Thursday 16 April 2020

Choosing to Love

Despite the good weather, yesterday was a bad day for me. This was in part because I greedily ate Easter milk chocolate, which almost inevitably led to sugar-triggered depression, and part because of an aggressive viral video called "You Clap for Me Now."

The message of the video is that there are many Britons of Colour and non-British migrants working on the "frontlines" of the coronavirus crisis--in hospitals, as deliverymen, as shopkeepers, as farm labourers--and that on Thursdays, when Britons quarantined at home clap for the NHS, "you clap for me now." This would be innocuous, except that the message takes the form of a rather bad self-aggrandising poem, everyone who recites a line or two of it stares stone-faced at the camera, and the implication is that before the coronavirus clapping, Britons-in-general were a pack of nativist, racist, foreigner-bashing yahoos.   

To put this in perspective, Britons-in-general have been locked up in their homes for three weeks, many of their civil liberties suspended/criminalised, bored, grieving, frightened of illness, food shortages, the economy collapsing and, thanks to yesterday's headlines, the loss of two million jobs. Nevertheless, on Thursdays at 8 PM, those in this terrified country who enjoy mass demonstrations cheer and clap from their windows for the National Health Service (not the deliverymen, shopkeepers, and farm labourers, by the way). 

Sadly, it looks as though people who very much resent Brexit, which was first and foremost a rebellion against a continental European power, have used the simple-hearted demonstration as a stick to beat the vast majority of Britons whose grandparents were born in Britain. And this makes me absolutely furious. This is the worst time for an American-style conversation about race. 

There are, of course, people who absolutely love this video and the excuse to wallow in their resentment of the British. Among the Twitter traffic was the whine of a Dutch (Dutch!) NHS worker that someone had told her to go home while she was speaking in Dutch on her phone. There was no indication that this had happened to her more than once. There was also no indication that she was aware that public mobile phone calls in any language are one of the irritants of life, but I digress. 

I have lived as a foreigner in the UK for almost eleven years, and I can count the number of unpleasant remarks made at me for being foreign on one hand. (I don't include "So where are you from?" as unpleasant or unusual, as Torontonians ask each other that all the time, usually meaning "Where before Toronto?" or "Where did your ancestors come from?") The unpleasant remarks have almost always arisen from a misperception that I am Polish, and they have mostly come from a class of Scots euphemistically called the Socially Excluded. 

If I liked, I could wallow in my fear and resentment of the Socially Excluded, people who made my first years of reliance on the Rough Bus so alarming. However, the lives of the Socially Excluded seem pretty hellish, so I'd feel rather low sneering at them as a hobby or as a very ineffective way of making myself feel better. When I dutifully reported anti-Polish remarks directed to me (and then at a real Pole, who intervened) at a foundation that records this sort of thing, I ignored their request to call the police. 

That reminds me that the one amusing thing about the race-baiting "You Clap For Me Now" is that there are are least two or three Poles in it, roughly the number of Polish characters I have seen on British television in 11 years. British television vastly over-represents some minority groups, but very much under-represents Poles. But I digress again. Or do I? It triggers the thought that "You Clap For Me Now" is as much rooted in reality as an episode of "The Stranger."

The way to stop being angry at such videos, I suspect, is to stop watching them and (as B.A. begged) put them out of my head. They are just as unrepresentative of reality as any other entertainment/propaganda recorded in Britain. Yesterday, I was horrified thinking that the NHS might be full of people secretly harbouring racial resentment against the vast majority of their vulnerable patients. Heaven knows, deeply racist sexist violence against poor white British girls (another misery experienced by the Socially Excluded) definitely exists. However, today I've decided that a racially resentful NHS is very unlikely--or at least very unlikely in Edinburgh. There being no real way of knowing, the way forward is to assume from my experience of life in Scotland that this is untrue. 

I can just carry on living in Scotland, among my few fellow foreigners and the vast majority who are Scots, as happily as I can under the circumstances. 


  1. A simple "You're welcome" video would have been nicer. Or no video.

    1. Yes. But then there would not have been a juicy controversy to put the advertising company behind it all in the spotlight. But, yeah, if this was really an attempt at warming British hearts, Britain-loving migrant and minority workers happy to do their part, smiling at the viewers while saying "We're all in this together" would have been great.