a friendship or a thing I’ve started to do regularly, and interrogate me about it.  I think they think that they are showing interest, but I would rather they left me alone.  If they genuinely cared, they would ask me how I am more often, and make more small talk to find out how I’m feeling and what I’ve been doing, rather than suddenly remembering to ask every blue moon and then deciding to catch up on each facet of my life.  Most of the time they respect my privacy, but I have to lie to protect myself from the moods they have when they feel like being beyond nosey.  It’s self-preservation.  I remember mentioning Mike around the house when we first started being friends in September / October.  It wasn’t until just before Christmas that my mother dared to ask me a little bit about him, despite the fact that I saw him most days and sometimes he’d pick me up from home and we’d go and have a drink, smoke and a chat (one time this happened, my father stayed up until I got home at midnight, and then promptly went to bed as soon as I got in the door – why?!).  My parents both blatantly thought that I was having an affair with him, despite the fact that he is married with a child (something I’m sure I mentioned quite early on).  And yet, suddenly after Mike says hello to my mum when he drops me home one afternoon, she can’t stop asking about him! “How’s Mike’s road with all this snow and ice?” “What’s Mike’s surname?” “Have you heard from Mike?” “It’s really good of Mike to pick you up and drop you home.” I feel like, why are you suddenly interested?  You’ve gone from one extreme to another, it’s totally unnatural and invasive, and to be honest I preferred it when you just kept your mouth shut and ignored me, no matter what you thought of me.  I don’t like having my privacy invaded (one reason why I guess I’m finding it hard to adjust to this whole dating business) and yet I feel I have to answer these questions (followed by swift exit once I sense a barrage approaching) because I’m the son and she’s the mother; because I’m living under her roof (although I pay rent and am therefore entitled to take refuge in my room); because I haven’t done anything wrong and therefore have nothing to hide.  But I feel it’s unfair that when she is in a mood for whatever reason – even if it’s nothing to do with me – she will not speak even to be civil (which I think is childish), and yet I’m not allowed to have my privacy and I’m not afforded the same privilege of silence when I don’t want to talk.

So I’ve decided, sadly, that it’s easier just to lie and conceal certain things I’m doing and people I’m seeing to avoid the possibility of my parents taking interest.  I don’t care what they think about me being out all the time and going to my room as soon as I get in the door.  I don’t want to eat my father’s identikit hot cooking, I don’t want to watch TV programmes in which I have no interest (I am not able to watch anything unless both of my parents have gone to bed) and I don’t want to have to constantly listen out for conversations where I might be required to take part, only to have my point of view ignored or refuted.  I have my lovely friends, I have a decent job, I like uni, I enjoy seeing T, I’ve got plenty of positive things in my life.  I no longer need them to keep me down.  That’s why I’m creepin’.

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s.t.f.u.

September 26, 2009

Sorry I haven’t been around that much that past few days; I’ve been busy settling into my course at uni and everything that goes along with that.  I am pretty pleased (apart from the fact I was drunk on Thursday night before 7pm) with the content of the course, as it’s very inspiring and I feel that this might just be the right thing for me.  I can make a difference to young people in a realistic way – even though it’s been made clear that sometimes you can only do so much, I like to believe that even a little can be enough.  We’ll see – I have my first visit to a school on Thursday morning (Mike is giving me a lift) to help some Year 10s look through prospectuses… hopefully my optimism will hold through that! I’m sure it’ll be fine… just intro jitters.

So far, I seem to be getting along really well with everyone there! I think I have somewhat of a reputation for being talkative; I’m certainly not quiet to the point of being shy.  I don’t mind people thinking that I’m easy to talk to, and I’m 23 years old now so I am happy to voice my opinion as long as the situation is comfortable and demands it.  But I know that in the past, people have built preconceptions of me as talking too much, having a loud voice, not thinking before I speak.  Sometimes I don’t; I’m only human – but the way that I dress, the way that I act, my interests and hobbies and the way I carry myself and am able to have fun and be sociable does not equate to me not having a brain and not being able to engage it at the same time as my vocal cords.  Intelligence is not solely measured by IQ and the ability to memorise x amounts of books – I think that emotional intelligence, common sense, practical intelligence is all important too.

