Coming face to face with racism

During the election campaign when the county court clerk, or county clerk employee, called FLOTUS [First Lady of the United States] Michelle Obama “an ape in high heels”, I was deeply hurt and offended and I supported those signing a petition to have her removed from her government post.

It was my view that the issue was not one of free speech, but about a person paid with taxpayers’ funds abusing and discriminating against a person of colour. It shook me that someone who held public office now believed that courtesy was unnecessarily politically correct and that hate-filled rants and quips were acceptable. I recognized that a tide in public conduct and discourse was turning, from a culture of tolerance to one of open intolerance.

I felt then that the creep of hatred, racism and social alienation can be insidious and, unless stopped, there is a danger that it can become institutionalized, accepted, acceptable and mainstreamed and harm the fabric of the country. It is therefore necessary to put our foot down every time behaviour like that displayed by the clerk, raises its head.

For a week now, I have been mulling over two incidents that happened to me in New York, in this the time of this new president. Barbadians say, “when you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind”. The problem with that is, you cannot control the whirlwind, where it goes, who and what it sweeps us and destroys.

I watched during the campaign as very dangerous rhetoric of race, xenophobic sentiments and attitudes were unleashed and whipped up. I had no doubt that there were people who, if Donald Trump won, would feel that it was open season on brown and black people. I have watched since elections and listened to the increase in racist incidents as we go about our daily life. Now it has actually touched me.

Two Thursdays ago, I was standing in Penn Station next to a column. I was pretty much tucked out of the way as I was making a phone call and I wanted to complete it before I went deeper into the subway and lost connection.

I saw a man walking in my direction with “spinner” suitcases. I was not in his way so I went on with my call and he fell off my radar, until I felt the most intense pain on the toes of my right foot. I cannot say the man ran the suitcase over my foot deliberately. What I can say is that I was not in his path and to reach my foot, he and his suitcases had to veer off their walking line and come to the right, avoid the column that was next to me, which he would have reached first, and still manage to run over my foot. That took a lot of “steering”.

So let me say, recalling my days as a lawyer drafting and defending legal pleadings, “that the walker with the spinner suitcases so failed to manage, direct, control, or maneuver the suitcases, that they ran over my right foot resulting in injury to me and damage to my shoe.” The walker did not pause, stop or say sorry but walked rapidly on, leaving me in shock. The speed with which he walked away suggests that the walker’s actions were not accidental.

I finished my business and got the subway to my meeting. There were empty seats on both sides of the train. I chose a block of three, sitting on the extreme right of the block, leaving two empty seats on my left. After about two stops, a man got on the train. He chose not only to sit in the same block of seats I had chosen, but of the two empty seats next to me, he chose the one on my immediate left rather than the one on the extreme left.

Those of you who know the NY subway culture would know that if there are three empty seats and someone comes on, they generally sit in the one furthest away from a seated passenger and not next to them. You only sit next to people when the train is full and you do not have options.

Before we could get to the next train stop, the man who is now seated on my left, turned to me and starts to talk loudly. I ignored him. He is asking offensive questions. Then he tells me, “Look at you. Jesus Christ was a white man, but you are a monkey.” I said nothing. He repeated it, laughing and becoming more crude, vile and abusive. I do not turn. I do not look at him. My toes are still hurting from the suitcase being dragged over them. I sit with my eyes ahead. I say nothing. I never turn my body or glance in his direction.

I was actually praying, “Lord, this man is talking with his mouth which he is entitled to do, but please do not let this man touch me. This will not end well if he does.”

The abuse does not stop. At every station people get on and off. The train is filling up, but no one comes near us. And no one says a word to him. Not “stop it”; not “leave the woman alone”; not “behave yourself, this woman has not troubled you”; not “this is unacceptable”. Not a single word was uttered. No one comes to my defence.

