The morning held a lot of promise when it began with glorious sunlight and bouts of warm breezes greeting us through the window. Following too many consecutive days of huddling under jackets and fighting off colds due to gloomy, autumnal like weather, my husband and I agreed that we should take the kids out for a lovely, long walk. After all, we live in England, and knew when to make the most of any scrap of sun.
Thus, after lunch, we set off happily along the customary path alongside the River Trent that runs behind our home and housing estate (or “neighbourhood” as we’d call it back in Canada). The part nearest to our home leads through a woodsy lane that I have always found delightful since it feels like one is travelling through a leafy tunnel for a spell before the river reappears. One of the reason we chose our home was for its proximity to the river, but also for its accessibility to the nearby shops, or further on towards the castle and heart of our historic, market town.
We were just about to emerge from the wooded part of the path today, when two people were approaching from the opposite direction. As I was in the lead, I called out to my oldest son who was on his scooter to move to the side before calling out a “Hi!” to the two men who passed my son and I without any acknowledgement. I figured they might not have heard me, giving their lack of greeting no more thought as I continued onward until one of the men did speak. Only, his words weren’t directed at me, but at my husband who was pushing our toddler in his stroller just behind me. The acidic tones froze my feet to the spot:
“Get an English girlfriend!”
“Excuse me, what did you just say?” My husband had stopped to question him in disbelief as the horrible words sunk in. “That is my wife you’re talking about! I won’t have you disrespecting her!”
At this point, I had whirled around in time to see the other man turn back, drop his bags and coat to the ground, and begin to run towards my husband hurtling vulgar curses at him. I immediately grabbed my son in horror as the man lifted his arm to swing a punch. My husband immediately grabbed the other man’s hands and pushed him away from himself.
“What do you think you’re doing? My children are right here!” My husband stated loudly, glaring at the other man fiercely with all the wrath of someone trying to protect his family.
Whatever had been his intent, this seemed to diffuse the situation as the other man suddenly turned contrite and gripped my husband’s hands. He garbled out some explanation about being schizophrenic and not wanting to cause any trouble. He then began to back away, but not without hurtling one last statement that hung in the air like a dank odour:
“I hate foreigners who keep coming here to our country!”
Shaken by the entire incident, we immediately rushed our children off the pathway and towards the shops where the hustle and bustle of shoppers provided us more safety. My husband then called the police to report what had just occurred, knowing that such a volatile and hateful person shouldn’t be allowed to run loose, anywhere, but especially right in our own neighbourhood only a mere steps from our very own home. Somewhere we have always felt very safe and welcomed. A place we refuse to allow such ignorance and prejudice to rob us of our sense of belonging.
I spoke to a dear friend of mine earlier because I knew she could unfortunately identify all too well with this disturbing encounter of ours today. Having moved to the United States from Mexico years ago, she could more than empathise with how complex and conflicting something like this can be.
“To be attacked verbally or physically for who you are, the way you look, they way you speak, where you come from. To have to justify yourself, to have to prove yourself, especially to a bunch of uneducated people. To feel like you’re always having to compete, to fight and to correct all sorts of stereotypes and condescension because of merely the way you look puts you at a disadvantage. Frankly, it’s exhausting.”
And, my friend is right.
It is beyond tiring having to struggle through this extra layer of constant justification, this added battle for positive visibility on a daily basis. It is always there during every encounter from the seemingly basic to more monumental moments.
For example, I’ve resigned myself to having to spend extra time for simple interactions like introducing myself when first meeting someone new. Inevitably, I need to spend extra time repeating my name, elaborating on its pronunciation (trying to not roll my eyes at how many times I’ve heard, “Oh, it’s spelled just the way it sounds!”), and fielding the inevitable queries that often come by people asking about its origins. However, the extra effort can threaten to become debilitating during more significant endeavours such as applying for a new job where I have felt as though I’ve been banging my head against invisible ceilings as well as walls. It’s hard to forget such discriminatory statements during my job hunting efforts here in the UK such as, “Do you understand enough English to fill out the application form?” to “We’re unable to offer you anything at this time because you are just too ‘international,’ and we really prefer someone with more ‘local’ experience.” And these are just a few of my own experiences that illustrate the constant exhaustion my friend was alluding to.
I’m also aware that there is another type of fatigue that can become an unseen threat when it comes to incidents involving hate crime. This can happen whenever we give in to the temptation to look the other way when we hear or witness a racial slur, or worst, when it has been happening for so long that for whatever reason, we try to pretend bigotry doesn’t even exist. But, this is where silence can become the more dangerous foe. We need only peer around us in the present political climate across the globe, and the shadow of the past two world wars and current conflicts to see the devastating effects of appeasement, and worst, indifference to violence.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
I must say that the swift actions of our local police today went a long way in restoring my trust in the fact that our community locally, and nationally, are refusing to remain indifference to intolerance. After dispatching two officers in cars with sirens, they took our statements very seriously and carefully before searching for the offending man in the area (and unfortunately, they were not able to locate him as of yet). They informed us that all matters of racially-incited offenses and violence are being dealt with severely across the country. Their actions and words gave me a sense of hope and reassurance that we were not alone.
That our experience mattered.
That our voices are being heard.
It reassures me to know that right here in our own neighbourhood and in our town, indifference has no home.
If you have experienced or witnessed any form of attacks based on hate, know that this is a crime and must be stopped. The following are several links that will show you ways you can find the people and resources you need to speak out against vile actions and words like the ones my family and I experienced and can find the support needed to take action against it:
Reporting Hate Crime:
Hate Crime Support Line
Stop Hate UK: