It’s difficult to put into words the confusion and second guessing the last week has caused me. I’m normally sure of myself, of my environment and I know how to look out for my own interests. Not to say I’m selfish, but in a capitalistic regime which champions “every man for himself”, it’s impossible not to have some self preservation in the back of your mind.
What does my self preservation mean, you wonder? It’s beyond the usual steady job, comfortable housing, healthy lifestyle that many look for. No, I’m a minority. For me, self preservation means looking for a quick exit, an easy path home, researching local taxi numbers, bus routes and tube stops. How far is it to walk from place to place, can I do it on main roads, if I visit such and such a place will football fans, boozed up and ready to go, be there, about to get rowdy on the train. Where are the EDL marching this weekend so I don’t accidentally share a commute.
This is the nonsense I have to consider.
On countless occasions have I shared trains or other public transport with racists. It always follows the same pattern. White men will get on, sit together, shout a bit and eventually spot me. They’ll see me, a brown man, sitting on his own returning from somewhere, iPod in or phone out. An easy target.
I’m not referring to people acting lairy or being boisterous. On one trip I ignored the 3 large white men who sat with me on a table for 35 minutes, who were convinced I couldn’t speak English because I point blank refused to answer their questions on where I was from.
On another, returning home from Leamington Spa I had the leisure of sharing a trip with football fans, one who stood right in my face and just stared at me for what seemed a lifetime. When it came to my stop, I had to physically move him to get off, to be met with “don’t you touch me you fucking immigrant cunt”.
On a bus trip to the station in Manchester, enjoying the often used tactic of racists to sit directly behind you to spout their abuse. Only on this occasion I had to enjoy the serenade of “We’d rather be a paki than a turk”.
Whatever that even means.
So of course I’m going to go out of my way to avoid repeating the experience. Being a minority isn’t something I can hide so I try to control my environment as much as possible.
When going abroad again I research the hell out of places. I need to know where my routes out are should shit hit the fan. I do this on the sly, on my own. No need to alert to the world how I view it. No need to be accused of being silly.
Is this an overreaction? The above is a microcosm of my world. My life as a minority.
In London this week I see that being a minority no longer makes you a target for racists but a target for arrests. The UKBA are sending vans around heavily minority populated areas with messages, offering amnesty to illegal immigrants. The message, unbelievably insidious with obvious throwbacks to fascism, is to pander to right wing conservatives, no doubt angry White Britain is losing some imagined war. Conservatives want to retain the angry racist vote, to avoid losing it to UKIP.
I’m considering a visit to London in the next few weeks. I pondered last night on twitter what I could do if, after arriving in London, I was asked to prove my right to be in this country. Ignore that it’s ridiculous in 2013 that nationality is even considered a thing, or that borders exist. If I was asked by a UKBA officer to prove my identity, what would I do? Do I carry proof of my identity all the time? No, of course not. What would happen to me then?
Many people pointed out my rights in such a situation, which although is appreciated, does not address the issue. I know my rights. I know I can walk away, or call them racists for targeting minorities. I know I owe them nothing. And I know I could lodge complaints on being targeted on the basis of my skin colour/ethnicity and that I’d win.
But as a minority I can’t afford the risk of being so bold in front of authority. Minorities are expected to look white, and act white. Yes officer, here’s my ID, all in order, good day to you too. If we dare to act out, stand our ground, can we trust the authorities to act properly and within the law? Too many instances of police and officer abuse prove otherwise.
In the heat of the moment, when asked “papers please” what would my mind turn to other than “do as they say and just get the hell out of here”. All show of rebellion and standing up against the man gone in a bid to remove myself from such an intimidating situation. When it comes down to it, I just do not know what the UKBA could do if I, as a brown man, can’t prove I was born here. Could they arrest me? Detain me? I don’t know. That’s my reality. I can’t afford to be so bold. Being bold gets you killed if you’re a non white person in the United Kingdom.
If it was so easy and so simple to walk away the UKBA couldn’t have arrested anyone. There’s a risk that I, in 2013, will be arrested by the UKBA if I dare to wander about without express proof of my place of birth.
That thought terrifies me. It makes me wonder how long before UKBA sends their vans of immigration officers countrywide, to other minority populated areas.
How long before my morning commute to work becomes a game of lottery, wondering if men are waiting at the station demanding proof of identity.
How long before I see my fellow white commuters ignored, and my fellow brown and black commuters taken to one side.
How long before I’m taken away?
Yasin Bangee is a writer based in the North West. He writes about his main passions, football, social justice and inequality, and offers thoughts on all things political. As a a British Muslim he has first hand experience of the rise and impact of Islamophobia. Archive of his column ‘This Week in Islamophobia‘ Find his writing at False7andahalf
WHAT WE CAN DO:
UKBA spot-checks are an abuse of power – but you can stop them
Southall Black Sisters – Statement
PDF: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
- There is no way to dehumanise immigrants that doesn’t also cheapen our humanity. @ukhomeoffice
- Will the UK ever give up on its racist immigration policy? (africasacountry.com)
- Language Matters: Doubling Down on Anti-immigrant Rhetoric (mediadiversityuk.com)
- After the ‘racist van’ debacle, what now for Britain’s immigration policy? (metro.co.uk)
- Doreen Lawrence questions focus on non-whites in immigrant crackdown
- Scapegoating Immigrants
- G4S and the Housing Abuse of Asylum Seekers – The Truth Emerges