I was dropping my little one off at nursery the other morning, which is on the same premises as a busy primary school in a residential area, so parking is always a bit tight.
He only goes one day a week, and I don’t always take the car, so it’s still new to us and I’m yet to become one of those expert parents who can turn up a minute before school starts and know exactly where they can find a space.
To my delight, I found a space close to the school so I pulled in, but soon realised that there were many overgrown trees close to the passenger’s side and I would have struggled to get my little one out of his car seat. I could see there was a space just a couple of metres down the road so I pulled back out and parked there instead. (There is a point to all this mundane detail, I promise!)
After I had dropped my boy off and returned to the car, I was confronted by an angry lady claiming that I had hit her car and ‘run away’. She pointed at some scuff marks on my car and said that there were also some on hers.
I apologised, explained that I hadn’t realised I had made contact with her car and gave her my details to pay for whatever damage had been done to hers.
Now, for most people, this would have sufficed but this lady had obviously watched a few too many episodes of The Bill in her day and clearly felt that this qualified her to conduct an interrogation.
She didn’t believe that I hadn’t realised that I’d scratched her car, and kept repeating that I had ‘run away’.
I am, undoubtedly, stupid, as I scraped a car and didn’t even realise, but even I am not stupid enough to do a ‘hit and run’, where both sides of the street were full of parents as potential witnesses, and ‘run away’ just a couple of metres down the road and then park up, with the owner of the car watching me from across the road. (I could see some women staring at me as I was pulling out, but assumed they were belittling my questionable parking skills.)
Further supposed proof of my guilt was that I had been ‘loitering’ at the bottom of the street once I had come out of the school grounds without any reasonable cause, other than to hide.
I had actually gone to buy sanitary towels from the Tesco Express that’s on the corner, realised I’d left my bag in the car and turned back around again. (Although I omitted this detail in my explanation to her, mostly because it was none of her business, but also for fear that she would want me to produce a bloodied tampon as evidence.)
She then thanked me for ruining her day and was off on her jolly way. I later got a text with a pretty steep quote for repair that also stated that police had been informed because I fled the scene of the crime.
I did feel like she was being unreasonably aggressive, but then she did believe that I had damaged her car and then went to great lengths to evade captivity, by moving just a couple of metres away with the owner of the car watching me, so perhaps that’s understandable (even if it is stupid).
What isn’t reasonable though is the conversation that took place between this lady and another one.
As I was making my way back towards my car, I noticed two women standing by my car and gesturing at me.
As they saw me approaching, one said:
‘She’s one of them. She probably won’t even speak English.’
While the lady who the car belonged to responded with:
‘It’s probably not even legal or got insurance.’
(I’m assuming ‘it’ was a reference to the car rather than me.)
They took one look at me, saw someone with brown skin that’s dressed a bit differently and assumed that I was an illiterate, criminal, immigrant. I’m about as ‘by the book’ as a person can be and, given that I am an English teacher (in theory more than in practice these days), I probably have a better command of the English language than the two of these imbeciles put together, so it’s almost laughable that they would assume these things.
Because I can’t help but wonder if they would make these same assumptions if I had been white. Certainly, they would have had unsavoury things to say about me, but would they really have assumed that an unfortunate accident was part of a criminal lifestyle where I drive stolen, uninsured cars and then feign ignorance to get out of it.
I very much doubt it.
It’s perfectly understandable that she was annoyed about the damage to her car and there are many acceptable ways of expressing justified annoyance, but throwing about casually racist stereotypes is not one of them.
I’m not accusing anyone of racism (the two of them may well be, but I’m not suggesting that our exchange is evidence of it), but they did have prejudicial views that affect how they see other people and these views are far more common in society than anyone is comfortable to admit. Especially when it comes to women who look and dress like me.
I’m not, by the way, claiming that the beholders of these prejudicial views are always white while the victims are always brown. Prejudice exists in all walks of life and across all societies. We all know that. But making assumptions and stereotyping entire groups of people based on trivial details is far too common and, more worryingly, far too accepted.
I doubt either of the Middle Class ladies I came across yesterday would consider themselves as having prejudicial views and I doubt they would proudly declare the stereotypes they believe to be true about other races in normal circumstances. Yet when one of them saw me and made a derogatory comment based on my skin colour and outfit, the other was quick to add that I was probably also a criminal too.
So, I have some advice for these two ladies, which would probably benefit us all. The next time any of you see someone that’s a bit different to you, see them for what they are – a human being with flaws just like you and a life that is every bit as complicated and nuanced as yours. If they do something wrong, judge that one action instead of making assumptions about their entire lifestyle or seeing it as a typical trait of an entire race.
They may be your cup of tea, they may not, but you’ll only discover which is the case if you approach them and accept that they are made up of more than just a skin colour/religion/type of dress and you don’t know anything about them.
And to those people that have taken one look at me and made assumptions that perhaps I may be too daft to hold a conversation, or have links to the mafia like the delightful lady I met yesterday, let me tell you that it is completely and utterly your loss because I am a hoot, even if I do say so myself!