Aayana Chandok is a Lower Sixth Form Pupil at Francis Holland School
“The ultimate measure of a person is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy (adapted)” Martin Luther King, Jr.
One afternoon on holiday this summer in the south of France, my family experienced an unpleasant racist episode. We had spent an afternoon at the beach; my father and younger sister had been water jet skiing, and my brother, his friend and I had relaxed at the beach. As usual, at the end of the afternoon we were collected by the hotel van shuttle to take us back to our hotel. As soon as my father entered the shuttle, a man greeted him with ‘Namaste’, holding his palms together, mocking Indian tradition.
My father sat next to the man, noting his mischievous intent, as he didn’t want any of his children seated next to him. My brother and his friend sat with my father in the back of the van, and my sister and I were sitting in the front, listening to the conversation that followed. These hotel guests (the man, his older brother and the older brother’s wife) were all drunk. The man continued to try to talk with my father for the remainder of the journey back to the hotel, making inappropriate comments during the conversation with racist undertones.
My father was surprised and saddened that this was actually happening as we have never experienced any racist episodes in our family holidays. He was concerned that the situation could escalate and become volatile, so he remained passive and disengaged from the conversation. My father is a calm individual and generally doesn’t get provoked easily; he continued to ignore the man, but the man continued talking. My father then tried to steer him towards a sensible conversation. The racist comments from the man continued and he made a comment that upset my elder brother.
My brother said to the man that this was enough and he should stop; my brother was shocked and clearly upset by now, but my father hadn’t realised the impact of the situation upon him until that point. Then my father told the man that it was enough and that he should be quiet. We then reached the hotel. That evening my brother felt disheartened, and my family could tell by his sad mood that he was quite upset. My father felt he had not protected his son, by not confronting the racist man in the shuttle and allowing the situation to progress to the point of my brother getting distressed.
We reflected as a family over dinner, and my father explained to us all not to be dismayed and that discrimination in its many forms sadly continues to exist, whether it is ageism, sexism, racism, anti-semitism, or homophobia, amongst others. My father said he felt he should have been more assertive in the moment, as the whole episode was uncomfortable for our family. Being a doctor, my father always sets an example of restraint in the face of provocation, but he explained that this conflicted with his role as a parent to protect his children during that racist episode, and that we must always hold those that discriminate to account for their actions.
The next morning, at breakfast in the hotel courtyard, my father saw the racist man and his older brother and wife at a distant table. They finished their breakfast, and to exit the breakfast area they would have to walk near us, as our table was by the entrance of the courtyard. My father got up from our table and walked towards them. The man who made the racist comments said good morning to my father. My father was wearing his baseball cap back to front, which is usually a signal that he is in a very relaxed mood. But my father had a steely look in his eyes; he raised his voice and said to the man that his racist behaviour the previous day was completely unacceptable and that he should apologise to my brother, and do it immediately.
The man froze and he could see that my father wasn’t the passive, disengaged man of yesterday. His older brother raised his fist and tried to hit my father; my father blocked and held his punch, he retreated and didn’t try to punch again. The restaurant movement came to a brief halt, whilst everyone in the courtyard had their eyes fixed on my father; all the guests in their rooms were also looking from their balconies on to the courtyard scene. It was like something out of a movie! The man realised that my father had confronted him now, about how he had behaved shamefully the previous day.
He then obediently walked up to our table followed by my father and repeatedly apologised to my brother. He then asked my father if this was fine; my father said to him politely that it was now fine as his apology was accepted and that he should go. Several hotel guests looked at my father, signalling their approval either with a thumbs up or by smiling, and a lady came to say some nice words to us. The hotel manager then came to sit with us for a while and he spoke to us and said that he felt sorry.
Martin Luther King, Jr. sought equality and human rights for African Americans from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. His quote, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”, resonates with the episode we had experienced. Now more than ever, we cannot allow discrimination and prejudice to not be challenged in our lives; we must each play our role as my father did that morning.