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#1 Jan 24, 2019 10:36 am

New Historian
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The Ignoramus

Kenton, Harrow, Middlesex, England:

One morning, Dad came close to having his car engine destroyed by an angry neighbour – because of me! A GIRL was the catalyst for this piece of high drama - isn’t it forever thus? Her name was Annie and she lived in the council flats around the corner on Kingsbury Road. We were both thirteen and had become friends, in a thirteen-year old kind of way. Then one day she told me with tears in her eyes that we couldn’t be friends anymore. Her father had banned her from talking to me, because I was “coloured”. I was devastated and that evening I told Dad about it. He exploded.

“What? This stupidness is still going on in this day and age? Who is this ignoramus?” I happily told him where the ignoramus lived.

“Come with me!” Uh-oh....

We went marching down the road. Bang-bang-bang! Dad hammers on the door. Ignoramus answers, fag in mouth, dressed in a wife-beater that couldn’t quite cover his belly, clearly unimpressed with what he saw on his doorstep.

“Yeah, what?”

“Did you tell your daughter she can’t see my son, because he’s coloured?”

“Yeah, so?”

“So you should be ashamed of yourself! What sort of an example is that to set your daughter, teaching her to hate someone just because of the colour of their skin? This is 1966, there is no place in this country for the colour bar. You, sir, are an ignoramus!”

Ignoramus clearly didn’t know what an ignoramus was, but he didn’t like being called one. I was worried things were about to get physical, but Dad wasn’t a small man and the ignoramus decided on another tactic: he slammed the door. Dad and I stormed off home. There, that told him!

The next morning we all got into the car as usual, and drove the half a mile to the petrol station at Kingsbury roundabout. When the attendant took off the petrol cap, he called Dad over.

“Oi mate, ‘ave a look at this. Someone’s been tryin’ to nobble your engine!” There was sugar around the petrol inlet. The ignoramus had come sneaking around at night and poured sugar in the petrol tank, which was guaranteed to ruin any engine after just a few miles of running. Fortunately Dad caught it in time.

You can just imagine the speech he gave on the ignoramus’ doorstep that evening, but fortunately I wasn’t there to witness his command performance. After that he put a padlock on his tank. Our father took a belligerent attitude towards racism; he just wouldn’t wear it. Neither would he accept meaningless platitudes from peripheral people. One day the butcher smiled at him and said:

“We’re all the same, aren’t we mate?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Under the skin, we’re all the same, ain’t we?”

“Well actually no,” says Dad. “We’re not the same. I’m a teacher and you’re a butcher, we’re not the same, at all.”

You’ve never seen a face sour so quickly.

“’Ere’s your meat!” Slam.

Dad walked out with his meat, chuckling.

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#2 Jan 24, 2019 8:42 pm

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Re: The Ignoramus

While right to kick back at the ignoramus, there is something about being too clever for your own good. Often walls are broken down with a very small chipping hammer. His trite response to a harmless gesture just added another layer of steel reinforcements to the racist wall.

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#3 Jan 24, 2019 8:53 pm

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Re: The Ignoramus

Harmless gesture? What was the harmless gesture?

Oh the butcher. You might see it as a harmless gesture, but if you could put yourself in another's shoes, which no one can ever do, then you might see it as not a harmless gesture, but an irritating and condescending platitude that, this latest time, might just hit a nerve.

Actually I did put myself in another man's shoes once: a Rastaman! Me and my girlfriend were walking along the street in DC and came across a shop called Hats in the Belfry. I bought a silly imitation Rasta wig in a woolen cap, and walked out wearing it and laughing. Then we walked into a piano bar, me still wearing the hat/wig. If there had been one other black person in the bar, they'd immediately see that they were fake dreads, but everyone was white and they had no idea. Man, the amount of comments I got! Every flipping minute, some white dude is coming up to me and saying: "Oh what cool dreads man" - even as I was standing at the urinal! I thought: is this what Rastas have to put up with all the time?

We stayed there the whole night and had a great time, singing along with everyone else as the piano man churned through the hits. Then as we were leaving the bar I turned around and said goodnight to the bar - and took the wig off! I got an ovation, if not standing.

Last edited by New Historian (Jan 24, 2019 10:02 pm)

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#4 Jan 25, 2019 11:07 am

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Re: The Ignoramus

New Historian wrote:

Harmless gesture? What was the harmless gesture?

Oh the butcher. You might see it as a harmless gesture, but if you could put yourself in another's shoes, which no one can ever do, then you might see it as not a harmless gesture, but an irritating and condescending platitude that, this latest time, might just hit a nerve.

