Racism Reveals Humanity In All Its Ugliness 

If there's anything I hate in life more than racism, I've yet to encounter it. Actually, that's not entirely true. What I hate, above all else, is when someone makes a racist comment in my presence and then gives me that look. If you've experienced this, it's a look you'll not forget. It says, "We're the same, we think alike, wink-wink". As if being racist is part of some club – a club that "we" (ie white, northern Europeans of British origin) are all born into. Usually I correct people. If they make some ridiculous racism claim, I try to put them right with facts. If they are just being obnoxious and hateful I try to calmly say: "Well, I'm not racist so I don't really agree with that.". I like to think that, perhaps, it makes them think, it often shuts them up, but all too often it elicits the type of rant I'm certainly not going to repeat on my nice, polite website. But at least I feel I've made my point. Because, and this is a belief I've held all my life, if you let it go without saying anything, you might as well be agreeing, at least so far as they are concerned.

Once, when I was about 14, I was walking home from school with some of my friends. As it happened, I was the only white girl in the group that day. As we walked, an elderly man passed us by. And as he did so, he made a highly-offensive racist comment to my friends. I was so furious that I pursued him, berating him for his rudeness. Quite quickly my friends called me back. They didn't want to make a fuss. At the time I couldn't understand that, but upon reflection realised that they were probably right. Having a group of angry girls arguing with him was hardly likely to change his attitude. And then I realised that, to have learned the self-control not to react, my friends must have experienced incidents like that many times before. It was so wrong, and I felt angry. Angry for them, and angry that I couldn't do anything to stop it. So I decided that, while I would always respect the wishes of my friends and not cause confrontation in their presence, if I had the opportunity I would always speak out against racism.

And so I have. And mostly successfully, I've managed to maintain my calm when confronted by racists (or sexists or any other hateful prejudices). After all, it's very hard to get nasty with someone who is being immensely polite. But last week my resolve almost disappeared. I was selling poppies in aid of the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal. It's a rewarding thing to do and, good cause aside, you meet some marvellously positive and kind people. But last Friday I encountered four separate people who saw no reason, having bought their poppy, not to voice what amounted to outrageous claims about the supposed activities of certain members of our society and vitriolic and hateful promises of what they'd like to do to those people. I'll not go into detail because the last thing I would wish to do is to advertise that kind of abhorrent, vile opinion. Besides which, you can probably guess who their targets were, such is the depressingly predictable way of the world. But this was much more than the predictable rhetoric you hear from time to time. In fact never before had I heard so much anger and hate from so many people in so short at time.

I was in something of a dilemma. I wanted to speak out but here I was representing a respected, and respectable, charity and I could hardly start what might turn into a public argument. And yet, I wanted to make my point and was mindful of not allowing these people, or anyone in earshot, of thinking that I, or indeed the RBL, held similar distasteful views. And by the time the fourth, and as it turned out most repugnant, set of view was voiced I had had enough. I pointed out to the lady – a term I use very loosely here because there was nothing remotely ladylike about either her sentiments or their means of delivery – that the claims she was making were, in fact, inaccurate. The money raised from the Poppy Appeal would go to help ex-servicemen and women from all cultures and creeds since there were, as it happened, a large number of those people she would, had she been allowed her way, have done unspeakable things to, serving in our armed forces right now. I waited for the onslaught, but none came. She simply muttered some incredulity under her breath. Whether this was disbelief at what I had said, or simply that I had dared to say it, I'm not sure. But she then became quiet and walked away. I'd like to think she was thinking about what I'd said as she went, but somehow I doubt it.

As she walked away, and indeed for much of the rest of the day, I wondered why people could be so hateful towards others. Towards people they did not know. Individuals they had never even met. Based purely on something they think they know about "their kind". I'm not, by any means, suggesting I am perfect because I've yet to meet anyone who does not exhibit some degree of prejudice about something or someone. You hear people of all sorts voicing prejudice of all kinds and while none of it is all that intelligent, most of it is limited to relatively harmless stereotypical comments – the humourless Germans, the bolshy French and that sort of thing. Even my Dad, one of the most liberal-minded, egalitarian and sensible people I know, has his own prejudices. In his case this generally involves lads who wear their baseball caps backward, or pull their hoods up over their faces and wear jeans that hang away from their backsides with their underpants on display. But it has nothing to do with race or colour or religion. And, to be fair, his prejudice at least, is not entirely without evidence to back it up. What's mine? Well, I'm not sure. I certainly have a problem with those shiny people - you know the ones, their all perfect and too smart and just too, well, everything … oh, and I have a real prejudice towards racists. And no, I'm not sure whether that's ironic or apt.

As it happens, as unlikely as it might seem, I have twice been on the receiving end of racist comments. Once at the hands of some Welsh football fans (in fairness it wasn't directed personally at me, after all, in a crowd of tens of thousands of Welsh people, you're not really going to notice the lone English woman – at least until she begins to speak.) And once in New York when I was in my teens. And which was directed at every white person who walked past by a lone African-American man who had got hold of a microphone and a boom-box and was broadcasting his anti-white philosophy at full volume near Times Square. It was nasty and highly intimidating. And it made me come to the conclusion that there are two types of racism – one driven by stupidity and ignorance and another driven entirely by hate. Both of which, of course, are ugly and divisive.

How do people come to hate so much? Well clearly some of it is preached into them by parents or friends because few children ever concern themselves with any difference between themselves and other children until someone, usually an adult, teaches them to take account of it. But some people just seem to have a default system of suspicion of anything different. It's as if they actually want to find someone to dislike or, in the most extreme cases, hate. And, to be honest, it's always struck me as remarkable, and rather ironic, that the very people who are entirely incapable, or unwilling, to see an individual on their own merits, rather than grouping together people of a "type", are the very ones that deem themselves utterly superior.

Let's face it, there are racists, or haters, in every culture, race and creed. But in each of these cultures, races and creeds they represent a very, very small micro-sample of that community. Almost everyone, and I truly believe this, wants to get on with everyone around them. They don't really care what someone looks like, how they wish to dress or where or how they choose to worship (or not) and, just as I would hate to think someone would consider a Christian fundamentalist a sensible representation of my "culture", most have no time for the malevolent members of their own community. 

And just in case there's anyone out there who disagrees, who believes that a shared religion, or skin colour, really can define any single human being, then do me a favour, and listen to my message. Stop including me. I'm not in your club.