I suppose what I find shocking about racism in Jersey in 2009 is the way it issues forth from the mouths of people whom I know well - or believed that I did - people with whom I associate, work, do business, socialise; that it comes from older people who are naturally shell-shocked with the changes that have come upon their island in the past few decades I can understand, but to hear racist attitudes spouting from 16 year-olds, who have recently been granted the right to vote? It makes me wonder what our expensive education system is doing to inculcate tolerance, fairness, and, au fond, intelligence in our young people. It makes me wonder what we have learnt from the lessons of the holocaust when people can rise up to protest against the renaming of a shabby backwater of a street, a street with few residential addresses and only a handful of businesses, and seize upon all manner of excuses to defend their xenophobia.
But we’re not racist, they protest. Why we know Portuguese people ‘and they’re quite nice, really’ - this is verbatim, from last night’s Parish Assembly; ‘though I wish they wouldn’t talk to each other in their own language when they’re serving us.’ Ironic, that ... And here’s a call logged on my answerphone this evening - the caller gave her name but no number so there’s not much I can do to seek to show her the error of her ways, to convince her - if that would be possible - of how darkened her mind is:
“I’ve just heard on the news that it’s been approved that we now have a Route (sic) de Funchal, and I just wanted to voice my disapproval and absolute horror at that appalling decision. I think it’s a disgrace, an absolute disgrace, we are local people, this is Jersey, if we wanted Portuguese we would go to Portugal, we don’t have a St Helier in Portugal and why the hell should they have a Funchal in Jersey. I really think you should think long and hard before you make these irrational decisions, and upset half of the island. You’ve had people most I would imagine were unemployed Portuguese while the locals are busy trying to work to support this island. I think you need to think long and hard Mr Crowcroft, you’re Constable but the time will come when you will need our votes, and you won’t be getting mine if you continue down this vein.”
Make what you will of that. Or compare it with an email I received earlier the same day from a young man who was at last night’s Assembly:
“First of all I would like to let you know that I am pleased the proposal was approved last night to rename the street. I am also aware that before this could have got to the stage of being presented to the Parish Assembly last night, there was a lot of work involved, which means that there were a lot of people like yourself who were of the opinion this should be done and supported you all the way. For that I am very grateful and pleased.
I went to the meeting last night expecting to find some opposition and prepared for the possibility of people not approving the proposal. I thought people would not like to lose the street's name and all the bother associated with a change of address.
After a while of listening to people with objections against this change, I felt some genuine worries, however most the people I felt they were purely racist and many of them used what could be seen as genuine reasons/ objections, but I couldn't but feel that they were purely describing their true motivation.
Less than half way through of the debate, I really felt so disgusted and humiliated. I wished I had not gone to the meeting, I didn't think I would be able to stay until the end. I really felt there was a lot of hostility and a particular group of narrow minded people who kept claiming they were not racist, but their attitudes denied this.
Last night, I was pleased that the proposal was approved and thought that all the feelings caused by the racist comments I had witnessed would go away and would make me feel better by the approval of the name change. I was wrong, this feeling only lasted a couple of minutes, as I walked out of the Parish's doors I felt humiliated again and like these people had put me back in my place. I even got to the conclusion that no matter how hard I would try, I would never be able to mix in and be a part of the community.”
Despite the victory of 21st century inclusiveness, fairness and open-mindedness that last night’s Parish Assembly represents, the hurt caused to this parishioner at the same meeting is enough to make me weep. I have not felt so disgusted with the behaviour of my fellow islanders since it was reported to me that a person or persons lay in wait for a gay couple to exit a town take-away, in order to hurl them through the windows of a shop in Bath Street on 16th July (St. Helier Day). To date no prosecutions have been brought.
You may rest assured, parishioners who are disgusted by my desire to promote the naming of Rue de Funchal and to raise the profile of our Portuguese community, that I will continue to do all that I can for this community. And I will also do all that I can to make sure that those whose narrow-mindedness and ignorance leads them to mock, abuse or injure homosexuals get shown the pitiful error of their ways.