About a week or so ago, I was on the way home to my newly-moved-into house and, still unfamiliar with the route, got off the bus a stop too early. This resulted in me having to walk a comparably long distance on a narrow pathway sandwiched between lots of tall plants that blocked me from view and a huge drain that would not be fun to fall into.
Did I mention it was nighttime and so everything was dark?
Now, I am likely one of the most paranoid people you could ever meet. I’ve spent many nights lying in bed, searching for the best way to escape from many hypothetical serial killers, burglars, etc. These range from what-if-they-kill-my-whole-family-first-and-I’m-the-only-one-left-alive to how-can-I-save-my-brother to if-i-lie-really-still-under-the-covers-will-it-look-like-there’s-no-one-sleeping-here to…yeah. Vast open spaces and dimly lit car parks at night are not my favourite places, to put it mildly. I keep my eye out for masked men with knives who might jump out from the longkangs and assault me while I’m trying to walk home. Every person around me is a suspect, and I’ve gotten a lot of practice on my walk-quickly-but-not-too-quickly-or-else-they’ll-know-I’m-running-away walk, and the casual-glance-at-the-phone-pretending-to-be-in-contact-with-people-so-hopefully-they’ll-be-deterred-cos-I-can-call-the-police-quickly act.
I am realizing that this sounds rather extreme, and it is, but I also know that these fears are unfounded. I’ve got God on my side! Anyway, that isn’t the point of this post, as the title might suggest.
So back to the story. I was walking home the other night. A man was walking a few metres behind me, which, of course, made my paranoid sensors go crazy. After what seemed like forever – and possibly-almost falling into the drain – I made it home safely.
I was relaying the experience to one of my friends the other day and included one more detail that I deliberately left out here – the man happened to be a Bangla worker. She immediately called me out, of course. Racist!!
My first defence was: I would’ve been scared no matter what race the guy was!
I thought about it last night, and realized that yes, I would’ve been scared no matter his race. But would I have remembered any other race? Would I have included that detail in my story-telling?
I could say that I included it for the sake of being detailed – good writers’ practice. But unfortunately, I don’t think I can say that here.
Racism doesn’t have to be overt. In fact, it’s the subconscious attitudes that are the deadliest. It’s been said that no one can be free of racism. Everyone’s a little bit racist (no, I never watched Avenue Q…). It’s more of a spectrum, ranging from less racist to more racist, than a binary (racist or not). My favourite metaphor for this comes from Beverly Tatum.
“I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior…is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and choose to turn around, unwilling to go to the same destination as [them]. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt – unless they are actively antiracist – they will find themselves carried along with the others.” (Beverly Tatum, “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? and Other Conversations About Race”)
A useful metaphor for many things, really.