Saturday, April 26, 2008

Racially profiled in the West End and other stories

It is not very late, at least by the standards of the West End- perhaps ten thirty or so. I have finished dinner in Chinatown with the friends visiting from Nigeria, and am now making my way to Tottenham Court Road tube station to catch the tube home. The weather has suddenly turned chilly in that capricious way that English weather in the spring has, and I decide that I am best off retrieving my scarf and gloves from my coat pockets and putting them on. Seeing the bustle of the busy street, I stop and make my way to a street corner, my back pressed against a lamp post, my work backpack balanced firmly between my legs and proceed to make the necessary adjustments to my attire. I am nearly done, the gloves pulled snugly on, when he walks up to me. He is wearing the fluorescent yellow waistcoat over what I soon realize is a police uniform.
“Ere” he barks “what are you up to?”

I look behind me, certain that he isn’t addressing me.

But he is. He repeats his question “So what are you up to?”

I am so surprised by the aggressive tone that I stammer out “Just on my way home”

“Well, go on then”, he retorts

I slowly, deliberately, give my gloves a final tug, reach down and lift my backpack on to my back and then head down the road.

Ten steps later, I am filled with anger- why on earth have I walked off so meekly? Since when was it a crime to stand on a busy street corner in the West End? Why has he picked on me? It is too late to turn back and so I continue home seething.

The next day recounting the story to an English friend who works nearby, he explains that I must have been mistaken for a purveyor of chemical substances- apparently the private clubs nearby where English media types and celebrities congregate also lead to a lot of traffic in materials, and PC Plod must have mistaken me for one of them.

I am incensed, and wonder why the mostly white middleclass users are not accosted in the same way. Two weeks on, I remain bemused by it all….... It's the sort of thing you expect in South London, but in the heart of the West End?

The London mayoral elections loom, and in spite of (and perhaps because of) the heavy campaign by the London newspaper, the Evening Standard against the incumbent, Ken Livingstone, I’ve firmly decided to vote for him. The thought of Boris Johnson, the faux-bumbling Tory toff, who once famously referred to black children as piccaninnies in an article, becoming Mayor, fills me with dread. He’s so obviously of a type – tousled untidy hair, Etonian drawl and all- that harks back to another, less open London. Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem candidate hasn’t a chance in hell, so why throw away my vote? Many of my English middle class friends loathe Ken, but it isn’t a loathing I share. He may not be the most likeable person but I think he’s the best candidate for Mayor and that he’s done a fairly good job. It’s bad enough that Gordon Brown and his dithering may end up handing the country on a plate to the Tories. Let’s at least try and make sure they don’t get London as well….

On the subject of nasty Tories, I’ve just finished Andrew Hosken’s Nothing Like a Dame- about the shenanigans of Tesco heiress, Dame Shirley Porter as leader of the Tory dominated Westminster Council. It makes for chilling reading, and highlighted for me why for many who lived through those years, the Tories are still seen as “the nasty party”

Another chilling read was Violation: Justice, Race and Serial Murder in the Deep South by David Rose. Through the prism of one African American man’s trial for a series of murders in Columbus, South Carolina, Rose paints a shocking picture of the long history of racism and the justice system in the Deep South. It horrified and saddened me, particularly the story of the lynching of a young black boy after his white friend was killed, probably accidentally while they were playing with a gun….

The Obama and Clinton fight continues and as it drags on, potentially putting a Democratic victory into jeopardy, I continue to marvel at the viciousness that is being unleashed….

Back home in Nigeria, our president remains in a German hospital, while the country remains without a Minister of Health. We are assured that the president is doing well, yet no-one explains why he is still recuperating abroad if this is the case. I certainly hope he makes a full recovery soon as the prospect of a President Jonathan sends shivers down my spine….

Granta magazine has launched a new website, and on my first visit, I found it while nicely designed, strangely insipid, bare, like a newly renovated house that no-one has moved into. Nevertheless, there is an interesting letter from Petina Gappah to Thabo Mbeki on the continuing crisis in her home country of Zimbabwe


Atutupoyoyo said...

I encountered a similar misadventure with the law on my recent trip. I was disgusted at myself for acting so timdly when questioned. Like you I had done nothing wrong save for fit a particular criminal profile.

The Barack/Hillary tussle has become unpalatable. There is only one likely winner in their battle and ironically he is not a democrat. Obama has acted admirably in many ways but he too has been just as guilty at times.

MTM said...

You just have to watch the Boris Johnson video at youtube ( ) to see the sorts of casual racism which people consider acceptable.
Of course, London's more tolerant than most European cities - but you just can't allow people with these attitudes to win. Please do pass that video on to your friends if you agree - from my facebook page, a friend saw it and said they had decided not to vote for BJ because of his casual racism.

KemiMamaLopes said...

Go Ken :) Not a real Ken fan but he seems the best of a bad bunch.

Funny how we have all met PC Plod. I have rehearsed phrases in my mind but words always seem to fail me when it actually occurs. One day sha.

Morountodun said...

I wish it were just the tale of PC Plod. At least a couple of times a year when I'm strolling around the shopping mall during my lunch break dressed in a business suit I've been mistaken for a Security Guard shop assistant etc. Is it still so unusual to see a black male in a business suit?

Jaycee said...

Dear UK Naija, you've just been tagged on my blog. Lol.

joicee said...

Don´t mind the bloody PC Plod...he probably makes use of this chemical sunsbtances as well...

Yar´Adua is in a german hospital...sometimes I ask myself...haven´t our leaders no shame at all?

Lol @at your comment regarding President Goodluck Jonathan...his name alone makes me go into fits of laughter..lmao...Goodluck indeed.

Ekoakete said...

Many a time I have kicked myself for not speaking up when I should have, but sometimes I guess you just want to leave the situation. Re: Yar'adua, everytime I hear one of our leaders going for treatment abroad, it just makes me despair...tsk

NigerianDramaQueen said...

Very well written. I encounter similar experieces like this every other here in Paris. I didn't know Yar'Adua was sick...

Anonymous said...

I suppose you have the choice of going back to Lagos? Many people do not have a choice. Be grateful.

Ms. Catwalq said...

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