12 March 2007

The politics of street-parking

Whilst I was writing the previous post, I heard an altercation outside in the street, with one man yelling loudly. Obviously, partly out of concern, and partly out of nosiness (I admit), I looked out of the window to see what was happening.

I have a lovely elderly Indian man as a neighbour, who has lived in the house next door for about 40 years. He had asked a young (white) man to move his car closer to the car in front, so that someone else would also be able to fit into the space which he was using. Now, knowing my neighbour as I do, I am certain that he would have been as polite and courteous as he was able. However, the young man decided to take issue with his request and started to verbally assault my neighbour. My neighbour said to him 'is this civilised behaviour?' which the young man leapt on as a 'racist insult'. I am really angry about this. This just screams of white male privilege doesn't it? How dare this elderly Indian man ask him to move his car? Doesn't he know that this young man can do what he likes, because he is superior in society?

I think this is one of the fundamental problems with our discourse about race in this country. I think that the term has been hijacked by people who resent attempts at equal opportunities. This is not the first time I have witnessed a white person use the 'race card' in an argument as a way of trying to discredit the opinions of their adversary. In contrast, I have never heard a person of an ethnic background accuse racism in this way. Now, of course, I am only one person, and so my experiences may well not be representative, but I feel very strongly that we are now deliberately misunderstanding the term 'racism' because, in fact, we are still deeply racist.

Now, I am sure actually that the young man did think that my neighbour was being racist. But I think it was because of several factors. This young man did not like being told that his method of parking was inconsiderate by an Indian man, whose English is a little accented, because he felt that his rights were more important than those of my neighbour, because he was born in this country. I think that this is very revealing about the deep-set opinions of this young man. He was unable to see past the colour of my neighbour's skin, and so for him, the issue became one of race. My neighbour, on the other hand, was shocked to be called racist, and I could see him reeling, because his simple request that this young man move his car forward by about 2 feet had been no more than that. There was no political, racial, or ideological motivation behind his request. As a resident of this street, where parking is very competitive, he was trying to ensure that the space was being used as efficiently as possible. The worst criticism of my neighbour is that he was being a busybody.

Perhaps we need to have a national poster campaign or something, to re-educate people about what constitutes racism?

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