Today I had first-hand experience of the post-referendum racism I’ve read so many accounts of over the last few days. I was in the post office (in Bristol) which is run by an Indian family – I go in there a lot with stuff for work and usually the same lady is working behind the counter and we often have a chat. She acknowledged a man behind me who joined the queue. There were some cheery pleasantries exchanged, but he had a rather loud obnoxious air about him. When she asked if he was alright, he announced ‘yes, I’m more than ok – finally the British people have made a good decision!’
I had one of those feelings of oh God, this is really happening, as he said some other stuff about making Britain great again. The woman behind the counter and I shared glances, and waved it off. She simply just smiled at him.
He carried on and said ‘And that’s coming from an Irish man!’ The women continued to humour him and came back with ‘well you might have to get a passport to go to Ireland.’
He snapped back ‘yeah, that’s fine.’
And then he said, ‘When are you going home?’
I couldn’t quite believe it. I stared straight ahead into the glass and had one of those split second decisions to make – should I turn around and confront him? I could sort of see his reflection and he was a big guy – to be honest anyone would be in comparison to me being on the shorter side, and being female. The woman at the counter continued to smile, in a gritted teeth sorta way. I looked at her and she shook her head and gave me a look of ‘just don’t, it’s fine.’
I didn’t have time to consider any longer - he realised he forgot something and left, and there was a unified sense of relief. Me and the woman looked at each other and she shook her head again, still smiling. I said ‘that’s horrible, what an idiot’ or something to that effect and she simply just said ‘he comes in here all the time, he’s always offending people. We’re just used to it.’
I suddenly realised that people tolerate so much racism because they have to, because sometimes it’s just easier (and safer) not to fuel their anger.
We’re told to call it out and fight back but if I’d turned around and confronted that man would he have really taken it well from me – a short, younger woman? The woman behind the counter clearly didn’t want me to provoke the situation, she just wanted to get on with her job instead of having to deal with possible aggression in her post office. She seemed ok, but the whole situation was just so sad. People shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of shit just to have an easy life.
Maybe I’ll send them a little token of my support, maybe that’s all I can do now. If we can’t always stop people from acting in such a horrible way, we can make sure we support everyone affected by this awful racism and xenophobia.