Passengers look on with sympathy, contempt, amusement, disgust, with apparent support for the man, or support for me, but to the person, they are silent. And my abuser does not stop his tirade. He was clearly trying to goad and provoke me and the fact that I would not even glance in his direction really seemed to annoy him. I thought of telling this man something really scathing, but 16 years ago, when someone had tried to harm my father and I had lost my temper, sworn and behaved badly, my Dad said to me, “Liz, always remember who you are.”

I sit on that train, silent. I remember that I was raised to respect myself and others. I remember what my parents and my country expect of me. I remember that I am a professional, that I have four degrees and am a high-earning individual. I think, “Liz, you haven’t done badly for a monkey.” I remember the racist abuse people I know have experienced since elections. Good, decent, hardworking, law abiding people, who just happen to be brown or black. I hear this man’s racist abuse. He has come so close to me that I can smell his breath. Several cutting comments and put downs come to my mind, but I do not let my mouth utter them.

I remember a quotation from George Bernard Shaw, which I use in my book, Make Yourself Happy. It is a wonderful line: “Never wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig likes it.” I determine that I will not let the pig-man next to me pull me down into the dirt and nastiness on the sty floor where he is clearly comfortable.

I see the face of my dead father in front of me. I hear my Dad in my ear now. He is speaking quietly, gently, urging me to act with restraint. I hear Dad’s voice and I block out the idiot on my left who is loudly calling me a monkey and being as nasty as he possibly can. I know if this man tries to harm me, no one will intervene. I pray it does not come to that.

I sit erect, legs crossed at the ankles, my handbag on my lap. In my head, I count down the stops to my destination. Finally, we are at my stop. I remain seated until the last minute. Then, without giving him a lot of time to follow, I head quickly for the door and I am on the platform, away from my tormentor who is still on the train. As I leave, I am watched by every eye in that car of the train. I still had not uttered a word to this man or looked at him. To this day, I cannot identify the face of this persecutor, nor the abuser with the weaponized suitcases.

A young white woman, who also got off the train, stops on the platform and comes across to speak to me. “I am so sorry.” She goes on to apologize for this man’s behaviour. She says it was unacceptable. She is distressed at what I had to endure. She says she cannot imagine anyone treating her like that. She compliments me on my dignity and restraint. I thank her for her kind words, knowing that she will never be called a monkey or an ape.

She is truly upset. She makes a critical point, which is that she understands this is not an isolated incident and that she cannot imagine having to face that kind of racism daily. I smile. I know that no one will ever see her dressed in a business suit in the first class lounge of an airline, assume she was a member of the wait staff and ask her to serve them their meal, as has happened to me.

I do not waste time asking her why she never said a word to the man while we were on the train. Her heart is in the right place. Hopefully, she will encourage friends, relatives, partners, colleagues and her children, to take the high road of justice and equality of all members of the human family. I thank her again and bid her good evening.

She turns right. I go left. Black and white, each clothed in the skin given by God, skin that some individuals and societies will use to define how black and brown people are treated in life and, to some extent, their socioeconomic opportunity.

My foot and my heart hurt. I take a deep breath and head for my meeting. On the way, I walk and wonder what other indignities are in store as the bigots become more comfortable in taking off their masks, believing they have an ally on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I pray for grace, fortitude and protection in this new climate. I know things are going to get worse. The question is, how much worse and what will have to happen to pull the country back to reasonableness of thought, attitude, action, and behaviour? What will the new America be like? Dad said, “Remember who you are.” Perhaps America needs to remember that the words of its national anthem proclaim that the country stands for “just cause” and the “home of the free”.  (Huffington Post)

 Liz Thompson is a former Minister of Government and Senator in Barbados, and a former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations.

 She is also the author of the new motivational book, Make Yourself Happy a consultant, lawyer, writer, speaker and motivator, sharing stories of struggle and success for hope-full, happy living. Visit her blog, Facebook page Liz Thompson @LizOnLife and Twitter LizOnLovingLife. 

