In which I am the victim of racist abuse.

I over-dramatise, certainly. It wasn’t aimed at me specifically. The jackbooted ghost of Moseley didn’t kick in my door at midnight. However, hearing the phrase “They should all f*ck off where they came from” used to close some oratory on the scurrilous nature of those Eastern European immigrants coming over here and taking all the jobs (1) (it had started off as a go at the homeless, but turned out to be surprisingly well-travelled for a diatribe) seemed to go beyond the usual cut and thrust of social banter. On enquiring whether the speaker including myself and my family, I was reassured “everyone.” Possibly the gentleman in question wanted the islands left untenanted, as some manner of nature reserve.

I’m ashamed to admit that I failed to have the proper writerly response, which would be to immediately think, “Aha, that gives me an idea for a book!” (2)

The speaker was very young, very ill-informed, of no authority and in no possible position to actually enforce the opinions that he was parroting. I have no sense that he is BNP candidate material. If there had been some strong ideology there to engage with, some deep-held conviction, then it would almost have been easier, a villain to cross swords with. In this case it was just someone who has read too much of certain inflammatory tabloids vocalising his general discontent with his lot in life, by way of a convenient, media-provided scapegoat, and hearing the same sentiments echoed back to him by his peers in the pub, enforcing and reinforcing each other. Similar discussions with him in the past, that stayed on the appropriate side of the pale, have demonstrated this general unfamiliarity with actual facts, and there was always a sense of, ‘oh, he’s just saying it to be controversial.’ But I guess you can overdo the controversial sometimes.(4)

So he’s not the man who would be standing on the podium at Nuremburg, but with the right hand on his elbow one can certainly see his face in the crowd. He’s not an ageing holdover from the 50’s who hasn’t been able to adjust to the ’76 Act, after all. This is tomorrow’s man (5)  and he and his peers down the pub, just getting into their second decade, have grown up on a celebrity culture telling them that they can have everything for nothing, and are now standing in a world where all the booms went bust. Obviously, none of his woes can be his fault, and so who to blame, he wonders? Who is it that has brought him to his unsatisfactory pass?

At the moment, that sort of talk sells the odd newspaper, but as a writer of speculative fiction, it’s open to me to cast a few doom and gloom Bacigalupi-esque possibilities, and today’s little incident has rather opened a window onto a potential future where straitened circumstances, thinning resources and the hand of recession might have us turning the calendars back after all. Right wing rhetoric loves a bit of national hardship, after all, to really get the hate going.

No doubt, if they come to deport me and mine in a few bleak decades’ time, for the crime of having a name whose awkward assortment of letters lacks a good English pedigree, the nostalgic rush of seeing a familiar face in the crowd will make being taken away that much easier on me.

(1)  Esprit d’escalier suggested I point out that the jobs my immigrant ancestors took were mostly keeping his ancestors safe from the Nazis, but you always think of these things too late.

(2)  Although I did get round to blogging about it so maybe there’s hope for me yet (3).

(3)  And I’m not saying there won’t be a book.

(4)  I used to get some stick for my name at school. Back then, though, the cold war was still on, and I was accused of being a commie. That seems oddly hilarious now, especially as I don’t think any of us had any idea what a commie actually was. Oh the innocent days of youth…

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