Saturday, 27 April 2013

Judgement Day ~ A Precursor to Prejudice

I have a confession.

It isn’t often that I dress up. In actuality, I dress down far too often for a woman of twenty-five…and especially for a single black woman at that.

I also don’t care.

My friend once asked me why I don’t dress up and I responded by saying “what for?” I’m sure you guys could give me a thousand reasons why I should dress up, or why you can’t leave the house yourself looking anything less than stunning, but for me unless there’s a special occasion attached to it…or I feel like it, it’s probably not going to happen.

As you know, I spent over a year without any means of being able to buy nice things so I learnt how to simply get by on what I had. Thus, as I mentioned in my last entry, any shopping I’ve done recently has been more practical than pizzazz. The same goes for my hair. It’s never immaculate unless someone else has done it for me and overall I’m not a particularly feminine woman anyway if I’m honest. I used to be obsessed with jeans in my youth. Now I’m quite comfortable in a pair of tracksuit bottoms.

But we all know that the way you dress and, even clothes aside, the way you look can make people paint a complete picture of you without even knowing you. If you’re having a particularly bad day and you put your face in such a way, you must be dangerous. If you wear a cap low, you must have something to hide. Because as humans, we are full of prejudices and in a way, because of what’s happening in the world, the world in itself has shaped us to be so.

Take yesterday for example. It was wet in the morning so I donned my purple hoody, my coat, my snood and a pair of trainers – I would have warn my boots but I was worried the weather would change…which is did. So after work when the sun came out, I was still in my winter garb – British weather is so very unpredictable right now. Nonetheless, I was so tired on the way home (I start work at 6am) that I virtually plonked myself into the seat on an empty tube carriage and felt the weight of the day – heck, the week - accumulate on my person. The train proceeded to fill up, but even though I was half asleep, I started picking up on the fact that no one seemed to want to sit in either one of the seats beside me; in fact the seats beside me remained empty until I was ready to get off the train.

Usually when I get on a train that’s slightly packed, I will pick a seat that’s closest to me and sit there. So picture this. Excluding the two seats beside me, the row of seats on my side of the train, contain other people. On the row of seats opposite, there are two spaces available also with a person in between them, but a little bit to the left. A lady gets on to the right of me and decided that rather than sit next to me, she would trek along the train carriage, passed my two empty spaces and sit on one of the available seats on the opposite side as far away from me as possible. At the next station, a second woman claims the only other available seat contrary to the two seats still available next to me. Now, I know this is a pretty lame example and you’re all thinking I’m paranoid, but it really made me wonder – in my half asleep state – if I looked like some sort of vagabond or something.

Another example happened today. The weather was once again unstable so I donned another hoody, my coat, my snood and my trainers. I wrapped my hair in a hair wrap of sorts and went into Body Shop to buy some stuff for a good friend of mine. One of the workers greeted me and I asked her - rather politely I might add – if they sold any toiletry sets which contained perfume. So what did the woman do? She led me over to a section and showed me the cheapest item they sold. It was £7. I asked her if they had anything else and to add insult to injury she said this was the only thing they had and then quickly went away. Had I not perused the store myself, I probably would have walked out with nothing. But when I did walk out - after spending £20 - I couldn’t help but think that I had probably just been judged.

But we all do it, don’t we? We all look at people and the way they dress and immediately decide that they must be this sort of person and therefore, they should be avoided at all costs. A guy I used to know said that he used to be a bit of a Goth, but jacked it in because he got sick of people staring at him like he was Death incarnate. When I was at work the other day, a man came to the counter looking a bit rough and haggard, but he spoke the most articulate English I have ever heard and even cracked a joke with me leaving my prejudice hanging out to dry. And what about the girls we see walking about the streets with their boobs falling out of their tops or their skirts at the waist? We immediately equate that to attention-seeking; others will call them flat-out whores, but I know a girl who actually dresses just like that and she’s one of the nicest people I know.

We are so used to judging people based on what we feel is bad or wrong. A friend of mine does it because he feels that this is a way of protecting himself. And he’s not wrong to want to protect himself; we all wish to protect ourselves – and the people we care about - because there are people out there that do take advantage of others. There are people out there that do fit the equation, so to speak. And so we snap up our barriers and cross the road, or pretend we can’t hear or can’t see just in case. But in our conquest to protect ourselves and our nearest and dearest, are we actually in the wrong when we prejudge and make associations between certain people and certain things? Is it right to assume that all homeless people are drug addicts and alcoholics? Is it right to assume that all scantily clad women are skanks?

But what about the people that we don’t see? The people that seem relatively normal. The people that we might even consider attractive, when in actuality, they’re a little bit dangerous.

In my previous job, a lady walked in off the high street. She was well-dressed and very cheerful which made a change from the usual trouble-makers and time-wasters that would walk in. She sat down at my desk and expressed an interest in doing the Teaching Assistant course we had going, only after a while, she started telling me her life story which included very extravagant details about all the places she’d visited and some intimate details about her and her husband. She waffled on and on and ON for about thirty to forty-five minutes of my life and she was so engrossed in her own story that she didn’t even see me switch the forms right from underneath her. I knew she wasn’t mentally sound even when my supervisor “told me” that there was an “urgent call” for me. She waited and waited until I was “done” and then lapsed into more Tales of the Crypt before finally leaving.

