Thursday, 17 November 2011

The negro Hugh Muir, whose negritude informs almost everything he writes, tells us of a recent "racist" incident on the London Underground.
Planet commuter. It's noisy and dishevelled, but those of us who go there learn to acclimatise. We read, listen to music, write; cocooned in our own mental space.

Michael Stewart, a suited lawyer, was enjoying that space on the Northern line in south London a couple of weeks ago. He was reading the sports pages: the race row surrounding John Terry. And then that space was invaded. "The driver made two announcements. The gentlemen should watch their wallets, he said; the ladies their handbags."

The second announcement pricked the bubble. "There are many pickpockets about," said the driver five minutes later. And, he said, there are many people "within this country" who come from "other European countries" who would be more than happy to relieve you of your possessions in the run up to Christmas. His warning transmitted, the driver clicked off his microphone and focused on driving his train.

The lawyer, and Hugh, are scandalised by the fact that the passengers on the train weren't scandalised. No one seemed to notice or care.
A letter to the Guardian (to find the kind of support he looked for on the train) and a letter to the Times (to reach the establishment). He is still surprised when we meet. "Can this sort of talk be sanctioned?" he asks. No, I tell him, but it's not unusual. These are anxious times. Stereotyping is quite the thing again. As for the driver, he would say he was stating a fact; not being racist or controversial. And that would probably be the stance of everyone else who stayed in their bubbles, unperturbed. Step by mundane step. That's how tolerance falls away.

There is prejudice in the driver's announcement but not in the way the article implies. First, if they're European, they're not of another race, so there's no racism involved. The prejudice lies in the fact that attention is drawn only to criminals of European origin. I find it very hard to believe that the primary criminal threat on London's public transport comes from people "from other European countries". If the driver had mentioned criminals from outside of Europe, Africans or Middle-Easterners, say, or just generic non-Europeans, this would have been a major scandal, the Guardian would have trumpeted it instead of mentioning it in a minor, hard-to-find article and the driver would have lost his job.

But the driver had absorbed his conditioning well. He knew it was no longer acceptable to draw attention to the iniquities of non-Europeans, even when backed by statistical evidence. But prejudice against Europeans is still considered acceptable, even morally commendable, Hugh Muir's pose to the contrary.

Source: The Guardian


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