When Souleymane, a black Frenchman was prevented by Chelsea fans from taking the Metro on his way back home from work in the evening of Tuesday 17th February, he did not complain to anybody.
Not to the officials of the Paris Metro.
Not to the police.
Not to his wife and children.
Souleymane waited for another train, got home, had his dinner and went to bed. He went to work the next day and told no one about the incident. On his way back home, he was met by a Parisian journalist who was actively looking for him based on his appearance in the video of the incident from the previous evening.
Souleymane kept this most humiliating experience to himself for 24 hours as the journalist was the first person with whom he ever spoke about the incident.
As soon as the news broke and the video was being played in a loop online and on TV, the usual outrage and indignation that follow this type of stories were in abundance. Everybody has an opinion on the matter and thankfully, the consensus was that it was bad. Mercifully, this is not the United States of America where black people can be murdered on video and there will be more news about the victims’ irrelevant past indiscretions than the actual murderer.
I am most grateful that that is not the case here in the good old United Kingdom.
A question that nobody asked and which I kept hoping that somebody would, amidst all the garment rending and shedding of tears for the poor black man denied of the use of a service that he has paid for because of the colour of his skin was this:
Why didn’t he complain to anyone about the incident? Why do people feel so outraged by the event but the victim simply kept his mouth shut for more than 24 hours?
I am not going to suggest the reason(s) why no one in the media asked this most pertinent and intriguing question despite spending days on the story but I am going to try to answer the question of why Souleymane didn’t complain about the racist incident to anybody.
Souleymane knew that complaining about it was a waste of time! He would have been accused to playing the race card or more charitably, reading too much into it. Without the video, who would have believed his allegation of being prevented from entering a train by a group of white people because he was black in 2015? Well, other than people of colour with similar experiences.
Apart from facial and height differences, I could pass for Souleymane in a low resolution video. When my wife first saw the video, one of her comments was about how the man was dressed like me and carrying a bag that was quite similar to the one I carry to work. I also use public transport primarily to commute to work. Swap the Paris Metro station for another train station in the North West of England and I could be the one in the video.
I absolutely understand Souleymane. I have been in Soulemany’s shoes. Hell, virtually every person of colour living in Europe and America have been in Souleymane’s shoes. Not by being kicked off trains necessarily but suffering other forms of racial discriminations against which we can’t complain. And we know that there are two diametrically opposite reactions that usually follow complaints of racism depending on the circumstances.
1. With Evidence (especially video)
We get righteous indignation and outrage. Big chastising words are used to describe the offenders. Solutions akin to killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer are prescribed.
If you need any example of this, look no further than the reactions that followed the actions of the Chelsea fans in Paris when the video emerged.
2. Without Evidence
If a person of colour has the misfortune of suffering acts of racism without recorded evidence – which is 99% of the time as we don’t go about with the recording features of our mobile phones turned on in anticipation of capturing racial abuses against us – then it is our word against those of our abusers before the person of authority who is most likely to be white. This seldom goes well and justice is seldom served.
There will be outrage and righteous indignation alright but it will be coming from the accused. Tears will be shed in sorrow for being so evilly portrayed. Other white people will line up to vouch for the accused racist’s colour blindness. We will learn about his black friend. If we are lucky, we are told that we are just making too much of nothing. In less lucky instances, we are accused of playing the race card.
When we tell our family about our experiences, depress them as they have their own from time to time too. When we make our children aware of our experiences with racists, we scare them and deprive them of their innocence and opportunity to forge a resentment-free relationship with their white peers.
Souleymane said as much and in case anyone is wondering whether the guy was just not really bothered, he filed a report with the police as soon as he was made aware of the video evidence, demanding punishment for the racists. In other word, he didn’t file a report before only because he had no evidence and I suspect, based on personal experience in this respect that he chose to suck it up rather than risk being labelled a race card player.
The lack of self awareness from the media on this matter and the fact that despite all the noise, not one media or public figure was bothered by the fact that the guy took this sad experience on the chin is worrisome even if not unexpected. A perusal of Souleymane’s story shows very clearly how hurt the man was by the incident.
