By nature, I am not a confrontational individual. I like to keep violent inclinations towards fellow human beings firmly suppressed because
a) the outcome of giving vent to them is unpredictable (I might get hurt),
b) Confrontation requires a measured reaction in a pressurised situation, which I am sometimes incapable of.
c) All humans are, after all, only frail and often foolish.
Although these are the true reasons for my inertness, I often tell myself that non-confrontation is fine, since being slow to anger is a prophetic characteristic. This is of course, a convenient delusion. I can start simmering with rage just as quickly as anyone, except I can keep a lid on it.
That’s the person I thought I was, but it appears that a more refined theory is needed in light of recent events. Walking home from the park with my little brother, I saw a man walk by on the opposite side of the road. This being Alum Rock, there was nothing very peculiar about him: he was dressed in traditional south Asian clothes and he sported a henna-dyed ginger beard so bright it lit up the road with its luminosity. As I walked towards the road to cross it, I passed a pub on my left and thought I heard someone say something about a beard. As I turned to look at where I thought the comment had come from, I saw a huddle of people standing outside the pub doors laughing with gusto. As I stood waiting to cross the road, I thought I heard another taunt- in a voice loud enough for me to hear, but not loud enough to be heard by the bearded man who was now about fifty yards away. And there was more laughter. Just as I was about to cross the road I heard something else. And I stopped. I turned around, and the laughter also stopped. What I had heard was, ‘he’s got a bomb in his bag’.
I turned around, and I can only recall the next few moments as a haze of wild gesticulations, angry words fired with venom, and pathetic justifications. Having made a protest loud enough for most people in the vicinity to hear, I finally walked away trembling with rage, promising that I would bring the matter to the attention of the police. How could it be that, in broad daylight, without provocation, a person could have the audacity to shout racist abuse and not be held to account for it? How disgraceful would it have been for me to walk by like a coward after hearing what I had heard?
Very recently, I had started reading the auto-biography of Malcolm X, and I was taken aback by the rhetoric he sometimes employed against white Americans. Notwithstanding his later moderation in attitude, I felt his words tended to be extreme and divisive. But I realised this: he lived the age of overt racism; an age when the shackles of servitude had to be violently, uncompromisingly cast open. He was a brave man and a truthful man; a man unafraid of confrontation.
As I walked home with my little brother, I realised that this is the world in which he must make his way. It is no longer the black man who is fettered, but the Muslim. His dress, speech and beliefs must be moderated by a society increasingly intolerant of difference. And it would be yet more difficult for my little sister who-if she chooses to wear it- will wear a headscarf with great difficulty. This is the future bequeathed to us by the bigots and fundamentalists. Justice, let us hope, may yet prevail if we stand together to confront them.