I have been thinking of writing on this issue for a while now. Well, at least for the last eight months or so. The thought came about when I was out one evening on a walk along the riverside with some other Nepali friends here in York. We were passed by a group of white men from the opposite direction, and on seeing us “brown” skinned people they made some racial remarks, referring to the July 2005 bombings in London. That was the first time I had ever been subjected to racial remarks in all my years in York, and to be honest, I was shocked at that time. I had lived here from 1999 to 2002 before moving to Canada, and during those three years, I don’t remember a single incident when I was being abused because of the colour of my skin. And during those years in York, I never felt threatened or felt like an alien even though it was primarily a “white” city. People always seemed warm to me, regardless of their age or gender.
After three years of “almost” incident-free stay in Canada, especially when it comes to racial issues, one of the reasons that I decided to come back to York was because of the wonderful three years that I have had here after leaving Nepal in 1999. I say “almost” incident-free when referring to my stay in Canada because I was attacked by a group of white teenagers one night at a bus stop in Vancouver – the first ever such attack that I had experienced in my life – which for some reason, I didn’t think was racially motivated then and still don’t think it was racially motivated. I think it was just some random act of criminality from those teenage boys. That night I was more annoyed with the police afterwards than with the guys who tried to beat me up! The laissez-faire approach the policemen showed to the whole incident, after I had reported it to them minutes after the incident while the boys were still no further than a block away, just eroded my belief in them and the police system. At the end I just had enough and caught a bus back home without pressing the matter further with the police.
Anyway, coming back to that incident here in York, I realised that evening that York had changed during the three years I was away. Of course I hadn’t expected it to be exactly the same as it was when I left it. On the contrary, I had expected it to be an even better place in terms of its society, culture, economy and in every sense of the word, another reason why I came back. From what I experienced that night, I felt it had taken a wrong turn. However, I didn’t want to generalise just on that one incident, which could have been an anomaly. That night I tried to convince myself that the incident must be a one-off, and York, the city I know is actually a nice, inclusive city. Unfortunately though, after that incident, I did become more and more conscious of the fact that I am a brown-skinned man in this predominantly white-skinned city. Whenever I went out from that day onwards, I expected something “bad” to happen, I was always prepared for the “bad experience” so to speak.
Of course such “bad experiences” are rare (as are “bad apples” of the society responsible for such experiences), and if they were to be common occurrences then I don’t think I would ever want to live in such a society – no matter what. As for York, I am sad to say that I did experience a few more race-related “incidents” and that not far away from where I live. On a few occasions, some “white” teenage boys have thrown stuffs, such as small pebbles, as well as passed racial remarks targeting me when I have been out minding my own business. Again, instead of anger, I felt pity for those kids, who must have learnt such racial hatred either from their own parents or from elders. I don’t know what the neighbourhood is going to be like in a few years time when those kids grow up!?!
But, there is some good news on the racial front in this city as well. The York Minster now has a black archbishop, the second-ranking Anglican archbishop. I now see/know more black and other minority people/families in York in just a year than I knew in my previous three-years’ stay in this city. I think having a black archbishop in the Minster has made a huge impact on people’s decision (especially black people’s) to move to York. Now when I go to the city centre during weekends or on any other nice sunny day, I see squares full of people from a large variety of races and colours as opposed to almost exclusively whites that I was used to seeing when I was living here the last time. And it is just great to see such a diversity in a small city like York. And after being back in York for a year, and despite some not-so-good experiences, I must say, I’m still happy to be back – and I am going nowhere, not until I finish my PhD anyway!!
Finally, when it comes to the racial tension, I guess it’s inevitable sometimes when you have people from diverse background, culture and customs living in the same society, especially when people don’t want/try to understand each other, or don’t respect each other as individuals with equal rights and freedom. Nevertheless, it’s something people will have to overcome if they are to create better society for themselves and for future generations. I can go on writing on this issue, especially in light of the recent debates in this country regarding cultural differences vs inclusiveness – for example, the veil issues or the faith schools, as well as the race-crimes such as the murders of two black teenagers in the north-west within a year. But for now, I think I should end it here. May be more on this issue some other time in the future.