Thursday, August 18, 2005

School of hard Nocks

As a gay man, I've always been aware of the threat of hate-attacks. Unless you're in a class of people who are targetted, it's hard to explain the feeling. The threat is a part of your phsychological "peripheral vision" - something you're not exactly focussing on, but you're aware of its existence just enough not to walk into it.

For me, it is always being aware of who I'm on the train with, or who is walking towards me on the street, or what sort of neighbourhood I'm in. Depending on where I am or who I think I'm with, I might not engage in any public displays of affection for my partner, or I may not read my Pink Paper while waiting for the train - you know, small adjustments, or concessions, if you will to the reality of the world we live in.

Of course, this involves some degree of "profiling". I'm not saying that a 70 year old grandmother escorting two toddlers is any less likely to be homophobic than four twenty-something men with shaved heads, England football apparel, and carrying open cans of Stella, but I figure I can handle granny, so I don't care.

At least I can be an identity-chameleon. I don't know how my black friends deal with it, much less friends who are both black and gay. Perhaps if you can't hide the virtual bullseye that all minorites wear you have to replace fretfulness with resignation.

The reason I am philosophising about this issue all of a sudden, is the news in The Star (the newspaper of my last home, Johannesburg) that a South African living in London was the victim of a xenophobic attack.

Grant Nock, a South African Londoner was walking home with a group of friends after watching a rugby match at a nearby pub. They were wearing South African rugby team (Springbok) jerseys when they were accosted by a group of youths,

"They started to shout and swear at us and threw bricks and bottles... They told us to go back to our own country," said Nock.

Like most South Africans who have settled in London, the things I appreciate most about this city (and this country) is that people generally aren't running around with guns, you don't freak out at the robots* and you don't have to live in Fort Knox to safeguard your VCR.

[* Okay, most Londoners would freak out if they saw 'robots' in London, but to us Shouf Efrikens it just means 'traffic light'. I've never really cared to find out why we called traffic lights robots until now, this may be the answer.]

Understandably, Mr Nock's parents - who still live in South Africa - are really, really shocked that this could happen. It's not supposed to happen in the UK. Still, Mr Nock told the South African Press Association that he has no plans to cut short his working holiday in the UK and leave London with a bitter taste in his mouth. I find this remarkable because I've left cities with a bitter taste in my mouth and rage in my chest because I couldn't find a decent vegetarian sandwich!

In the News24 report, something else caught my eye (Oh dear, I've just realised how tasteless that might sound). The police, apparently, do not believe the attack to be race related.

This puzzles me. If people attack you for no other reason than because your jersey betrays your national origin, and they shout abuse about going back to your own country as they plunge a broken bottle into your face, what sort of attack is it?

In any event, perhaps it's time to make sure I say "traffic light". 'Robot' may be the new shibboleth.

Oh, and one more thing. A note to the morons who want South Africans to "go home". Perhaps you should visit Cape Town or Johannesburg and see how many Brits live and work there! Quid pro quo, people! Of course, whenever anyone has ever asked the Brits to go home, they've responded by sending in a battalion of Red Coats to poke 'em in the eye with a broken bottle - metaphorically speaking, of course.

And I say this as the progeny of a Brit who probably did some poking.


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