The Specials

I remember the day very clearly, which for me is amazing, as I have a terrible memory. To the tune of “Brown Girl in the Ring” by Boney M, the life-guard in charge of the lockers at the Civic Centre Swimming Pool in Aylesbury was singing “There’s a brown turd in the pool la-la-la-la-la”. That was the day my white middle-class conscience awoke. I think I was twelve. He was singing it, quite openly, at two ten or eleven-year old asian boys who he had just watched go into the swimming pool. He was singing it to me. I remember laughing nervously, embarrassed (actually that was the exact moment my conscience awoke) and I followed the two children into the pool, wondering what had just happened.

I remember growing up in the 70s. It was nowhere near as materially rich as we are these days. But I had a happy and privileged childhood, full of music, football, arguments with my brother and sister, and holidays in Wales and then later-on in France. I also remember the name-calling. Paki; wog, 4-eyes, piece of skirt, homo, coon, spastic; flid, fatty, duracell, poof,  yido, frog, kraut, wop, ginger, dago, paddy / mick, girl, black-scum, brown was pure bullying and it led to physical bullying. It led to hatred, fear and derision.

Over the course of the next thirty years we learned to embrace this diversity in our society. Not completely, I know, but enough so that using any of the terms which I have just recalled with horror and trepidation, was pretty much removed from most of our streets. People who used these words, and other terms like them, were very much in the minority and out of keeping with how our society had developed. We were ‘tolerant’. Even our big companies embraced diversity, and still do, as they recognised the benefits that having different approaches to problems can have.

Our society became more tolerant. Culturally the British landscape altered dramatically. I think I thank the British music scene for this, as they were at the forefront with ska and other mashed up forms that fused different cultural backgrounds. Now our towns and cities are full of shops and restaurants of so many different cultures. I’m sure you must be able to buy food from every country on earth, and some, in Camden Market in London.Our society was enriched by the diversity we strived to celebrate. It was not perfect. Racism didn’t completely go away; homophobia was not banished for ever; sexism did not wither on the vine. But it was better. We were more educated and open to other influences. Globalisation, cheap travel, the internet; these things meant we met people from all over the world and travelled to far-flung places much more easily. We saw that things outside of our small island kingdom of nations were actually not that bad and sometimes even better than at home in Blighty!

And then the world changed. 2016 happened. We are now living in a country, as are others, where that kind of name-calling bullying is returning. It has started to lead, and if unchecked will lead further, to more physical bullying and violence. We will all become more insular and afraid of the small variations in human culture across the globe. For more than half the population of the UK (if such a construct remains) life will be lived in fear. More than half, because more than half of us could be labelled by one or more of the bullying names I mentioned above. I hate to confess it, but I remember using some of those terms. I remember my friends using them. It seemed normal. Until my white middle class conscience was pricked by that twenty-something life-guard in a provincial swimming pool. I was lucky. I was white and middle-class. My only ‘faults’, were short-arse and frizzy hair.

Please, let’s stand up to the mood of hatred that has been provoked by the populist reaction to the ISIS threat. Where we see intolerance, let’s stand against it. Where we see injustice, let’s call it out. We are all born on this planet and have an equal right to live our life the way we choose, within the bounds of the societies in which we are.

Where people threaten this way of life, where they break the laws, they must be dealt with. That does not mean we turn our backs when we see hatred and we stay silent when we see injustice. Stand up peacefully but forcefully for the tolerant society we were building. Work together, to strengthen it. Do not give in to hatred, lies and fear, hyped up by media to sell papers, or politicians for the sake of power and control. Our society is ours. We, the people, must stand up for the tolerant society that we and our parents’ and grandparents’ generations built after the catastrophe which was provoked the last time insular nationalist forces were left unchecked in the Second World War.

I am not urging support of particular political parties. I am urging support for the society we created and the naming and shaming, with logic, emotion and truth (not alternative truth) where we see those things that are causing the cancer that will eventually kill our stability and our children’s future.

Our generation of youth music started tolerance in the 70s. Let’s do it again. 

Don’t give in to fear. Don’t give in to violence. Don’t give in to hatred. Don’t give in to intolerance.

 We can be better than this. 2017 must be our year!

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