Over dinner last night we began talking about the Brighton ‘bubble’, the bubble that is all things sex, gender and race related and the difference in these aspects when it comes to living elsewhere. Brighton has a very particular character when it comes to these topics, people talk about them, openly describe themselves as bisexual, gender fluid, transgender. In retail jobs in Brighton that I’ve learnt to address transgender or cross-dressing customers. Talking about race is never a taboo with my white friends. They look at me in shock and horror when I tell them I went somewhere and someone treated me like…. A white friend of mine was the one who told me about the book “Why I’ve Stopped Talking to White People about Race” she wanted to know my opinions to know if I felt the same.
It came even more apparent to me what a bubble Brighton is when I stepped outside of it four years ago and started university in Manchester I got catcalled a lot and not by builders but by men in cars, on the street, everywhere. It was the first time I had dealt with such a personal attack on my sexuality and gender on scale. In Manchester, I held my best friends hand leaving a club one night, and a van driver rolled down his window, slowed down and shouted “shame” at us.
It got even worse when I went from Manchester to Leeds for my masters and had to deal with the racist remarks made by waiters to my Asian friends, my friends that came from Thailand and China and were heard by others as speaking their mother tongue. They had to both code-switched and switched language before being talked down to by a barrister. I was ashamed by the subtle prejudice of the barista ignored their order and asked them multiple times about the coffee that they had already ordered, she laughed at their mispronunciation and glanced knowingly to the other waiter. I took over ordering. I apologised to my friends and hope they hadn’t noticed how rude the barista has been to them, I felt so embarrassed. As a British person, I am ashamed that my friends think this treatment from British people is normal. They tell me it’s okay and that I shouldn’t worry. They already acknowledge the racism is ingrained and is a part of them not being from the UK. They summarise it into one word and move on with their day.
The hate that belonged in the playground in parts of my childhood in Brighton is enough to form anecdotes in other cities of the same country it is enough for my Thai friend who has been in the UK less than a year to mouth “racist” to me after hearing or experiencing some form of discrimination. I am starting to understand why people love Brighton, why for some people it is a sanctuary that allows them to kiss the person they love on the street whenever they feel like it or be able to finish your sentence when ordering coffee if you’re not an native. For me, anyway, I appreciate the fact that when I’m in Brighton, I don’t feel conflicted being brown and British.