Thursday, February 26, 2009

My First Encounter with Racism

A few weeks after I arrived here, I had my first encounter with racism...

Craig and I took the bus home from a long day of shopping at the City Centre. We were sitting across from a young couple with their child. The little boy looked at me and started pointing. The father whispered to the kid and the kid looked at me again and blew rasberries at me. I smiled and thought nothing of it, he's just being a kid.

Our stop came up and we proceeded to head down the aisle to the exit. Just as we got up from our seats, the little boy's father said under his breath but loud enough for Craig to hear, "He must have went to Thailand." This infuriariated Craig and he turned around to give him more than a piece of his mind. Luckily, I was right behind him and I had to literally push him off the bus. Craig was more pissed off than I was. Actually, I wasn't pissed off at all. I have experienced worse in my lifetime. It was no big deal and to engage in a fight with someone who is that ignorant is really not worth it. And besides, what should I be offended about? Thailand is a beautiful country with friendly people and amazing food!

I am sort of an anomaly here and I don't exactly blend in with the locals. Because let's face it...I have brown skin and 99% of the people around me are white. People don't quite know how to peg me. I look Asian yet I have an American accent. So the first thing they see is Asian, not American. I've had one stranger come up to me mistaking me for Korean and insisting I was Korean after I told her many times I am an American w/ Filipino heritage. That was weird. Or some have automatically assumed that I am a nurse working at the nearby hospital because of the influx of Filipino healthcare workers that have emigrated to Northern Ireland the past 8 years. I've lost count on how many times I've said, "No, I'm not a nurse." I've had others with the best of their intentions, speak to me like I don't understand English and I confuse them even more when I respond back sounding like a Yank.

This got me thinking about immigrants in Belfast who come from whatever country to build a life here like my parents did when they emigrated to the US. What is life here like for them? And what is it like for their children growing up here? Why did they choose to live here? My fiance said ever since the Celtic Tiger there has been an ever increasing number of immigrants who have come to work in Northern Ireland. A big majority of the temp workers in his company come from Poland or other parts of Eastern Europe. There are also a lot of Africans, Asians (India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia), and those from the Middle East most are students who come to study at either Queen's or University of Ulster. The Chinese have been here ever since he can remember as a kid and possibly longer. He's noticed a lot more Filipinos around the late 90's.

Out of curiosity, I look up on google the immigrant consensus of Belfast and I find pages upon pages of hits regarding various racist attacks dating back around 2003. Most of them taking place in South Belfast on Donegall Road. I am guessing this is where a large majority of ethnic groups reside. I was apalled to read about ethnic cleansing campaigns by alleged loyalist thugs. Pipe bombs thrown into people's homes. Grafitti all over houses and cars telling the Chinese and Filipino communities to get out with swastikas and right wing slogans. Sinn Fein even stepped in condemning these attacks and warned that there must be a stop to this before someone ends up being killed. In 2004, Filipino nurses had become victims of attacks at such an alarming number that even President Arroyo of the Philippines took notice and directed her Department of Foreign Affairs to coordinate with the UK authorities for the protection of Filipino citizens in Northern Ireland.

The most recent racist attack was just 2 weeks ago! A Bangladeshi student was ganged up by 15 people who kicked and beat him to the ground. He ran to a nearby home for help and it took 2 and a half hours for police to respond! In a BBC article from 2004 Duncan Morrow of the Community Relations Council stated: "I think we have a lazy toleration of racism in this community and that has got to stop, because clearly people are under attack," he said. "This is now very serious, as it's becoming regular." No shit! It's now the year 2009 and it still took 2 1/2 hours for the police to respond? WTF?

Is it any coincidence that these racist attacks have been growing in number since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement? I guess they need someone else to target their aggression on if they can't target their own people. Do these loyalist thugs realize that their ancestors were also immigrants who settled from Scotland? Oh, the irony! Further proof there are ignorant assholes everywhere.

Oh, and before I forget. To the guy on the bus: If you want to be racist, get it right..."He went to CALIFORNIA not Thailand!"


Jennifer said...

p.s. i love your blog and am so happy to have discovered it! I really enjoy your writing and experience as an American Catholic in Belfast!

Jennifer said...

Last comment, I swear! Have you ever eaten at Molly's Yard in Belfast?

Flippin' Yank said...

I'm happy you enjoy reading my blog. I enjoy yours as well! We have similar viewpoints not a surprise since we come from diverse cities like Toronto and San Francisco. It's a bit of a culture shock living in a homogeneous environment.

Banana lumpia with cinnamon and brown sugar! Are you trying to make me homesick? LOL!

Molly's Yard - I've never eaten in there and I've passed by it a few times when I lived in Stranmillis. Well Done Fillet a fellow Norn Iron blogger is an expert on the Belfast food scene. I always go by his recs and he's dead on. Check out his review on Molly's Yard.

I haven't gotten a chance to visit the posh places to eat because I'm on a budget but if it were my choice it would be Ginger Bistro near the city centre. All I hear are rave reviews for that place. If you do decide to go, let me know how it is.

Unknown said...

That’s a sad story. Some people are just idiots. Sadly though that kind of things isn't confined to areas where intolerance is news worthy like in NI. When I lived over in England, I lived in an predominantly Asian area and was randomly kicked in the back and racially abused in the street walking home from work one day for being white

These people need an education and a wakeup call but sadly it’s going to take a lot of social change before experiences like ours are a thing of the past.

Flippin' Yank said...

@On the edge

Thank you for your comment!

You know what they say..ignorance breeds contempt.

Flippin' Yank said...

@ On the edge

I can't believe you were kicked in the back! That is awful! I would have went ballistic.

Unknown said...

I did go a little ballistic. Though when I turned around they were younger, but as big as me (6ft +) and there were 2 of them, so I didn't fancy my chances. To be fair I think they were high on something at the time. I was just glad it was only a kick. Left me shaken thats for sure.

I think at the time I shouted to them they'll have the police to deal with or words to that effect then walked very quickly, they then started to come after me again. Thankfully I lived around the next corner and had a far enough gap to lose them by just walking quickly. I made it through the secure door of the block of flats we lived in and that was that.