So, this week I had my first brush with xenophobia. Being an American in the UK, of course I've heard the jokes, been called "the Yank", been asked ridiculous questions about what Texas is like, but I'd never run into a genuinely hateful attitude about my heritage.
White privilege? Of course. I had a conversation about it with someone I work with, he has it so regularly as to be able to recount a story from literally two weeks ago. I feel a little silly even talking about it in terms of racism, as the rest of the behaviour aimed at me by this particular individual was so much more serious. It's just... that part really shook me.
We've been so happy with our neighbourhood since we moved here seven years ago. The neighbours to one side are so lovely, never a problem, they're family now. Other people in the street are friendly, say hello and stop for a chat if we pass each other. When we get a new family, I go over and introduce myself, explain that I'm a caterer and don't work traditional hours so I'm home if they need anything. This particular family has been very stand-offish since that original meeting, so I pretty much let go of the hopes we'd be really friendly and just settled for a smile and a nod if we encounter them in passing.
Our street has sparse parking, which means if I have someone coming over I tend to pull the car out of the drive and park in the street as I have a parking pass for that very purpose. That way the visitor can use the driveway without having to use a temporary pass, it's just easier. Plus, a lot of the people that visit us have babies these days, it's just easier for them to be parked by the door. That notwithstanding, I have the right to park in the road in any permit holder parking bay, as I am a permit holder. The family I'm referencing has a bay outside their house that is a public bay, but they seem to see it as their personal reserved spot. They accosted our lovely neighbours for putting one of their cars there so they could clean the driveway, came over to the house screaming and swearing about it, and said "you think you're better than us because you own your home and we're in a council house". Nothing could be further from the truth in this particular case.
On Friday night, we'd made impromptu plans with a friend to come and park at our house so we could all walk into town and get dinner together. The older kids had had their first few days of school, we don't get to see each other in the week anymore, and we wanted to catch up. My friend called when she left her house, so I popped out to move the car so she could use the drive. A few minutes later I glanced out the window to see if she'd arrived yet, and to my surprise I saw a car parked across the bottom of our drive, blocking the access entirely. As Himself was walking across the park and I was in the house with the kids, I asked him to knock at the neighbours the car belonged to and ask them to move their car so my friend could get into the drive. Turns out it wasn't that easy.
She launched into a tirade about how she figures I put my car in "her spot" on purpose to be nasty, how I'm a mega bitch that looks at her like she's trash when we pass in the park, how we're crappy neighbours... I hear the shouting from the front door and immediately grabbed the car keys and went over to attempt to defuse the situation. When I finally got a word in edgewise I offered to move the car so she could get hers out of our driveway and into the place she was so adamant was hers. She flat refused, said she was going out in a while and she was leaving the car there until she felt like moving it. After several attempts to get her to change her mind (honestly thinking at first she was kidding, because how ridiculous?!) I finally asked her if she'd rather I called parking enforcement to give her a ticket for parking there. She said to go ahead, so I did. After I'd called, my friend and Himself and all the kids headed into town for dinner.
When we got home, her car was still across the drive. When she finally did move it, I immediately went out to put our car in our driveway. When I got out to go inside, her husband was outside staring at me. He shouted "do we have a problem??" so I walked over to attempt to smooth things over, hoping he might be more reasonable than his wife. Let's just say, that wasn't the case. He started off shouting, saying his wife had told him I'd stormed over screaming earlier. When I said that wasn't the case, he asked if I was calling his wife a liar... eye roll. I continued attempting to assure him that we weren't using that spot to annoy them, that I'm in that spot so infrequently I'm confused how they're so angry, that I don't want to have a fight with neighbours and that I wanted to fix the situation... he wouldn't let me get a whole sentence out. He continued yelling at me, getting more and more aggressive with his body language, and finally said "send your husband out and I'll sort him out over in the park". At this point, I abandoned hope and headed back to the house. He then screamed "why don't you f*ck off back home". I responded that I am home. He shouted something about him being British and how I have no right to be here. I slammed the door.
Himself went out and attempted to calm things down. Apparently I have the wrong plumbing to be spoken to as a human being, because the guy stopped screaming. He even admitted to Himself that his wife is a hothead. He maintained that we're horrible neighbours, that I'm a mega bitch, and that we're incredibly rude to park in front of their house... in the residents parking bay... for anyone with a permit... They eventually parted ways and we ended our day.
I couldn't sleep. I kept replaying the scene over and over in my head. It was all so unreal, the fight in the first place (because honestly, who deals with things that way?!) but also the way he puffed up and loomed over me, shouting and swearing, and the final shot about "go home". When I got to work the next morning and chatted it over with a few friends I decided that I'd call the non-emergency police line and report the incident just so it'd be on file in case anything happens in future. I figured I'd get a reference number to file away and that would be that. Not so much. Turns out that the fact he was physically threatening both in body language toward me and verbally toward my husband added to the xenophobic comment rated us an in home visit from the local police to take our statement. Turns out that on top of that, if I'd decided we wanted to go that route, the police officer that attended us would go arrest the guy right that second for the racist comment. They take that sort of thing pretty seriously.
Obviously we decided not to have anybody arrested. We still have to live here, and I can't imagine where we'd end up if we went that route. We decided to leave it as having reported it, and the police officer informed us that if they attempt to make us uncomfortable or become aggressive in the next six months we could change our minds and have him picked up. I felt better just knowing the authorities had the information and that we have the extra cushion of time over the coming months to see how things go. Was I nervous walking to work yesterday? Yes. Did I look over my shoulder to see if they were watching? Yes.
Will I get over it? Yes.