Recent statistics have shown a 40% rise in hate crime on U.K. streets, something which is no doubt related to recent terrorist attacks and Brexit talks that are ongoing in the U.K. There is a view held by some that Brexit will stop other nationalities living in the U.K. Ethnic minorities, in this view, are seen as responsible for a lack of housing and jobs, which can make people more hostile towards other nationalities. As a result, many minority individuals must deal with xenophobia in their own country.
The Komorebi Post interviewed Ysabel*, 33, who is from the Philippines. She has lived in Manchester since 2015 when she came to study for her degree. She regularly flies home to see her family. For her, the experience of living in the U.K. has been mainly positive, describing Manchester as welcoming with its diverse selection of people from different backgrounds and cultures.
However, it wasn’t the same experience everywhere she went. As she prepared to travel back home that’s when she fell victim of racism and xenophobia.
I was interested to understand more about her experience and how it affected her in a country that is going through political change. So, I began my interview by asking about the incident in detail, and how she dealt with the problem of racism.
It was September, 2018 when she was at the airport ready to fly home for what what should have been a simple flight from London Heathrow to Manilla.
Ysabel had spent the night before preparing her bags, so didn’t expect to have any problems at the airport. But as she checked in her case at the baggage check-in, she was told it was over the weight limit, and wouldn’t be able to fly unless she upgraded her case allowance. This is something she agreed to pay at the time.
Once she had paid, Ysabel picked up her hand luggage and began to move into the seating area. She explains that she heard a comment from the steward, that was said in a mocking tone, “remember the correct weight next time.”
When she observed how the steward was with other customers, Ysabel said she was different towards her, and that, “the way she spoke and treated me made me feel like I was worthless.” Despite feeling angry, she moved away and sat to wait for the plane to arrive.
Normally, announcements for boarding her flight would have been played but they didn’t: “We waited for our flight to be called, but she never called it, knowing it was our flight. When it was our turn on the check-in desk, we were informed that the cabin had already closed 5 minutes ago.”
Frustration and panic set in at the thought of not seeing her family, and anger towards the steward, describing the situation as, “She was calling out for passengers for a similar flight as ours. There was no reason at all for her not to do the same for our flight. The amount of inconvenience that she caused was unreasonable.”
After realizing that their flight had already gone Ysabel tried to approach the steward to ask her why she hadn’t been informed and what the options were, but she was ignored. Desperate to get on a flight she ended up rescheduling outside the airport lounge, choosing a later flight at a KLM desk.
Overcoming Racism and Xenophobia
One of the difficulties with racism is that it comes in different forms, and it’s something that can be hard to recognise. Ysabel explains that people see racism as an obvious verbal or physical assault on somebody, and that it is rarely noticed in the form of a racist gesture, or refusing to help or serve someone.
Although the U.K. has lots of different cultures, racism can be a problem. As an Asian, Ysabel explains that there’s a common belief that, “Some people will always assume you’re here illegally or that you’re an immigrant.”
For her, getting through a racist situation is to keep calm. If you respond to racism, at the time, this only makes the situation worse. She has also found that speaking to other people has been beneficial, as the support of her friends and family has allowed her to rebuild her confidence, and to understand her own thoughts and feelings by discussing her problems with others who have been in similar situations.
I asked Ysabel if she knew about any organisations which offer support for racial abuse, but she didn’t. This is something that she believes should be more public knowledge for victims who don’t have the same support networks as her. In the bigger picture, Ysabel sees racism as something that’s unsolvable, but she wants to remain optimistic that it can be more controlled in society: “You can’t overcome it because it’s an outside attack to you as a person. It helps that there’s a call to diversity everywhere, in school, at work.”
*Name changed as requested by interviewee