And I am so happy that my coursemates kinda reacted incredulously when I said “I know that I can talk a lot, but I also know how to shut up and listen to what other people say.” They were like “Alan, of course, the way you express yourself is very eloquent and you don’t say anything just for the sake of it.”  Telling them a bit about the preconceptions I am aware that people in the past have had of me, they were like “well we never thought that at all” (for example, I never like to reveal outright where I went to university because I don’t want it to compromise anyone’s opinion of me; but if asked, I will say “Oxford” – after all, I earned my place there so why keep it a secret?  Often, people’s immediate response is “Oh, Oxford Brookes, right?” Because I could never be bright enough to go to the real Oxford University – and in addition to insulting me, they also insult all the Brookes students too!  Oxford Brookes University runs some fantastic vocational courses, from what I understand.).

During our practice day preparation session, there was a point during debating the timetable / structure of the day where I didn’t really understand what was going on.  Instead of voicing my misunderstandings and adding to the general overall confusion, I just kept my mouth shut, looked through a folder with banks of activities, and started pulling out things which might be useful.  I knew that too many voices weren’t gonna help things, so I stayed quiet and let the others resolve things.  That was important to me because I didn’t want to enter into any kind of organisational role (especially since that wasn’t my role on this occasion), or be seen to be either bossy or ditzy; I knew that the organisers would sort things out, and that there were other useful things I could do in the meantime.  Whether the others do value what I say, find that I express myself with an eloquence that’s beyond my years (something Leanne said, which truly complimented me) or whatever, I don’t need to speak all the time.  Sometimes less is more.

Which is perhaps why I have not written so much on here in the past week or so; I guess that I haven’t had anything burning to write and I’ve been busy living my life and getting on with other things.  By this point, I’ve written plenty of blog entries that I don’t necessarily need to write every day; there’s still plenty of reading material here for y’all!  And I still definitely enjoy composing a blog entry; but I’m not going to blog for the sake of blogging, because if I have nothing to say, then that entry is going to devalue my words.  And I like to think that when I speak, my words have meaning.  So don’t worry if I’m quiet, or if I don’t write for a day or two – I’ll be back! (I can hardly stay silent for ever – less may sometimes be more, but nothing will still be nothing 😉 )  And when I speak, hopefully you’ll find what I say interesting.  Just for a little teaser of things I am developing in my mind to talk about: my mixtape High Fashion; tarot; Mariah Carey’s new album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel; more relationship drama!  Keep it locked – I appreciate you and I enjoy you all!

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translation.

July 20, 2009

As you may or may not know, a year ago I graduated from Oxford University with a BA Hons degree in French and Spanish.  I’m still waiting for that to deliver the promised kick-start to my professional career while I flounder between perfume shops, hospitals and careers guidance diplomas, but one of the more interesting aspects of that degree was the idea of translation.  It relies on two not-so-basic conceits – that you understand what the words mean in the passage you are translating, and that you understand what the author of the passage is trying to say.  These two ideas have to be grasped before you even attempt to replicate what you’re translating in your chosen language, and these two ideas are much more disparate than they may first appear.  Let me break it down for you, because I have a point to make 😉

You can see the word “tree”, for example, and it conjures a certain image in your head.  That image represents what “tree” means to you.  The Spanish word for “tree” is “árbol”.  So you can put “árbol” down.  That’s done… but by doing that, you’re having faith in the fact that the image you see when you think of “tree” / “árbol” is the same as what the author’s conception is.  If for example, the author has a completely different idea in his head, then your translation may be distancing yourself from his/her original intentions.  And that’s just one word; what happens when you have sentences, paragraphs?  Translation takes a lot of confidence and a lot of people-studying and effort to grasp what people mean when they speak; all the nuances behind their choices of vocabulary, their syntax.  At the heart of it: can we really trust that people mean what we think they mean when they say what they say?

