helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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politics, racism, and why you should vote today

[written on Thursday June 10th, the election day for 1/4 of the country's local and regional authorities]

A few weeks ago I started working at a Korean college.

Not a full-time school, a place where kids go in the evenings for extra tuition (so the hours suit me much better!). The college is run by Koreans for Koreans, but they employ teachers of any nationality. It's slightly disorienting to walk around the place, as everything is written in a language I can't read, but it's not really a problem for teaching, because the kids who have been here a while (or were born here) speak perfect English anyway, and can translate for other students if necessary. And they all have really amazing electronic dictionaries, if they need them.

New Malden happens to have the UK's largest population of Korean immigrants, and it's growing. Most people here couldn't care less, because they're ok people, y'know? Hard working, polite - you don't get gangs of Korean teenagers hanging round on the buses abusing people or spitting on the pavements. Not like the $insert_other_perceived_racial_group_of_choice. (Yes, this is me writing in a deliberately provocative way, not what I really think.)

Today on my way to work, I was racially abused on the bus. Of course, it's possible he wasn't aiming it at me. I'm not sure that makes it any better.

Leaving Kingston to go to New Malden, a drunk guy clutching a large bottle of White Lightning lurched onto the bus, and promptly started ranting at the four women at the back of the bus. There were 2 girls of Asian descent (maybe in their late teens), me, and an older woman (maybe 30-something [1]) of African descent. I use the word "descent" because I have no idea what nationality or ethnic identity any of the other people involved claim for themselves.

Anyway. So said drunken guy launched into a tirade about his grandfather fighting in World War Two, for us, and look at the country now, full of people like us. He kept addressing his comments to "you, girlie, pink jersey", which is why I don't actually know which of us they were aimed at - 3 out of the 4 women were wearing pink tops. After a few minutes, when he got to going on about the place being "overrun by Koreans" and using racial epithets against specific groups, I tried to do something about it, and told the bus driver. Who said he couldn't do anything, but I'll come to that part of the rant in a bit.[2]

After listening to just 3 minutes of drunken abuse, I was stressed and shaking. I got off the bus and just sat there shaking and trying not to cry for 10 minutes before I could actually function. And that was extremely low-level racism by the standards of things - 3 minutes of incoherent ranting by an alcoholic with his 2 litres of high-% tastes-like-piss alcoholic drink is nothing like being driven out of your home and living in constant fear. And I'm lucky to experience it so rarely, because I pass for white most of the time (especially with my English name and British passport).

But those sentiments aren't shared only by drunks. The BNP (British National Party) put one of their flyers through my door along with the rest of the election material. It showed a picture of their candidate with his kiddies and the slogan "My dad's not a racist!". Yeah, right. When did the BNP become respectable enough to start campaigning like the normal parties?

Probably about the same time they started winning elections.

The UKIP (UK Independence Party) are not much better. Formed of hard-Right Tories who left the Conservative Party over their views on Europe, the UKIP claim that they're not even vaguely racist, and they're certainly not the public school version of the BNP, oh no. They just believe that British interests are best served outside Europe, away from the government that has given us countless laws to protect our health and environment (to name just the ones I know about), and has insisted our own national government institute a fair minimum wage and working week. Oh yes, I really think Britain would do better without "Brussels" interfering. (The irony in anyone referring to the European Parliament as "Brussels" is that the Parliament is actually based in Strasbourg, which isn't even in the same country!). The UKIP don't focus on any of the hundreds of sensible laws and regulations that has come from Europe, only on things like their insistence that foods are weighed in kilograms rather than pounds and ounces (i.e. something that only really affects people over the age of 30-*mumble*, depending on how modern your school was), and their farming and fishing restrictions (which are sort-of necessary, because if we overfish the cod in the North Sea now, there won't be any cod left in a few generations' time). And even if they are honestly not racist, they stir up racist sentiments in people by going on about the French farmers and the German bureaucrats.

There are so many different issues that go into choosing who to vote for. Some of them are more important than others. To pick an example close to my heart, education might not seem like a priority if you're childfree, or educating your own children privately - but it's damned important for the country. If the nation as a whole is poorly educated, it will influence your life. Likewise, racism might not seem like an issue if you're white and well educated, and consider yourself not racist. But racist thoughts creep in all over the place, and make the country less safe for everyone.

When I was at university, I saw a postcard which had a picture of a neo-Nazi and the slogan "Use your vote. You know he'll use his". Now I think that's overly simplistic - simply telling people "Vote, or the bogeyman'll get in" isn't really enough to convince jaded adults who've lived through a few elections and seen nothing really change. But I don't know what else to say that would be more convincing. I only know I don't want to live in a world where racism is even as endemic as it is now - let alone how bad it could get.

[1] Yes, I know 30-something isn't old. I just mean she was older than me.
[2] I wrote down the bus company's complaints line and rang them when I'd stopped crying but before I'd stopped shaking. Apparently my belief that a) the bus companies all have teams of security "heavies" was correct, and b) the bus driver could have, and should have, reported the incident to the controller so that some heavies and/or British Transport Police could meet the bus to remove the offender and ensure the safety of the remaining customers. I had even told him that of course I understood he had to ensure his own safety and not leave his cab, but couldn't he radio for help, and he reckoned "not at this time of day". Bastard.

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