We Brits love the sun don’t we? The first sign of it and were whipping off our pants and caking ourselves in coconut oil.
One minute you’re strolling through the vegetable section in Morrisons, whistling along to a musak version of Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’, the next there’s a break in the clouds and you’re knocked to the ground by a marauding posse of topless, tattooed skinheads desperate to ransack the meat and alcohol aisles.
To be honest I can’t blame them; we seldom get a proper summer in Britain so it’s only natural that they’d greet the advent of a heat wave with such excitability, but unfortunately the sun seems to draw out somewhat more than just their love of barbeques.
Whilst everyone chooses to enjoy the sun in different ways, a large chunk of British people migrate to their nearest seaside town and this past weekend was no different.
On Saturday afternoon strolling along Blackpool’s sweltering promenade I encountered a vibrant and colourful beach scene crowded with a motley selection people: dog walkers, wheelchair users collecting for charity, young couples, old couples, elderly women with sagging breasts, elderly men with sagging breasts, rambunctious children, kite flying middle aged men.
And at first glance, affected by (read: afflicted) the optimism of the sunshine, these people painted a delightful portrait of how lovely Britain can be in the summertime, a veritable seaside postcard scene. I was with a South African friend at the time and was giving her a brief outline of what sort of place Blackpool was and had become, and it had pretty much lived up to its billing thus far. We sat atop the steps leading down to the sand with our ice creams and for once I felt proud of my hometown. She snapped away with her camera and seemed genuinely enamoured with the place and I suppose in that moment it would have been difficult not to be.
One thing however, rankled with me. There may very well have been a plethora of weird and wonderful people out there that day but none of them were black or Asian. Just white. Exclusively white.
There were no other races represented in my entire field of vision whatsoever.
I said as much to my friend and she said she’d noticed too which launched us into a conversation about race and inevitably, given her nationality, apartheid. She gave me a first person account of how it affected people she knew, friends and family, and how the country was still an extremely tense place and as we walked along the top of the steps it was obvious how much she still deeply resented the whole thing. “A regretful incident,” she summarised.
I told her that I thought the concept of nation states was archaic and that passports should be abolished allowing free travel between countries and she agreed that would be a nicer world to live in, even if it was a ridiculous dream.
There are lots of British people who believe that apartheid couldn’t happen here, that we are too modern, too integrated a people for such segregation to take effect, but I believe that to be a perilously complacent point of view.
What I saw next on Blackpool beach gave that belief conviction.
There are thick wooden tide-breakers at regular intervals along the sand that effectively divide areas of sand. On one side of a barrier, the side closest to the hustle and bustle, white people were enjoying themselves; throwing frisbees, playing with dogs, paddling in the tide, swilling lager and generally having a merry seaside time.
On the other side of the barrier all huddled together in the middle of the vast empty plain of sand stood a single Asian family quite literally segregated from everyone else. All dressed in traditional black, they had come to share in the great British party to which sadly it seemed they weren’t invited. Their subdued movements and lack of noise were a stark contrast to what was going on 30 yards from them on the other side of the tide-breaker.
The view I had of this segregation from the top of the steps provided me with a snapshot of exactly what is wrong with the country and why we may well be headed for our very own regretful incident in the future; for if I had been down on the sand level with them, I would not have seen the gigantic ‘BNP’ (British National Party – a legitimate far-right political party whose manifesto is built almost exclusively on ‘keeping Britain white’) logo scraped deep into the sand. Or the even bigger, even more dreadful ‘VOTE BNP’ next to it.
It was obvious why no other races were represented back where we had eaten our ice creams. Imagine how the Asian family must have felt upon seeing such a despicable, flagrant symbol of racism scrawled in the sand. Frightened and outcast and unwelcome. It is hard to imagine they would have stayed on the beach for much longer after we’d left.
Now instead of the seaside postcard scene I could only see the St. George’s flags leaping forth from the defiant bared chests of the skin-headed men, now I could only see the intense hatred behind their knock-off sunglasses and felt utterly ashamed of them, my ignorant compatriots.
These people need to realise that England, Britain, Europe, the world is changing. Countries are no longer the exclusive home for one race of people or one nationality. And as the financial squeeze on Britain shows no sign of relinquishing its grip, they may well find themselves looking abroad for work one day too.
Diversity in our personal and social lives is the key to remaining young, to remaining relevant as a nation. The BNP cannot seriously lay claim to having any semblance of a connection with young people in this country, but obviously do still strike a chord with a past generation. A generation of narrow minded, ill informed, prejudiced white people. And if the BNP continue to get their votes (They received over half a million votes in 2010’s general election but failed to win any seats), that prejudice borders on outright fascism because they are actively exercising their right as a member of the electorate to undermine that which holds the key to Britain’s and every other country’s future; diversity.
Disgusted by the display, my South African friend and I walked away and started talking about other things.