Over the weekend I went to a picnic with some of my girfriend’s friends. It was a lovely afternoon in Hyde Park – apart from the weather; after sweating through the London heatwave for many weeks, it was now absolutely fucking freezing following a thunderstorm the night before; I was also inappropriately dressed for a heatwave, having not checked the weather app beforehand (!!!) Some of these people I’d already met on a previous night out so it was good to be around people I already knew; some were new faces, and very welcoming.
We had a great afternoon of munching on a picnic brunch and listening to good music on a portable speaker.
Until the conversation turned sinister. One of the older women began a debate on legalising drugs; some of the group were for legalising while others were against. There was already some tension as the woman who had initiated the conversation was incredibly forthcoming with her opinions and dominating the debate. Myself and another girl removed ourselves from the conversation as it became more and more heated, by lying down and talking amongst ourselves, however I could still hear my girlfriend very much trying to get the woman to see her point of view while agreeing with some of the opposing points, which the woman clearly couldn’t see, because she wasn’t actually listening to my girlfriend and instead was just raising her voice to oppress my girlfriend.
Then suddenly, the debate turned even more sinister as the woman brought social economic status as well as race into the debate. Although she said that she believed the middle classes were to blame for the drug problems within the working class, she also said believed that Black people were a major problem with their gang culture wars and “nonsensical murdering amongst the community”. She then brought up the recent murder of an eighteen year old in Brixton (Latwaan Griffiths, 18) and said that this had been related to drugs, therefore the boy was clearly no angel as depicted by grieving family and friends, but:
“a little shit who had trouble coming to him”.
Imagine my surprise that she could be so open about her views on the murder of a young Black man in the presence of a Black woman. However, for the sake of keeping the harmony, I kept silent.
She mentioned that she had read about the incident in a news article in that day’s Evening Standard, a copy of which she had. I asked if I could see it and as I read it, nowhere did I see any mention of drugs being related to the death of this Black young man. It did however mention that he was a rapper. BINGO! I thought. She clearly read “rapper” and made assumptions based upon the connotations of the colour of his skin and his occupation.
*I was going to link the article here, however the online version is EXTREMELY different to the printed version. E.g. the online version doesn’t mention Griffiths being a rapper, neither does it have any of the positive quotes from his loved ones*
As I finished the article, she continued to make derogatory remarks about the Black community to me. This time only to me. At this point, I then said to her “I don’t want to speak about this anymore”.
She ignored me and carried on. By this point, I was clearly visibly distressed, which she continued to ignore as she insisted on to making her derogatory opinions heard. I then said, you do realise that there is more to this story? She replied:
“yeah, that he was involved in gangs and drugs and had no better aspirations, just like the rest of them.”
“well no, there’s more to it than that, especially in terms of the societal problems within the community.”
However, she wasn’t getting the hint and she continued in her argument that boys like this were just little shits. I then said to her that she clearly couldn’t see the bigger picture, so there really was no point in having this discussion any further, to which she replied “well why don’t you tell me?” It had earlier become clear to me that she had no interest in my opinion and that she was just baiting me for a reaction, hence I told her that I refused to engage in any further conversation and walked away. She then went back to the rest of the group and still within earshot, I could hear her continuing her debate and derogatory remarks. My girlfriend came over to me to apologise for this woman’s behaviour and asked if I was ok, to which I responded nearly in tears that no I wasn’t and that I really didn’t want to make a scene so I’m just going to go home. My girlfriend begged me to stay, but I felt so uncomfortable that regardless of how lovely the rest of the group were, I just didn’t want to be around them. I felt like I’d been attacked and felt raw to the touch.
Having decided to go home, I wanted to say my goodbyes to the rest of the group, but I could still hear this woman ranting away, so after thinking carefully about what I wanted to do and say, I then said to my girlfriend: “I’m going to say something” and before my girlfriend could respond, I walked up the woman and said:
“Can I just give you some advice? In future, you really need to be careful of how you speak about Black people around a Black person, because sometimes what you say can be harmful”.
I did not call her racist, I just informed her that her comments were harmful. Immediately her response was to become defensive as she accused me of calling her a racist and acted offended. This made me extremely upset. To top it off, she then said to me “I’m sorry if I offended you, but I’m not racist” which is when my girlfriend jumped in and said:
“hold on! Saying ‘sorry if I offended you’ is not a real apology! If you’re going to apologise for what you’ve said and really mean it, you don’t say ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ because that’s not accepting responsibility”
The woman then responded “well I’m sorry, but I’m not a racist! I have black-”
And before she could finish that sentence I cried “oh here we go! The ‘I’m not a racist because I have one Black friend’ argument. Well guess what? You are a fucking racist because you’ve proved yourself to be one”.