Actually I did put myself in another man's shoes once: a Rastaman! Me and my girlfriend were walking along the street in DC and came across a shop called Hats in the Belfry. I bought a silly imitation Rasta wig in a woolen cap, and walked out wearing it and laughing. Then we walked into a piano bar, me still wearing the hat/wig. If there had been one other black person in the bar, they'd immediately see that they were fake dreads, but everyone was white and they had no idea. Man, the amount of comments I got! Every flipping minute, some white dude is coming up to me and saying: "Oh what cool dreads man" - even as I was standing at the urinal! I thought: is this what Rastas have to put up with all the time?

We stayed there the whole night and had a great time, singing along with everyone else as the piano man churned through the hits. Then as we were leaving the bar I turned around and said goodnight to the bar - and took the wig off! I got an ovation, if not standing.


It is no different to the dumb ass way people see you busting a gut, and they say "you doin a wurk man",  it is a way of being social without getting involved with a real conversation, it is speaking the obvious, just to get a smile or a nod. When similar remarks were made to me when I first arrived I was probably a little snotty as both you and your father seem intent on being... however when the penny dropped that is was a kind of convention I accept it gracefully, and have been known to do the same thing myself. The Butcher was being pleasant no more no less, and your Father threw it back in his face.

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#5 Jan 25, 2019 11:27 am

Vanni
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Re: The Ignoramus

Heart warming! Thank you Historian smile

I am grateful to my parents to have always been totally open-hearted and welcoming toward not last my husband, to whom my father said shortly before he died "you are my daughter's sun" smile and it's so true!

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#6 Jan 25, 2019 12:07 pm

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Re: The Ignoramus

Expat wrote:
New Historian wrote:

Harmless gesture? What was the harmless gesture?

Oh the butcher. You might see it as a harmless gesture, but if you could put yourself in another's shoes, which no one can ever do, then you might see it as not a harmless gesture, but an irritating and condescending platitude that, this latest time, might just hit a nerve.

Actually I did put myself in another man's shoes once: a Rastaman! Me and my girlfriend were walking along the street in DC and came across a shop called Hats in the Belfry. I bought a silly imitation Rasta wig in a woolen cap, and walked out wearing it and laughing. Then we walked into a piano bar, me still wearing the hat/wig. If there had been one other black person in the bar, they'd immediately see that they were fake dreads, but everyone was white and they had no idea. Man, the amount of comments I got! Every flipping minute, some white dude is coming up to me and saying: "Oh what cool dreads man" - even as I was standing at the urinal! I thought: is this what Rastas have to put up with all the time?

We stayed there the whole night and had a great time, singing along with everyone else as the piano man churned through the hits. Then as we were leaving the bar I turned around and said goodnight to the bar - and took the wig off! I got an ovation, if not standing.


It is no different to the dumb ass way people see you busting a gut, and they say "you doin a wurk man",  it is a way of being social without getting involved with a real conversation, it is speaking the obvious, just to get a smile or a nod. When similar remarks were made to me when I first arrived I was probably a little snotty as both you and your father seem intent on being... however when the penny dropped that is was a kind of convention I accept it gracefully, and have been known to do the same thing myself. The Butcher was being pleasant no more no less, and your Father threw it back in his face.

Again you're not getting it. "You doin' a wuk" or "have a nice day" are just banale phrases that do not tread on sensibilities. But condescendingly trying to make some non-white person "feel better" by paying him the ultimate compliment in saying he's "just like us" is another matter altogether. Personally it was a phrase that used to piss me off royally although I wouldn't do as my father did.

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#7 Jan 25, 2019 1:49 pm

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Re: The Ignoramus

New Historian wrote:
Expat wrote:
New Historian wrote:

Harmless gesture? What was the harmless gesture?

Oh the butcher. You might see it as a harmless gesture, but if you could put yourself in another's shoes, which no one can ever do, then you might see it as not a harmless gesture, but an irritating and condescending platitude that, this latest time, might just hit a nerve.

Actually I did put myself in another man's shoes once: a Rastaman! Me and my girlfriend were walking along the street in DC and came across a shop called Hats in the Belfry. I bought a silly imitation Rasta wig in a woolen cap, and walked out wearing it and laughing. Then we walked into a piano bar, me still wearing the hat/wig. If there had been one other black person in the bar, they'd immediately see that they were fake dreads, but everyone was white and they had no idea. Man, the amount of comments I got! Every flipping minute, some white dude is coming up to me and saying: "Oh what cool dreads man" - even as I was standing at the urinal! I thought: is this what Rastas have to put up with all the time?

We stayed there the whole night and had a great time, singing along with everyone else as the piano man churned through the hits. Then as we were leaving the bar I turned around and said goodnight to the bar - and took the wig off! I got an ovation, if not standing.


