A Thought after a Midnight Encounter

London is a wonderful city. It is full of diversity and for the most part I do marvel at its ability to accept and assimilate so many different cultures and backgrounds. But I would be lying to you if I said that you would never have a “negative” experience during your time here.

Let me illustrate with two recent examples. The last time I was here on a visit I was walking down Shaftsbury Avenue on my way to pick up tickets to a showing of Monty Python’s Spamalot, when a loud, possibly inebriated, Englishman yelled out at me “Ay Paki!” Now startled as I was, I turned to face him, not knowing how to respond, before I turned and kept walking on to my destination. At the time I barely even knew what to make of the experience, yet alone to appreciate the deeper racial undertones of this “passing” experience.

Last night, as I was seeing some friends off on the main road at Mile End a man walking by shouted something, seemingly pointed at me. Inquisitively I faced him and asked “Sorry?” His response to this was to pull the earphones from his ears and yell out “What?!” “I’m sorry, I thought you were saying something to me,” I responded. His response was, in a most inordinately rude way, to scream back. “I ain’t talking to you, keep walkin!” He persisted and yelled again, “Keep walking m***er f****r!” Taken aback, I instantly moved away from him.

Now, this is not the everyday Londoner that you will encounter. I do not presume to judge, but maybe these particular gentlemen were not in the best way, and are far from a fair representation of the people of this city. For the most part, I have found Londoners to be hospitable and welcoming. Most certainly my interaction with the administrative and teaching staff of my college always proved to be a most positive and encouraging experience, and I do my best to push such memories from recollection. In fact, mere moments after encountering that rather rude black gentleman with the rude disposition, I had a casual and cheerful conversation with the Bangladeshi proprietors of a fried chicken shop as I purchased some wings for a midnight snack.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, don’t let random or one-off experiences color your appraisal of this city and its people. Chances are you will face discrimination or prejudice wherever you go. This is just the world we live in. We cannot expect everyone to be perfect. I’m sure, if we really thought about it, we are from it ourselves. Hate and discord is a truly unfortunate side effect of a multi-cultural and myriad culture such as London’s. People do not always express their discomfort with the new or the unfamiliar with the most civil or welcoming of responses. But have faith. And have patience.

As newcomers to this culture and this city, open your mind to new experiences, and keep it open despite any such encounters.

10 thoughts on “A Thought after a Midnight Encounter

  1. Interesting. I’m a Welshman in London, and from my experience such encounters tend to be outward expressions of an inner turmoil. Call it projection, if you will, of an underlying psychological problem, often exacerbated by alcohol, drugs, and their socioeconomic predicament and cultural capital.

    • I appreciate the comment Reflexive Sheet, and I agree. Its just unfortunate that sometimes encounters like these can send a visitor or newcomer to the city back home with a marred opinion of its culture and its people.

      • Isn’t that true of all post-industrial first world cities? It’s a reflection, not of the place or people, but of the post-industrial personality of all such cities.

      • I agree, but I would take a step further and say that its a symptom not necessarily confined to the first world. The world is ever shrinking and even in so called “developing” or “third world” capitals, increasing cultures of competition and “cut-throat economics” can lead to dissatisfaction or disaffection, primarily amongst the urban youth.

      • You said it. That’s why it’s not confined to London, but is evident globally 😉

  2. What you describe as a “negative” experience, not really made clear through your writing – I have to agree with ReflexiveStreetPhotography may be representations or expressions of a range of experiences – of difference cultures, of poverty, of illness and people’s narratives within these spheres that you may be completely unfamiliar with and have omitted from consideration here.

    While it is of course undesirable to be the subject or victim of any kind of discriminatory racial profiling or experiences – these are rather unfortunately the product of a lack of exposure, education, misinformation about other people, and a lack of sensitivity brought on by these precipitating factors – before jumping to labelling this very action as bigotry or racism (while the same may be true).
    You are also not alone in “appreciating” your experience.
    If you consider your own history in India –set within a recent backdrop of colonialism

    This is not a debate of “first” or “third-world” countries – neither of which are terms very relevant anymore. I beg you to also inform yourself well on your statement – “The world is ever shrinking and even in so called “developing” or “third world” capitals, increasing cultures of competition and “cut-throat economics” can lead to dissatisfaction or disaffection, primarily amongst the urban youth.” Consider why and how you feel the world is shrinking – perhaps it’s easier for some (few) people with access to opportunities – but there are starkly increasing disparities in most aspects of day-to-day life, economies, corruption, healthcare, education, systemic problems, etc., to name a few.

