Uncomfortable reading ahead:
Last night, I caught the train home from a brilliant weekend in Manchester. Long distance journeys on public transport make me pretty anxious anyway but when I found my train completely crammed with drunk football fans – I was close to panic.
I managed to shuffle my way to my seat but a woman in a head scarf was sitting there with her daughter. Aware of the atmosphere and fearing the worst, I told her to stay in my seat until her stop. The football chants continued in full force – loud and constant. I couldn’t think and I was desperate to get off the train but I had to get home.
When the woman left with her daughter, I grabbed my seat by the window and a quiet guy who was standing with me sat beside me. He was as desperate as I was for the chanting to stop so we chatted about anything and everything to take our minds off of it.
After a while, I said I’d try to drown things out with my music. It didn’t really work – it was more of a distraction at least. A moment later, I noticed a change in tone and one of the men was looking at me and smiling as he was chanting. I took out my earphones to listen more clearly – the guy next to me told me to keep listening to my music and ignore it. The chanting had moved on to the mocking of South Asian accents filled with stereotypes. To say I was upset is an understatement. I was filled with a terrible mix of rage, pain and fear.
During all of this, the same chanter looked at me and smiled. The guy next on me continued to talk, telling me they were ignorant idiots and they that were nothing. I told him I was going to shout at them and tell them to shut up. He told me that I needed to keep myself safe and that it could escalate things. He said if I had to do something then I should just call the police. I did.
Once I’d reported what was happening, I sat, watched and waited with my heart hammering in my chest. They’d gone on to illegal immigrants and the like. I kept switching between weeping and swearing. The man next to me kept talking to me throughout – a great comfort. I messaged my friends and tried to take my mind off of the fact that I was sat in my own hell, unable to leave for over two hours.
The chanting returned to football stuff. A woman shouted at the men to shut up but was met with the chant of ‘she’s going home in an ambulance’. No-one said anything to that.
When she left the train, the police arrived and the carriage became totally silent. No-one said a word. One of the chanters was loudly complaining to the police about the woman who told them to shut up. I couldn’t take it so I called over one of the officers, explaining what the woman said and that I had reported the chants. They asked me to identify anyone I could. The only person I could clearly identify was the one who smiled and stared at me while he chanted. The rest had their heads turned or were obscured by seats or other passengers. They said they’d remove him and asked me to make a statement – I said I would. As they escorted the man off the train, I stared at him and smiled.
What happened afterwards, upset me most. The guy next to me who heard everything wished me luck and got off at his station – he didn’t want to talk to the police. The other passengers on the same carriage who heard everything remained silent as I called my better half and told him what had happened in tears. They looked at me and I looked back – then they averted their eyes. My statement would be the only one. I was painfully aware of that fact.
As I sit reflecting on the events of last night, I feel so frustrated and self-doubting. Did no-one say anything because they didn’t think the chanters were being racist? Did they think I was being sensitive or over-reacting? Thing is I know – everyone should bloody know – that you don’t have to use racist language to be racist. Mocking accents and laughing about illegal immigrants while you’re staring and smiling at a brown woman and the brown man in front of her surely is not OK. Am I wrong?
I wish sometimes that I had the privilege of being ignorant. I wish I could hear this stuff and not register it – it’s drunk banter, it’s nothing. Being drunk doesn’t make you racist or xenophobic though. You were those things already but alcohol loosens your tongue and gives you enough bravado to say that ignorant rubbish in public. I wish I could ignore it all. I wish I could say that my brown skin doesn’t spark some vile thought in someone’s brain. The fact is I know far too much. I know it’s not drunk banter. I know that it’s about brown skin. I know that it’s racist. Sometimes I hate myself for knowing so much. Knowing so much is incredibly lonely.