It is no different to the dumb ass way people see you busting a gut, and they say "you doin a wurk man",  it is a way of being social without getting involved with a real conversation, it is speaking the obvious, just to get a smile or a nod. When similar remarks were made to me when I first arrived I was probably a little snotty as both you and your father seem intent on being... however when the penny dropped that is was a kind of convention I accept it gracefully, and have been known to do the same thing myself. The Butcher was being pleasant no more no less, and your Father threw it back in his face.

Again you're not getting it. "You doin' a wuk" or "have a nice day" are just banale phrases that do not tread on sensibilities. But condescendingly trying to make some non-white person "feel better" by paying him the ultimate compliment in saying he's "just like us" is another matter altogether. Personally it was a phrase that used to piss me off royally although I wouldn't do as my father did.


Buddy, the amount of Black people both in England, Trinidad, and Grenada who have said to me you're Black just like us, or you are White on the outside, and Black on the inside to me in the past 40 years. Sheesh, if you want find an issue you will find an issue, but it's your issue, not anyone else's. I take it as acceptance, you obviously feel you and your Father are some how superior to a Butcher? "We're all the same on the inside mate" is just the same as the loads of people who have said the same thing to me in reverse.

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#8 Jan 25, 2019 4:51 pm

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Re: The Ignoramus

Oh Jeez your deafness is astounding. Now I'm an adult these things don't mean a single thing to me, but when I was an insecure immigrant kid growing up in England, subject to constant taunts in the schoolyard of "wog" and "chocolate-face", getting into (and usually losing) fights when I had the nerve to push back, IT'S NOT THE SAME. When your teachers (nuns to boot) call you by saying "Come here Blackie!", when the most popular comedy on telly is Alf Garnett, when you are constantly hearing snide comments that remind you of your alleged inferiority - yes we got a little "too clever" from time to time. It is NOT the same thing as "you in reverse".

I might add that England is a far far cry from what it was in those bad old days, you cannot "whitewash" UK's recent history, it wasn't always the so-called inclusive country it now claims to be.

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#9 Jan 25, 2019 10:14 pm

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Re: The Ignoramus

New Historian wrote:

Oh Jeez your deafness is astounding. Now I'm an adult these things don't mean a single thing to me, but when I was an insecure immigrant kid growing up in England, subject to constant taunts in the schoolyard of "wog" and "chocolate-face", getting into (and usually losing) fights when I had the nerve to push back, IT'S NOT THE SAME. When your teachers (nuns to boot) call you by saying "Come here Blackie!", when the most popular comedy on telly is Alf Garnett, when you are constantly hearing snide comments that remind you of your alleged inferiority - yes we got a little "too clever" from time to time. It is NOT the same thing as "you in reverse".

I might add that England is a far far cry from what it was in those bad old days, you cannot "whitewash" UK's recent history, it wasn't always the so-called inclusive country it now claims to be.


I would not attempt to deny you some of what will undoubtedly have been unpleasant experiences. But we have to deal with what you wrote, and I responded to that. Maybe you have to put in some kind of disclaimer, or claimer so that we can judge every event by what may or may not have happened outside our ken.

I know there have been all kinds of insensitivities in the past just as there are still a few neanderthals wandering around now.

But on the other hand maybe West London was a nicer place? My first brush with a West Indian kid called Freddy was in junior school so mid 50's and the kid didn't have one ounce of trouble, he may well have been a source of curiosity, but his trick of rolling his eyes so you only saw the white part got him accepted with no problem, and going through into Secondary Education I was never aware of any hostility to the growing number of black kids that filled the playground. Nor when the Indian overflow from Southall was bused, I don't recall any problems there.... Yet my school had a reputation for being tough.

In later years sure, as I have said before, I felt often times more overt hostility than the black folks I worked along side as I was both aware of the snide remarks, and on the receiving end of them as I felt obliged to pronounce my relationship with my Trini girl friend, rather than skulking in the shadows turning a blind eye to NF type banter. While the same people chatted without a pause to the people they had been belly aching about.

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#10 Jan 25, 2019 10:34 pm

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Re: The Ignoramus

When I landed in Liverpool docks in 1960 I was singularly unimpressed with my English school peers: grubby kids with runny noses and ridiculously long short pants. I was soon given the nickname “chocolate-face” which needless to say was fighting talk. I usually lost, not that it stopped me. It was infuriating having these stupid English kids asking me if we wore grass skirts and lived in trees in Trinidad. It was bad enough to be missing home but to put up with this ignorance as well was torture. Complicit in the spread of this foolishness were the Catholic missionaries, who’d visit the school and show us their grainy black and white movies about “primitive savages” in Africa: black people who really did wear grass skirts – where did they find them from?

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