    You absolutely right when you say – “Chances are you will face discrimination or prejudice wherever you go. This is just the world we live in. We cannot expect everyone to be perfect.”
    How are you negotiating and representating these seemingly ‘negative’ experiences? Are you allowing for discourse in your writing that works towards really discovering the underlying causes that can then work towards solutions?

    I do however strongly commend your efforts to share your thoughts — I think it’s great that people discuss issues in the public sphere — whether informed or uninformed, it’s refreshing to see people who care. I do think you have a social responsibility as a blogger to be as educated and sensitive as possible while addressing questions or issues. Whether this entails going out and actually engaging with real people on these issues, voraciusly reading to try to understand, conducting research into your ideas, the options lie in fron of you. These are just some of my thoughts that I truly hope you consider in the right spirit of discourse and as truly wanting to see a world free from this kind of discrimination.

    • Dear Musician2012. I apologize if maybe what I was trying to convey didn’t find its way to the (web)page as clearly as it could have. I appreciate your feedback. I did not expect this one entry itself to address many of the underlying issues that crop up in a discussion such as this. In fact your response is exactly the kind I hoped to elicit through sharing my experience. I don’t wish to preach or philosophize endlessly, but rather engage in discussion through encouraging others to participate with their own opinions. A task I am glad to see you have undertaken with vigor and eloquence.

      I do hope you can appreciate though that I was also trying to reach out to people who may have had experiences such as these, asking them to consider factors, many of which you have very deftly impressed upon in your comment, before coming to conclusions about London. And of course this can go for any other city. I chose to limit myself to London as this is where my personal encounters occurred and it is where I now live and study.

      I completely agree that concepts like “third world” and “developing” are no longer as suitable or relevant as they once may have been considered to be. That is why I chose to put them in quotations, air-quotes if you would, to highlight that I do not necessarily agree with the terminology, though it is nomenclature that many still use.

      I did not mean to label these encounters as racial or bigoted. Again I apologize if I was not clear on this point. I hoped to impress upon the reader that there other circumstances and people are not actually like that, for the most part. For all I know, the guy who called me a “Paki” was having a laugh. And the man at Mile End was just having a bad day. But I also do not want to jump to the conclusion that others, who may have had similar encounters, should simply brush them off either. These are occurrences that may leave some shaken or distraught. What I aimed to do was simply to ask them to take heed of the thought that, despite how “negative” such an experience may be, it should paint their appraisal of others. I choose to live life believing the best of my fellow man. And I am less often disappointed than I am impressed and vindicated.

      These are of course just my humble opinions and observations. I cannot and would not hold them to be researched propositions proven beyond contestation. As I said, no one is perfect.

      I will of course take your advice to heart. And again I thank you for adding to this discourse.

  3. Thank you for your response, Zafar.

    You’re absolutely right in saying that often what you are trying to convey does not come across clearly — that is expressly why it is so vital to be careful and as evidence-based or ‘experienced’ (for lack of a better work) with what you say — you don’t know who is reading it and what experiences they may have had.

    This is your blog and you have every right to post what you think or feel — and as I said last time I think it’s great that you are writing. But I encourage you to broaden your opinions and observations through a real study of what is going on (whether by any of the means discussed in my last post or those you find more appropriate). This will enrich your writing and broaden its horizons, making it more approachable to readers and possibly more accurate in its representations of people and things you write about.

  4. Dear Musician 2012. I do believe that my comments were “experienced”, quite literally. I very much stated that there are contributing factors to such behavior, and am a personal believer in giving people the benefit of the doubt, but these were first hand experiences and I did no more than describe them as they happened. I did not take editorial liberties with what was said or how it was said.

    Please understand that I am not looking to argue, just to point out that my representations of the people and events concerned were quite literally, as they occurred. Though of course I am always open to new opinions or thoughts which can help me broaden my viewpoint and maybe take me down a line of thought that I may have not considered. For that I thank you for your participation. It is very much the reason for posing questions and starting discussions such as these.

    • I understand that — and that this was a description.
      I was broadly speaking when I said – I encourage you to broaden your opinions and observations through a real study of what is going on (whether by any of the means discussed in my last post or those you find more appropriate). This will enrich your writing and your point of view.
      Good luck!

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