A few quotes:
“I live with racism … We’re vaccinated against racism”
“I was a little bit hurt physically but in terms of morale I was hurt a lot”
“It was important that all this came out. I’m not the only black person who has been the victim of racism and if I’m here it’s not only to denounce what I’ve been through but it’s for all the black people across the world facing it, everywhere, be it in France, London, the US … It has to stop. We’re in a world where everyone has their place, black, white, Muslim, Jew, atheist or anything else.”
“I just want justice to be done, no more than that”
Focusing on What’s Important
I decided to write this piece not to counter Pararealist’s brave and well meaning article from a few days ago but to add a few points. Para’s mention of misplaced outrage is my favourite part of the article. Minorities and people of colour are not as worried about being called names as we are about being denied opportunities to progress career-wise despite having equal or (in many instances) better qualification and experience. If a black person is called the ‘n’ word or an Asian is called the ‘p’ word AND it is recorded, we never hear the end of it but while being called disparaging names because of our skin colours or nationality is hurtful, what hurts more is the racism of the board/interview room.
While Suarez and Terry were subjects of intense media focus, we don’t hear anything about the improbably low number of football managers who are ethnic minorities or the fact that no person of colour is good enough to be a top tier English referee. While minorities detest the humiliation of being called names or treated differently in social situations, what we hate a lot more is being denied opportunities for economic advancement. This is one area that you never hear anything about in the media except when some embarrassing statistics emerge and then we get the standard patronising expression of concern from the media and the politicians and then nothing.
I am very happy that Para raised this issue and dealt with it very well. Where I don’t really agree with Para, is on the definition of racism. Para believes that it is the combination of prejudice and the power to act on that prejudice; I think it is a superiority/inferiority belief system or issue. Naturally, a racist with power can do more harm than one without but what guides all them all is their belief in the superiority or supremacy of their race.
If you believe that people of your race are superior to people of any other race then you are a racist. It is that simple. There are various types of racism from the passive to the active to the morbid but they are all based on the belief that some people are inferior because of their skin colour.
Passive Racism: Passive racists are not going to consciously act in any bad way to people of other races even though they believe that they are superior to them. Some passive racists will even be patronisingly nice to those they see as inferior. Most people are in this category as we all have some prejudice in us that have been imbibed since we were too young to know better. It takes conscious effort to not be passively racist.
Passively racist people are often offended when informed of their subtle racism. They think that only using racial epithets or stopping people from boarding a train because of their skin colour is racism. Passive racists are typically good salt of the earth decent people. We all know some in our family and social circles. They say awful racially stereotypical stuff in the guise of ‘plain speaking’. They are quick to complain about political correctness gone mad when called out. Sheldon Cooper’s mother’s character in the Big Bang Theory is a very good example in popular culture.
Passive racists may not cause hurt out of racial spite but if they are responsible for filling positions, they will always appoint people like them. A fancy term for this is institutional racism, which is what we get when well mannered racists are calling the shots in an organisation. This is rampant in the UK and most of the Western world and it hurts people of colour more than negative name calling and the idiotic action of the Chelsea fans that polite white people would usually be outraged by.
Active Racism: This takes conscious effort. Active racists don’t just believe that they belong to the superior race; they believe that their race is supreme. They take a lot of pride in this and actively endeavour to maintain the supremacy. The good news is that there are not that many of them; the bad news is that they are allowed to bear and raise children.
Morbid Racism: Active racism combined with psychopathic tendencies (usually possessed by a charismatic lead figure) lead to unspeakable evil that have occurred in history and which I am not very comfortable talking about.
Reverse Racism or Resentment?
When people of colour react to the constant racism they experience, the charge of reverse racism is made to show that it all balances out or, worse, that the minorities are now the real racial oppressors. This is ludicrous.
There may be some Africans or Asians who believe they are superior to whites but they are a very tiny minority. Many of us believe, with great defiance, I must add, that we are equal to whites and what is usually termed reverse racism on our part is nothing but resentment because of the discrimination that we experience but have no power to change or even challenge.
Racism is an uncomfortable topic. More so for white people who – to be fair – are often lumped together in heated moments and collectively blamed for atrocities of bigots today and generations past. On the other hand, white people need to stop the knee jerk defensive reaction when people of colour complain of racism. The next black person to suffer Souleymane’s fate should be free to file an official complaint, safe in the knowledge that his case would not be treated with suspicion or prejudice.