There have been times over the last couple of months where I have felt horribly racist. Now I know the claim “everyone is a little bit racist” but I do not like it and don’t want to see it in my own thoughts and behaviour. The truth of it is that when I was sitting along in a car, in an empty multi-storey carpark, and saw a group of guys just hanging out and looking over the edge, I got a little nervous. To be fair I blame films. The idea that they are automatically a gang because they were black and in a group is utterly stupid, but annoyingly that’s what entered my head. Those kind of feelings ebb and fade away the more I hang out in Birmingham. I am coming to learn that even some of the most intimidating people (including a mohawk-styled-khaki-pants-wearing-beer-in-hand guy on the bridge at midday) can be really friendly. That specific guy pointed out some amazing fish that were swimming through the reservoir and introduced me to a whole new part of my new home.
My walk past Edgbaston reservoir 4 times a week has allowed me to enjoy saying hello to a huge diverse population. From a group of fishermen standing near the dam, to runners and cyclists saying hi as they pass by, from excitable dogs to kids on their way to school, from water sports experts to couples going for a stroll in their lunch break. All these people have been friendly and polite, none have tried to jump me, intimidate me, or hurt me.
Walking round the city as a whole has been enlightening. One of the great things about Birmingham is the nature that has been integrated with buildings as they have grown out of the ground. I look out my window and see fields in the distance, I walk past birds and fish and water flowing, there are parks everywhere.
Of course, there was going to be a blip at some point. While walking home from a beautiful anniversary meal on the canal, a guy with a black bandana covering his face walked past us on the other side of the road, crossed over, and stood at the lamppost infront of us. He turned, leant against it and waited watching us get closer. As soon as we were at level with him he started shouting abuse at Bear and attempting to start a fight, asking if Bear wanted to get “wetted up” (apparently either connected to shooting/stabbing or a sexual act that I won’t go into). In general this seemed unreasonable (we hadn’t done anything) and stupid (Bear is 6’4″ and a large build, this guy was about 5’10”, very skinny and didn’t look that muscular either.. should’ve just told Bear to sit on him). Even so it really shook me up, we just kept walking, nothing happened as he backed off as soon as someone else came round the corner. I ended up concentrating on walking, avoiding anyone that came past, cars that had people in them. It was just scary.
It felt like this was just going to put me right back to the start with scary slightly-racist. But wonderfully, the sun came up the next day and showed me all the parts I love all over again. I watched fish, I spoke to friends, I smiled at strangers on the path. It helped me to let go of the rubbish bit.
That’s the problem with people like that: they are the minority but they push reputations and they make you want to give up everything remotely connected. It’s rubbish and harmful. Just because the guy on the street was black doesn’t mean I don’t have some pretty awesome black people in my life. Ditto with every other race and ethnic race. It’s generalisations that are harmful because they label a group as dangerous, immoral, stupid, rude, etc. I hardly need to remind people that white people have hardly got a good history either: slave trade anyone?
Birmingham’s diversity is amazing, and I hope to be discovering more and more as I continue.
DISCLAIMER: Although I have been honest about some fears that get the better of me sometimes I sincerely hope I haven’t insulted anyone – that was not my aim and if I have done I am very sorry.
- Text From Dog Lives in BIRMINGHAM!!! (ekmcronin.wordpress.com)