22 Responses to Coming face to face with racism

  1. greg norville February 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    am I suppose to be impressed by what I just read,I am barbadian
    that came up through the so called interlectual system,as an adult my experiences took me to the U.S.A.& other countries, & the reality I had to face is that ,black”s regardless to their achievement”s are still seen as inferior to so call white people ,ontill we are taught black history, instead or the white man story, we will continue to allow whites to mistreat us & get away with it, Barbadians (LOVE) white people because slavery was very rampant here(the willie lynch programme worked very well, they learned how to control & abuse us,they even gave us a white Jesus & oh how we LOVE him & want to go Heaven to be with this white man, so Liz don’t care how moral you believe you are ,whitee men & woman see you as a nigger.(hope you got my point,its not a self opinionated concept its THE TRUTH.!

  2. jrsmith February 10, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Since the new president and the half brainers protesting in the US, my conclusion , when most people in US sings the national Anthem and hand on they chest, thats only for the green card not for America ,you respect the country you live in……….
    Seeing the same in London, the majority of these people in the (US) and the (UK)who are protesting back in they countries of origin they couldn’t even shout loud all treated like garbage…..

  3. greg norville February 10, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    after graduation from the modern High, & studying @ the academy of higher education. I left Barbados via a u.s. landing craft called the gulf stream, as a trainee pilot on arriving @ cape Canaveral dock florida to spend 5 day’s I got a rude awakening
    I went to a nice looking bar to get a beer when I walked in the barman said to me are you off the ship,I said yes ( he then said after handing me a budwiser beer, when you finish Leave & read the sign on top of the building( to my surprise in large letters, the
    sign said when I read it, WHITES ONLY & all through my life I had to face the reality that whites belive that people of colour especially black”s are inferior to them, & will always”s be treated as such.(its time to learn our History, & Not the White mans story.

  4. Angus Benn
    Angus Benn February 10, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    It happens here in 2008. With the guyanise. BEFORE and after .A lot of them went back home after the DLP win the election.They even carry up the time from 5 years to 10 years in order to become a RESIDENT of Barbados.One of the most wicket thing happened when MR INNISS was the minister of Health is that even though you pay TAXES to the state a NON NATIONALS CANNOT CANNOT go to the HOSPITAL and get free health care, and a lot of you criticizing Donald Trump. Another thing.Non nationals applying for immigration status and the immigration giving you work permit.i know people that living in Barbados for 15 years and work permit is what they giving them. The fee for a work permit is close to $ 3000 thousands dollars

  5. Angus Benn
    Angus Benn February 10, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    I will like the minister that responsible for immigration. To look into these things. A lot of non nationals been ripped off by this government. I am speaking from solid proof and a lot of you criticizing Donald Trump. They wicked .They sucking the blood of these people.They have no one to stand up for these people. some of these people apply to the immigration for status and after a couple of months,the immigration cannot find their papers ,you have to go all over again and applied fresh those things ain’t right.all these wicked things they doing to these people.Under the other government you was not getting all these bad things happening to non nationals. Do you know how much guyanise get deported under the DLP government from since 2008. Clean up your own backyard before we can talk about Donald Trump.We talk about caricom .just talk . I don’t know how some of you politicians could sleep at night. If I am a non national and i cannot get free health care after paying my taxes do you think that I will vote for this government.No unless I am stupid and dum.

  6. Angus Benn
    Angus Benn February 10, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Racism is right here in Barbados. Some Bagan against Bajan. SOME bajan hate non nationals. And some non nationals hate bajan. Some white Bajan hate black people .and some black people hate white bajan.That is how the world is today you and I can’t change that we have to live with it.

    • Demetrius Garrett
      Demetrius Garrett February 10, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Not racism per say but discrimination happens in Barbados.

    • Angus Benn
      Angus Benn February 10, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Well both of them exist racism and discrimination

  7. Demetrius Garrett
    Demetrius Garrett February 10, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    She had so much patience because if that was me, I’d have smash my fist into his face. Police would had to take me away that day. Can’t play around with these people.

  8. Rubertha Blackman
    Rubertha Blackman February 10, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    Stupse and I really don’t care to listen to some one who was in office and did not do much to enrich the working folk. You read the papers and all you see after finding no suitable applicant rich white folk will import one. Take several seats racism abounds everywhere and please don’t bring the toxicity of the US here we barely able to deal with what we got going on right now.