She also came back about ten minutes later…

Ever heard of a corporate psychopath?  

These are the kind of people that more often than not, work in business. They’re quite charismatic, intelligent and charming, but will climb on your back or shove a knife in it to further their own goals. The corporate world is full of them and for the most part, a lot of them don’t get caught because people don’t make the associations between businessman/woman and psychopath. What’s more, they’re also, very good at talking themselves out of trouble even if they are identified. Nonetheless, they are very real, very competent and very crafty. They’re the kind of people that would embezzle millions into an offshore account in Sweden or something and pin the blame on that poor unsuspecting lacky who’s been working for the company for decades. I actually find them fascinating from a psychological perspective, but I’d never want to cross one because even though I like to think I’m sharp, I don’t think I could make the association either.

It may seem a little backward nonetheless, but I think we should all consider that not everything we perceive to be bad is actually so..and I don’t mean in the street-slang way of saying either. What I’m saying is that we should consider that not every person who’s mentally unsound is a danger to others. Not every stripper is a prostitute. And I promise you. Not every businessman/woman is out to get you.

But as morbid as it is to say…sometimes they are. So it’s for you to make the choice. Is everyone who doesn’t fit your definition of ordinary, a danger to you. Or are we all innocent until proven guilty?

One thing is certain however. From now on and probably until the end of time, we will all be guilty of prejudice.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Stay Safe! Stay Alert! And Whatever You Do...

Don’t die.

On a more serious note though, we live – or at least, I live – in a fairly dangerous society. People just aren’t honest anymore and in recent times, people have become extremely desperate. Oh, we’ve all done it. We’ve all kept that additional five pounds when the cashier at the shop has given us more change than they’ve realised. We’ve all told white lies once or twice in order to get ourselves out of trouble and some of us have gone that extra mile still – well on that road to hell. But some of us are just giant question marks.

I start work at 6am in the morning. I know - cue shock-horror-pain-spasm. So I have to wake up at 4.30am in the morning. On this particular morning however, we received a knock at the door. Now, I’m chickenshit scared because this isn’t normal. It has happened before in the past, but in that situation, the person knocked and then left. What was more, the house was in darkness at the time. As I’m awake, I have the lights on and this person is banging like they’re the police. I don’t answer the door, but fortunately, I don’t live alone and my mother enquires only for the stranger on the other side of the door to say:

“Sorry to disturb you, but do you have an iPhone charger?”

I had a serious “what the fuck?” moment when I heard this. It’s four-thirty in the morning. Why are you knocking on my door to borrow an iPhone charger? We don’t own iPhones anyway but I didn’t like this one bit. He even persisted to ask where he could find one and as such he was directed to the high road. Two second later, he’s raping the door with his fists again implying that we don’t need to call the police and that’s he’s a nice person. Cue “what the fuck” moment number two.

In conclusion, we’ve decided that he must have been a drug addict or something to that affect because knocking on a stranger’s door at ridiculous-o-clock in the morning for a charger isn’t normal behaviour. And even if you haven’t your phone and need to get home, a trip to the nearest police station should sort anybody out. What’s more, London isn’t a neighbourly culture anyway; my neighbours don’t even make such requests in the daytime so we’re thinking that this individual couldn’t have possibly been of sound mind to make such an unorthodox request.

I’m a little bit paranoid anyway. I usually wear my bag on one shoulder, but have a strong dislike of anyone standing directly behind me. If it’s crowded, I move my bag to the front of myself so I can see exactly where it is. I always put money away when inside a shop and hold my purse inside my bag if I need to use it, for example, when getting on public transport. I’m actually rather anal to the point that I even make sure that when carrying my bag, the zippers are close to my arm so that if anyone were to try to slip their fingers into my bag, I’d definitely know about it. Because theft and the like are commonplace things. There’s a show called The Secrets of Pickpockets which details all. In addition, a number of people that I’ve known – whether directly or indirectly – have been victims of such attacks and these things make me extremely weary.

And even the most innocent looking person could have an ulterior motive. For us British folk, I’m sure you’ve heard of the “ASBO granny”; for everyone else – ASBO stands for Anti-Social Behaviour Order, which is basically like a restraining order for people who commits numerous acts of…well…anti-social behaviour (I think my neighbours should get one for playing their music on a week day at two-thirty in the morning to be honest). Add “granny” into the equation and I’m sure you’ll get my drift.

So today, I ask you all to have your wits about you – even if you live in one of the safest communities in the world. You don’t have to be paranoid like me (I’d rather people leave me alone when I’m travelling from A to B or working out in the gym). But don’t expose yourself to danger. Don’t leave your belongings on display inside your car or fall asleep on the bus with your purse in your hand after a night out. (Ironically, I got the purse and the contents back – minus forty quid of course). Do yourself a favour.

Look out for number one.