Mrs. Parks had previously attended an interracial leadership conference at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, this meeting is what gave her the strength that day to say no more, no matter what the cost, and it did cost the black community. A shy and retiring women, often overwhelmed by her own status and fame, she worked hard for her cause stating that "she hoped only to inspire others, especially young people, to be dedicated enough to make useful lives for themselves and to help others."
Lets fast forward to this sweltering summer of 2006, where standing up on the bus for someone apparently ‘more superior’ then yourself is a distant almost non-existent memory. Actually giving your seat up to anyone in need, is a rare occurrence, especially in the big smoke that is London. Racism isn’t dead, far from it, but that trickle of equality has become a steady stream and at times a dam bursting river within our multi-racial society. I am not ignorant to its existence, its perhaps far more subtle than it used to be all those years ago, but lets not forget only last year in 2005 the tragic and sickening death of black teenager Anthony Walker, who was axed to death at a bus stop in front of his white girlfriend purely because of the colour of his skin. We hope such incidents are to be rare, but I am sure there are many less serious events, but none-the-less important, which go unreported everyday that people of colour endure privately.
So my story moves to July 29th 2006, a warm and humid evening where I am walking down a busy London road in the affluent neighborhood of Islington, I am just about to a board a bus with one of my best friends after a fun evening out. Like Rosa Parks my story didn’t start on this bus, it was just one of many incidents that drove us both to despair, but unlike Rosa Parks my actions will not change the face of a nation, and like many people in this society its my pain to endure privately. For I am a women, a sister, a daughter, a human but more importantly to others, and importantly for myself but for different reasons I am a ‘dwarf’. It is not a condition, or an affliction or a deformity, it is quite simply me, as is being black, or gay, or a women.
Ironically, the 4 foot 2 inches I stand in my bare feet, make me stand out in the crowd, something that should she be alive today Rosa Parks would have some understanding of. An unwillingness to be a voice, or an icon but more importantly I know she would have recognized my ‘need’ to be accepted as a ‘full human being’. So on this busy evening I realize that a group of black girls who are behind me are talking about me. They are commenting on my looks in a derogatory manner and referring to me as ‘the dwarf’. I am a dwarf, but I have a name I am not ‘the dwarf, I cannot be defined solely as ‘a dwarf, just as Mrs. Parks, wasn’t just ‘a nigger’. I realized they were addressing me and I turned to face them, but we weren't on an equal level from the start for more reasons than one.
I asked her what she said, she replied "where do you get your clothes from dwarf".
She boarded the bus with her gang of girls, who were by now bothering the other passengers, she was no small girl, in fact she was not a girl but a young women. she repeated this several times whilst towering over me, which in its self intimates as if you were still in the school playground. My reply was pathetic, but my friend and I are all too aware of the consequences of fighting your corner, I said nothing. She proceeded down the bus and sat facing me on the back seat, I could feel the tears welling in my eyes and my stubbornness to hold them back.
"Somebody ask that dwarf where she gets her clothes, go ask her where she gets her clothes,
Oi dwarf where did you get your clothes" she carried on shouting down the bus.
This may not seem like an insulting comment, I guess you had to be there to see it. It was how-ever addressed to a packed bus on a busy Friday night as the bars kicked out, my humiliation was now public. People were watching it like a game of tennis, looking at her for the comment, and me for the reaction. I just looked, and I expressed my distress to my friend but not loud enough for her to hear. One man, small and slightly built shouted "she doesn’t have to tell you, shut up" but his reasoning didn’t even reach the back of the bus. I looked at the bus driver who had pulled over to let others on the bus, he acknowledged my problem but did nothing.
"Please do something, can you call the police, if she was racist you would do something" was all I could say to this man who was out of his depth. He did nothing. Sadly a middle aged black women who was sat alongside me apologized for the ignorance of her people, and this pure fact alone made me so angry and I realized how one person’s actions represent a whole section of the community for all the opposite reasons Mrs. Parks Stood up on that bus.
I was singled out for a difference which is very much like being black on a bus packed with whites. When the girls had left the vehicle and provided a safe distance the passengers expressed their disgust, which is so pointless when what you need most is people to unite behind you. When Mrs. Parks did what she did she took a risk, but her people provided the crutch she needed to fight on, in today’s society rarely do people get involved unless from the safety of their arm chair or from behind their PC. The scars of people’s words always stay with me, they burn like no one can imagine, people seem to have very little realization that all to often we remember harsh words rather than the comforting ones which drive us forward. For those of you who were taunted at school, and remember each hurtful comment as if they have left their own individual mark upon your body, my play ground bully has never stopped.
Don’t get me wrong, this behavior isn’t exclusive to the black community, I grew up in a small town, where me and the very few multi-racial people who lived there, were subjected to daily abuse. I guess I always wish that the black community might know better and draw from their own experience. But then history has a proven track record of never learning from experience, the same hatred for difference is harbored and executed in many different ways, we only need to look at the Palestine/ Israel fighting and the situation in Iraq.
Perhaps as a friend pointed out it is this treatment that pushes people to treat those lower down the pecking order as they have been treated themselves. And yes others may say this behavior is lack of education, broken homes and violent backgrounds and bad parenting, but this is racist in its self. Credit people with more intelligence, for they really do know what is right and wrong. Those inner city children grow up among more difference than any country child would ever know. For London is a melting pot of nationalities, abilities, colour, sexuality, disability, illness, poverty, wealth and so much more, and the bus doesn’t discriminate we all sit together. It is also extremely racist to assume that most black children come from un-loving, unsupportive parents who don’t know right from wrong. Yes those parents do exist in all nationalities, but it is not exclusive to the black community. I cannot begin to imagine what some of the UK’s children face when they return from their school day, and how they must imitate this treatment in all their relationships, but this aside doesn’t excuse people or make it hurt any-the-less. For I could use that excuse for all the abuse I have been subjected to and take my frustrations out on others, but I know that hatred of others doesn’t actually improve your quality of life, it truly ruins it.
What is sad is I don’t want to feel this way it is wrong and I know it is. There are rays of light which shine through and cause pangs of guilt for my banding people together in one group. Only the other day I was at the supermarket and a gang of black girls were watching my every move, I could feel their eyes boring into me. And I felt small and bothered and defenseless, only to find two of them approach me and assist me with the packing of my shopping. And once on a bus I turned to face a small girl looking scared at me, and her mother who was black genitally said ‘say hello she’s just a women’. And its these people that make the difference, only to be un-done by the gang on the bus. It is like pulling lose stitching, unraveling to reveal suspicion, fear and the judgment of others, when sometimes it really doesn’t need to be that way.
Dwarfism is the oldest recorded disability dating back to the bible, so you have all had long enough to get used to it. It shouldn’t come as a shock to you when I board your bus, or enter your shop or drink at your bar, just as it shouldn’t if I was black. Anthony Walker’s mother said after her son’s killing,
"This is absolutely terrible, we cannot change our colour."
How very sad a statement but understandable in such distress, for her son was the last person who needed to change. Just as I a women, a sister, a daughter and a person with a disability should never wish to be different. One should never assume that because you wouldn’t want to be that person, that they themselves are not happy.
And many years after Rose Parks sat down, so black people could stand up she said ‘she had gained strength to persevere in her work for freedom, not just for blacks but for all oppressed people.’
And she was right, her beliefs extended past her ‘own’ people she understood that the treatment she received was often received by many others both black and white, stating
"There comes a point where you say, No, I'm a full citizen, too. This is not the way I should be treated."