Superiority complex

August 8, 2008

My personal privileges as a white middle class UK citizen were brought to light this week by two very different encounters. The first was when a large group of black teenage boys wanted to get on the bus, weren’t allowed, then one of them sabotaged the bus. Although sabotaging a bus is rarely the best cause of action I sympathise with the boys. They are one of the most despised groups in our society, and one that it seems socially acceptable to despise since all the press about gangs, knife and gun crime. They were probably correct when they claimed the bus driver was being racist. I can appreciate the driver was intimidated by the number of them and only wanted to admit some to reduce the chance of rowdiness, but the fact that they could see there was space for them all to fit antagonised them. Unfortunately they did get a little rowdy then, proving in the minds of the passengers what they had suspected all along.

It’s actually that part that happened after that I had most problem with. The boys were not a gang, they were a football team on their way to practice. Despite that the disruntled passengers complained the driver should have done something sooner, they shouldn’t have been allowed onto another bus, and one of them called the police. These were all middle class white people, all very annoyed that their bus had been messed with. The guy who called the police actually shouted at the rest of us for not standing up with him when he confronted one of them (he’s obviously been reading too many opinion pieces on the Independent website). No one spoke up for the kids, but I guess there could have been some secret sympathisers.

I understand why they feel safer in large groups now, with so many suspicious glances.

Not that I understand their entire lives, obviously, though I do think hating teenagers is one of the first signs of aging.

My second encounter was with my new friend Neighbour. Neighbour lives next door (duh) and gets the same bus as me in the morning, giving us the opportunity for a five minute chat before the bus arrives. He is about 60, a working class Brummie who builds staircases for shops. I, being middle class and highly educated, assumed that I was so very much more clever than Neighbour, until we had a chat about books. He is a sci-fi fanatic and loves to read at any given opportunity, though for unspecified reasons (probably since he started living in pokey bedsits) he hasn’t read a book for 3 years. I could not allow this so I lent him A Brave New World and Oryx and Crake the next day: the only sci-fi books I could find at short notice. He was most pleased, and promised to lend me a book of his when another friend returns it, about a half-human half-martian and featuring philosophical discussion on the value of marriage. That is a book I would like to read. Which surprised me. Because I do have huge prejudices in the way I see the world, and I judged Neighbour on his appearance and class and his current main hobby of drinking Carling.

I am glad Neighbour befriended me, he has helped me see flaws in myself that I can address.

Divided attention and personal beliefs

May 13, 2008

I now think people who find it hard to pay attention may be paying attention to too many things. I have neglected my blog for one day too many as I was focused on work. I have probably been neglecting BFF and to a lesser degree Partner as BMF has been in staying for the last few days. It has been an enjoyable weekend though, full of vegetarian fair and though provoking nattering.

One thing, that I was having a proto-thought of before, that I think may help me would be to consider and write down things I believe. I’m a very apologetic person and any time anyone even hints that they might be questioning one of my actions I immediately make the most dismissive excuse for it. For some reason I love to undermine myself – a destructive behaviour that I have no need for.

I believe:

– in trying to be an ethical shopper. I have started by getting a veg box and by buying fair trade. I have no idea whether fair trade actually helps but I feel it is important that shops know that I and the others who support the concept want to be ethical consumers. The organic veg I buy as much for my health as for my belief in supporting the local economy, with reduction in airfreighting coming third. Clothing I find to be a difficult issue. I like going to small shops that stock clothes made by self-employed designers but this is both rare and sometimes expensive. I have no qualms about using charity shops though if you’re looking for something particular they aren’t always ideal (charity bookshops on the contrary take all my money when I go near them). My problem at the moment is needing clothes smart enough for work, cheap enough for my budget, natural fabric enough for my comfort, and non-evil enough for my conscience.

– that western society is still based on deep-rooted prejudices against any minority group (including women as well as ethnic/religion/lgbt groups). I do not know what I should do about this. I recognise that it exists and when I am feeling brave I question what friends say if I feel it to be inappropriate, such as when one of the housefolks expressed a desire to put his penis in Gwyneth Paltrow’s mouth because it was the right shape I asked if that was because his penis was particularly wide and flat. This embarrassed him in a good-natured way (I hope) and made him think twice about what he says in the house (I hope). I understand that he works in a male-dominated profession and probably picks up bad habits from work but I also think it helps for someone to point out that being lewd isn’t always funny.

Also on this topic I went to a local feminist meeting, mostly to see if I could make some intelligent women friends. The meeting went two ways. On the one hand they all knew a lot more about the issues than me, were well up on the terminology and were sensitive to behaviours I might have disregarded. On the other hand they were very focused on the issues they were passionate about, whereas I am a more holistic person. At the time I went I was reading Tescopoly and had just read the section on the effect the corporation has on the lives of women in the third world. Before reading the book (but since leaving uni) I avoided the store as I thought it cheap, nasty, anti-competitive and anti-community. Now I vow to never go there again. But after the meeting one of the women I’d been talking to went right in without hesitation. I know I am judging her harshly, and having found her to be very friendly to me as a newcomer I am probably being unfair, but this is the clearest example I have to show the difference. Each member of the group had a passion – one of them worked in a refuge for survivors of domestic abuse, one of them was campaigning against strip-clubs as they increase the rate of sex attacks in the surrounding area, one of them puts subversive stickers on lads’ mags. I suggested looking into finding female run businesses we could support or female owned cafe’s we could meet in and they looked a bit blank. I’m not sure how I feel about this group. Personally I like to support the positive, create positive reinforcement for positive actions. Of course I understand the need to campaign against things that are bad, but I also want to promote things that are good. In that sense I try to live positively in every action. That’s probably a very idealistic statment as I am prone to reluctance and apathy, but step by step I think I am getting somewhere.

What a huge meander. I may have to find more things to believe in tomorrow.