I often worry that I’m racist. A vast amount of my panic attacks have been caused by the colour of a person’s skin and the thoughts it has evoked in me, I cannot lie. In an airport, the racist man inside my head tells me everyone who “looks Muslim” or “like one of those bombers on TV” is a terrorist. This has even crept into my daily life, so much so that it has been difficult to travel by bus as I constantly predict the first terrorist attack in Leeds. My bus route to town passes through Harehills, a place containing many ethnic-minority communities; during these journeys whenever I overhear a foreign language, I assume they´re plotting a terrorist attack. (Why they would do it in the midst of a crowded bus, I’m not sure) Why don’t they speak in English if they´ve got nothing to hide? Perhaps all English language teachers are xenophobic like me. If I’m in a busy place and I see a woman in a burka, I panic. How would I know if she´s angry underneath there? I really don’t want to offend her, but should she be allowed to wear that? It’s so floaty, how would I know if she´s carrying a bomb?
A True Story
Once, I was at Roundhay park with a friend; we were lying down on the grass enjoying a rare spell of sunshine, however I was incredibly hungover. After half an hour of making strange noises and feeling sorry for myself, several cars pulled up nearby at the side of the field. It seemed a suspicious place to stop, despite the fact it was possible to be seen from the main road, that section of the field was very secluded.
A large group of Asian men all stepped out of their cars (god forbid) and began speaking with raised voices; they sounded angry, like they were arguing about something serious. Then, they started fighting. Soon everyone joined in, it was like a battlefield. With no one nearby to intervene, I desperately wanted to call the police, but I couldn’t. The fight escalated quickly. It was barbaric, and It was going to end badly.
One man sprinted towards his car. He looked possessed, like he had lost control completely.
Moments later, he reappeared. He was holding a gun.
Someone shouted, “What th- “
-BANG. BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG. BANG. BANG.
The man couldn’t stop. He was way beyond the point of return.
BANG-BANG. BANG-BANG-BANG. BANG.
He shot everyone, including those who had been defending him.
All I could hear were the harrowing screams of grown men who sounded like babies.
Then he spotted us, witnesses.
Within minutes, I had imagined the worst mass murder probably in Leeds’s history as well as my own death, simply because some Asian men parked their cars and began talking loudly. Have I completely lost my mind? Did I imagine all that just because they were Asian? Would the same thought have manifested itself if they were all white? Why would I assume an Asian man had a gun in his glove box? I don´t know the answer to any of these questions. Oh my god, I´m so racist!
Later that evening, when I came clean to my friend about what I had imagined; he revealed that almost the exact same thing had gone through his mind! In fact, his version of events was so scarily similar to mine it was as though we´d rehearsed it, religiously. The most curious part of this is he doesn’t have an anxiety disorder. Who´s the racist one now?!
This isn´t a single isolated incident, I’ve had similar irrational thoughts hundreds of times. As a result, if having a racist thought constitutes racism, I’m guilty. It doesn´t matter how many friends or family I have from ethnic minority backgrounds, the irrational thoughts are totally unbidden. I don’t know the aetiology of these fears, it´s certainly not grounded in statistics or facts, and they have nothing to do with my opinion. Surely they must be so deep-rooted in my subconscious. But what makes me like this? I love “black people” and “Asian people”, even “Welsh people”, at least I think I do? Maybe I’m subconsciously pissed off that black people look sensational in every single outfit they ever wear, whereas I would look like a tit in a hat, or with an afro or otherwise; maybe it´s because I´m jealous of the family orientated Asian culture, I normally need a very good reason to spend time with my family. Who are “Black people” or “Asian people” anyway? Who am I? White? I thought I was bronze or olive. I spend the entirety of every single summer holiday trying to get darker skin, how can I be racist? It doesn´t make any sense.
Whatever the reason, this is still 2018, not 2118, nor 1984; there’s no such offence as thought crime. I once thought I would be a professional footballer, thinking doesn’t make it so! And just because I love motorbikes, it doesn’t prevent me from jumping a metre off the floor every time one fleets past.
If you´ve ever suffered from these thoughts; you aren´t racist, anxiety is.
Disclaimer: Xenophobia is often confused with Racism. Racism involves acting on prejudiced beliefs to negatively discriminate against a culture of people; whilst Xenophobia is simply defined as a “Deep-rooted fear towards foreigners” (Oxford English Dictionary). Xenophobia is an irrational fear, it is not concerned with hatred.