Monday, 21 November 2011

A hideously diverse Britain

Planet commuter. It's noisy and dishevelled, but those who live there learn to acclimatise. We read, tune in to our iPod, write - cocooned into our mental space.

I was enjoying that space on a crowded bus from Oxford Street to Paddington commuting with my sister a couple of days ago. I was in the midst of an in depth conversation with her about whether the discounted Philosophy heels I saw earlier were a necessary purchase or not. Serious stuff.

When suddenly that space got invaded. The bus driver made an alarming announcement: "The gentlemen should watch their wallets. The ladies their handbags ; there are pick pocketers on the bus."

The two Spanish tourists in front me looked at each other in confusion but from the way we were all clutching on to our purses and bags, even they could sense something was wrong.

The second incident pricked the bubble. He demanded of the black man (who was standing right beside me!) to come forward and asked him to get off the bus. The man became defensive about this accusation and after a loud exchange of heated words, he fumingly got off the bus. The driver clicked off his microphone and focused on driving the bus.

I turned to my sister, and we both were amazed at the clear distinction being made. She also told me she hadn't seen the man do anything and even looked in his pockets to check his own belongings were intact at the time of announcement.

"I wonder if the others in the bus were aware; what they thought" I thought.

But nothing had changed in the bus. Some were obviously oblivious, distracted by their iPods or Blackberrys. But others must have heard it. It was a bus filled with typically 'well-to-do commuters.'

In my search to find someone to make eye-contact with who shared my value-system, not one person looked up. And so, in that middle class way we do, I put my head down again and at that very moment, I felt hot with shame.

These are anxious times. Stereotyping is quite the thing again. The driver, if confronted, would probably 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, so unaffected. Step by mundane step. That's how tolerance gradually erodes.

Just another bit of kneejerk racism seeps into our society once again.

What would you do if you heard a racist remark on public transportation?

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