This country has never been a safe space for people who look different, act different, speak different or embody characteristics different from the white, male, wealthy establishment. Terrorism is political violence and particularly when targeted at innocent people just trying to make the most of our short lives is utterly despicable. Terror attacks in recent years have made this native Londoner fear for his safety in his own home; the uncontrollable sense of unease when a package is around and the owner is indeterminate is something all city dwellers and especially Londoners can relate to, given the recent horrors of London Bridge, Westminster and Manchester.
But attacks on the marginalised and vulnerable communities of immigrants and people of colour more widely, as well as, the visibly religious minorities of Islam and others are different. They are different not in pain, agony and the sick sense of dread they impose within us. No, they are different because they for one particular moment, the idea that we are all in this together, Black, White and Brown, Rich and Poor, Native and Immigrant is disbanded and an ugliness rises from the depths of the society we have embraced that makes us feel alien, neither stranger nor native in the supposedly ‘United’ Kingdom. Though there has been a rise in racist violence, hate crime and general racial tensions, there has always been such injustice present beneath the illusion that a post-racial peace had dawned in our ‘multi-cultural’ nation. The truth is, even London, emblematic of cosmpolitanism and diversity, with over 300 languages spoken in its schools is an imperfect society. Living in East London, though I had always been cursorily aware of islamophobia and racist currents, particularly in my borough of Barking and Dagenham given a history with the BNP, a strong Ukip and Leave vote and generally a lot of socially conservative, old white men I was more shocked and bewildered to see that acid attacks were, or rather, are so numerous. I had always thought it was a fringe act of cruelty.
But no, Newham and Barking and Dagenham are the collective acid attack capital of the UK. Acid attacks are not ‘normal’, for lack of a better term, violence aimed at causing physical pain and fleeting discomfort, their aim is to disfigure and to instill mental trauma and terror over a lifetime. The resurgence of knife crime in the capital, and the fact that of the 11 deaths via a knife so far in London, all were black has meaningful implications for the political and social climate which has produced such ignorance and violence within which even schoolchildren like Quamari Barnes are not safe to wait at the bus stop after a school-day. There are deep and painful implications for black community, who are disproportionately the victims of underrepresentation, the economic violence of austerity Britain, unemployment or low pay, discriminatory trends in education at all levels and perennial victims of a prejudiced police force as highlighted in ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’. How these factors may have played a part, I don’t know but it is important to critically evaluate structural factors before strictly the individual.
But acid attacks. They are one of the worst methods of violence simply because acid is so readily available as a weapon and its usage is never accidental; without excusing knife violence it can often be seen as either an item of self-defence in the roughest, poorest parts of our country or a tool of death whirled out in a blind rage to cause pain. Acid attacks are not like that. Acid attacks are premeditated and carefully planned avenues to inflicting horrifying lifelong pain, Resham Khan, was one victim of an attack aimed at ruining her beauty and confidence as a brown woman and dehumanising her. Her bravery is tweeting about it just 3 days after the attack on her 21st birthday shows that no racist attacks can succeed where hundreds of years of white supremacy have failed.
I have no solutions or answers but I thought it was heartbreaking to read that this small irrelevant borough where I call my home could be second highest nationally for something so horrific. My heart goes out to the other brown and black people who must now bear a new burden on our minds fearing that the next white male we see may be so contorted with hatred, they would cause us lifelong agony, and I fear for the young people of my generation who will never complete their dreams or fulfil their passions due to the brutality of a knife or the people scarred and traumatised by the cruelty of acid.