I started thinking about this after Saturday night, meeting with Karina and Davina at Las Iguanas for some caipirinhas and tapas (which was delicious).  Karina was talking about a lil’ dispute she was having with her boyfriend (who lives at a distance), because she had a hospital scan (I won’t go into the details on here because it’s not really my place) and was somewhat nervous.  When, after listing his (admittedly inferior) stresses in retaliation to her current stuff, he finally asked “Do you want me to come down and visit you?”, she said “No, don’t be silly, you need to save your money.” (He’s moving)  And he took that at face value, and didn’t come down to see her.  Hence Karina’s somewhat irritated diatribe against him on Saturday night. Now, I know from my knowledge of women’s minds that they often don’t mean what they say, and they can in fact often mean the opposite of what they say.  By saying “don’t visit me”, Karina was sending a message saying “I don’t want you to spend your money, but at the same time I really wish you could come here and support me because I need you right now, and you shouldn’t need me to tell you that because in addition to the fear of this scan, I don’t want to succumb to the humiliation of appearing weak to you and admitting that I want you here with me.”  Me and Davina understood this straight away, but evidently her boyfriend did not.  But who is in the wrong?  I mean, he was only listening to Karina’s words and following them.  Should he have known better?  After all, if he’d said “No” to her in the same situation, Karina said she would have scraped together whatever she could have and gone to visit him regardless (I don’t doubt that this is true).  But then, Matt might have meant “No.” He’s a guy, guys tend to be more straightforward, perhaps more two-dimensional at times.  And Karina would have gotten it wrong.  It’s almost a no-win situation if you can’t navigate the nuances of people’s thoughts behind the words they say… which is difficult when their words tell a slightly different story.  We all have to play translators at times.

I give you another example.  After seeing Davina and Karina, I went to the club to meet B and his friends for the first time (which was exciting).  The night seemed to be an unqualified success: I had a great time at a club I previously had written off, thanks to he and his friends embracing me wholeheartedly.  He and I were quite touchy-feely, we spent the whole evening talking, dancing a little bit, joking with his friends and other people we ran into (he seemed to know practically everyone).  When we got out of the club at 4am, my bus wasn’t coming for another hour, so we wandered around trying to contact another friend of his who seemed to have gone astray, eventually waiting at the bus stop, chatting / hugging / flirting.  Nothing too untoward, a brief kiss on the lips when my bus finally arrived.  So there was nothing wrong with that, right? It was flirtatious without going too far, a fun night without us exchanging wedding vows, a light-hearted night of clubbing with friends and with someone who might become more.  After my last relationship getting far too intense far too quickly (despite my lack of feelings), this should be exactly what I wanted.

Of course, I was still worried that maybe he had gone off me.  Because he didn’t jump on top of me, rip my clothes off and make love to me on the floor of the nightclub, I didn’t know if he still liked me.  I am aware that this is more than faintly ridiculous, don’t worry – and if this had happened, I would be worried in contrast that all he thought of me was that I was an easy slut.  So I was trying to read entirely too much into his actions.  Let alone the fact that mine mirrored his in any case… isn’t it easier when the other person makes the first move?  When they seem to know exactly what to say?  Which I clearly do not.  We texted briefly on Sunday:

Me: “Hey hope u got home ok this morning! I had a fun time last nite, thanx to u and ur friends for entertaining me! How ru doing today, up to much?x”

Translation: “Hi, I hope you somehow didn’t think I was an idiot last night and behaving too drunken / flirty / not flirty enough.  I think I might like you, you need to tell me that you might like me too and that you want to see me again. And preferably at a different venue with just the two of us.

His reply: “Hi  yeah good to meet u 🙂 I’m ok just been chillin all day with music and cats lol x”

My interpretation of this: “Hello, yes you were nice enough but I don’t know if I want to see you again, I have not been thinking of you too much today and I was quite drunk last night so pay it no mind.

The exchange of text messages went on a bit longer but I cut it short soon after because I wanted to maintain an air of nonchalance, as in “I’m not that easy, you don’t have me wrapped around your finger, I have other things to do!  I will talk to you when you happen to cross my mind again, maybe in a day or two, because my life is perfectly fulfilling tra la la.”  The messages and nuances hidden behind words can just as easily apply to silences/ goodbyes, and we need to interpret and translate pauses and immediate replies accordingly.  Today, when I was half-expecting him not to text me (I had resolved not to initiate conversation – air of nonchalance, nonchalance!), I was on msn and suddenly he starts talking to me (he was set to ‘invisible’ so I didn’t even know he was there) and we have a great conversation.  We flirt and joke a tiny bit and he says “ok lover” at one point.  My current interpretation: everything is in a spirit of fun, but we are still flirting with each other and there’s some affection there so this just might work well so DON’T BE A FREAK AND OVERANALYSE THINGS!!! And although I feel relieved, and I feel like I have learned sometimes that it is better to say what you mean, and other times it’s better not to say anything at all, it is obviously far too late for the restraint from over-analysis!  So I’m cooling down and determined to enjoy this flirting stage, whether it evolves or not… because after all, this is exactly what I said I wanted… and I don’t remember any hidden notion behind that when I said it!