    • Yvonne Sealy
      Yvonne Sealy February 10, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      “Take several seats”……………..murdaaaaaaaaaaa

  9. Donild Trimp February 10, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Is this Elizabeth Thompson who was Energy and Environment Minister?

    What is so different or special about your brush with racism to make this into a story?

    Thousands of black people encounter racism in the USA every day.

    I do not see this as a story at all.

  10. Veroniva Boyce
    Veroniva Boyce February 10, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Racist can air their views, air their mouth and make sure they keep their distance. Got no time for the Idiots.

  11. Nicholas Mackie
    Nicholas Mackie February 10, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    Well if nothing else is working and you cant win on hope and vision ….try stimulating some hatred ….. Worked for trump!

  12. Jennifer February 10, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Angus Benn – Your comments are truly taken on board. What I would add is that a lot of our attitude towards the SO CALLED guyanese, Jamaican etc is due to a lack of knowledge and history. If a BRITISH or FRENCH Slave ship started from Fort Judah in the West coast Ghana and came through the triangular trading route, drop some of the people in Barbados, then Trinidad, then Jamaica, then St Vincent etc, mind you all this time families being broken apart and sold like life stock. Some thing should CLICK in an educated person’s brain that these are all the same people, who were REDISTRIBUTED, renamed and reclassified. This is why I keep saying we leave the enemy within and reject our own. Even our politicians lack this knowledge of who they are which will always result in the same output in parliament as we jump from frying pan to fire, and fire to frying pan voting.

  13. Jennifer February 10, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    Racism can only work with two willing participants, one person has to be brought to a lower mental state than the other, like the ugly duckling story. Racism is usually due to envy along with an inferiority complex of the distributor to the distributee. No one can EVER make me feel less of a person because I know who I am and I know who THEY are.

  14. Patrina Drakes
    Patrina Drakes February 10, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Racism is in the foundation of the USA it was built on racist principles. When blacks where being murder on what seem on a daily basis last year white Americans were silent or was pushing the narative of USA as a progressive non rasist utopia few spoke out in unity with BLM. According to the white Americans racism was dead in majority of the country with only a few pockets of hillbillies out backwoods, right then along comes Trump who lift up the mat to show true USA and give them the light to now say and do what the was doing along in the dark. Anyone who is shock at the racist attitudes and behaviour of Americans had they heads buried deeply in the sand or up their ass. Trump can be one of the best things that happen to black America hopefull they come together to work in unity for the betterment of black lives

  15. RC February 10, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    On my first visit to the U.S A. I had made the mistake of booking accommodation in a Hotel which did not admit black people to stay in their rooms. My taxi driver told me this when he was driving me from the Airport and I did not believe him. My Reservation number no longer mattered when the all white staff saw that I was black. I have not yet experienced that in any Carribean Country and I have visited about Twenty of them.

  16. hcalndre February 10, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    @RC, how many years ago you encountered that incident and which state it was? I will not believe your story until you say when and where it happened.

  17. Mikey February 10, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    I am sorry that Liz had to endure such disrespect and racial comments. But SOMETIMES individuals have to wear shoes to feel the pinch. Some of us at home Barbados dish out equally or worse treatment to people we encounter. We must STOP being disrespectful to each other particularly “the strangers within our gates”.

  18. fedup February 10, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    White Aussie man gave me ‘girka’ riight here in Barbados. I gine write a book bout it abd hope Barbados Today publish it.

  19. David Cole March 13, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    For your consideration: Time to wake up you children of the slave trade. YOU ARE ISRAEL. Afro Asian Indigenous ONE nation 12 tribes scattered to the four corners of earth. Those that have enslaved us and those that live an enriched life style because of our enslavement , hate us with a perpetual hatred, even until the time of our deliverance : Ezekiel 35:5
    Because thou hast had a perpetual hatred, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity, in the time that their iniquity had an end. So study and do your due diligence of research and study.


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