She then became angry at me for calling her a racist again (even though this was actually the first time I had said it) and approached me to touch me. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps to pacify me, however in that moment I did not want to be touched, especially by a fucking racist. As I stepped back and told her not to fucking touch me, she had the caucasity to look affronted, while saying, “I just want to calm you down” – because I’m an angry Black woman right, and like bears, racists think we need to be calmed down and tamed, to which I repeated my request that she do not touch me. She then stormed off, yelling that she had been victimised.
Having not wanting to cause a scene, I was petrified that everybody except my girlfriend would be angry with me for “spoiling the afternoon”. However, all of the group bare one person, were completely on my side. They completely sympathised with me and understood where I was coming from. In fact, I’d felt so guilty and embarrassed about the entire altercation, that I was contemplating going home so that everybody else could enjoy themselves without me. However, the rest of the group insisted that I come out for drinks with them.
The one person who wasn’t on my side, was of course friends with the racist who had stormed off and she decided to go and follow her friend to see if she was okay. The rest of us decided to find a pub in which to hang out. Eventually the friend caught up with us and started filling everybody else in on what had been discussed. I decided to walk away from the group at a near distance in front, to also distance myself from the drama, because I was still feeling raw, but at the same time I no longer wanted to be part of it. However, I could hear this woman saying that her racist friend had told her that she hadn’t done anything wrong and had been called a racist for no reason. This woman then started calling my name.
I ignored her, hoping she would get the hint.
She didn’t. She came running after me and asked if we could talk about what had happened. I replied that I really didn’t want to and just wanted to move on from the situation. However, this woman REFUSED TO LISTEN TO ME and proceeded to tell me that her friend was not a racist and didn’t understand what she had done wrong, and that she was hurt by being called a racist, plus she’s worked with black people for years –
Before this bitch could rant any further I cut her off with the following:
“Okay, I’ve just told you that I don’t want to talk about this anymore, but you’ve ignored me. You need to understand that I AM the victim here, not your friend and when I tell you that I do not want to talk about this, it’s because it’s extremely upsetting for me. Okay?”
She said okay before skulking off with a hurt expression on her face. (Classic white fragility – why the fuck is she upset in this situation????)
She then decided that she could no longer come to the pub with us (although she had planned to before this latter discussion with me) because she suddenly had to meet a friend.
To say that the rest of the group were not disappointed by this would be an understatement.
I spent the rest of the walk praised for my heroism and confidence, before sitting down in a lovely pub in Kensington having drinks and having some cheeky girl chat.
However, as much as I appreciate the compliment, to say that I was brave is incorrect; standing up against racism isn’t about bravery, it’s about having to remind racists that Black people are human beings and fighting for my right as a human to just live my fucking life. That doesn’t take guts, it takes fucking stamina because it’s fucking exhausting. I’m also not as confident as I may come across online, and therefore try to avoid confrontations; as you can see from my account of what happened last weekend, I purposefully tried to remove myself from this situation MORE THAN ONCE, however I was bombarded with aggressive white fragility to not only victimise and dehumanise me, but to also put me in my place. As the only Black woman in the group, I was being told by these two women that I was not wanted in this space. It was actually like they were telling me: What’s it going to take to get you to leave?
On the positive side, the best thing about the situation is not only that the group were on my side, but also my girlfriend had my back for the first time ever in an altercation with a racist. She paid attention not only to the situation but also to my feelings, without me having to communicate them and she’s now realised that not paying attention and then making excuses for white people’s racism just doesn’t cut it. You can’t NOT be a racist and still say racist things. As white people, you are conditioned to think about Black people and POC (people of colour) a certain way and act around / towards us a certain way, sometimes without you even realising. However, this is no excuse because if you refuse to realise and make an effort to unlearn these insidious racist messages and propaganda – especially as an adult – then I’m afraid you are a racist.
You can also see that from the way my girlfriend spoke up for me, you can speak out against racism while also keeping the attention on the Black person, as opposed to taking the spotlight for yourself because you want to paint yourself as a white saviour or ally.
It really isn’t that fucking hard.
Rest in power Latwaan Griffiths 🖤