I rarely go out without either my sister-in-law or my husband - I have bad panic attacks. When Social Services offered me a chance of a mentor (a volunteer who spends up to 4 hours a week with someone either taking them out, or something) I can't say that I jumped at the chance. I actually refused but the Social Worker for some reason ignored me and forwarded my details anyway.
Luckily when I was contacted (2 years later) I was feeling my loneliness - it's amazing just how hard it is to make friends when you no longer work, or go to college - so Darryl - a nice woman and a pity I couldn't have her for my mentor - came round I agreed and gave her my details of what I would like to do - I put down the usual - shopping, trips out etc., but then added that I would like to just meet someone to chat - another woman as men don't seem to chat well, and that I'd be happy if it was across the cultural divide - I'll explain why in another entry.
This week I met Kadiza a Pakistani woman with a 5 month old baby Aysha. I tried to learn a little Urdu a few years ago but failed miserably and she has said she'll help me to learn more. She seems nice. And boy can she chat.
We have quite a cultural mix in Oldham. There are the long time residents who've been here for generations, then there are the 'commer inners', then we have quite a large Ukranian community and the Asians - we have quite a mix of Asians we have Indians, Pakistanis, Kashmiris and Bangladeshis. All the groups live seperately. We have Council housing which is a 'no go' for coloureds and several very poor housing areas where the Asians live.
Oldham is a poor industrial North of England town which used to be a mill town - there used to be mill chimneys all around Oldham now there's only 2. There is high unemployment and where the national average for a 2 rooms upstairs and 2 rooms downstairs terraced house is about £100,000 in Oldham they are about £20,000 and in the Asian areas are worth about £7-10,000.
It is a depressed area - yet it's trying hard to pull itself up. There is high unemployment and poor education.
3 (or so) years ago it all boiled over and we had riots. For 2 nights White and Asian youths through rocks at one another and when the police arrived, usually after the Whites had moved on, the Asisan threw petrol bombs at the police. We were all shocked and the area sank even further into depression.
Yet when the people caught were brought to trial most of the Whites came in from outside the area, they were brought into 1 of the worst council estates and deliberately stirred up the riots - 1 racist family had seen something they didn't like - probably a white girl with an Asian lad.
They'd gone to the poorest of the Asian areas and stirred it all up - at first by breaking into one of the houses and beating up the family who lived there. They then mainly vanished when the police arrived - late of course. Leaving a very wound up Asian community who felt that the police weren't protecting them.
Since then it's been peaceful. The BNP managed to get 15% of the vote in the General Election but now their support has dropped off. Oldham is not a bad place to live. We love it here. You are on top of a hill and can see greenery nearby. We are only 8 miles from Manchester.
I know some people will pick me up on my use of the word 'coloureds'. I'm not trying to be offensive - it is the common term in this area. But I do have a problem here - I won't call the Asians asians as a lot of them were born here and will say that they are British, yet I want to be able to differentiate. I hate being called white - to me the British National Party and the National Front talk about White Supremacy and being White. So I don't really know what to call myself or anyone else.
I hate forms which ask which ethnic group you are in. I don't see why they should need to know.
Perhaps we should be pinks and browns, but it's still a label. We can talk about ourselves, our community and our friends in a descriptive way without labels. When you're trying to describe a situation to others, like I was earlier, when talking about Oldham, how do you do it without using terms which someone will, quite rightly, find offensive.
How do you describe yourself and the other ethnic groups around you?
Especially since the riots I have wanted to be able to communicate with my, mainly, Asian (see there it is again) neighbours and they don't speak much English - well the women anyway, who are the ones I'd like to get to know. We went to a Pro-Oldham campaign group who talked about getting the unions and government involved in pro-integration action, but no-one had ideas of how to talk to 'the other'.
This is one reason why I'm so happy to have Kadijah as a friend. I miss female company. She will be here shortly. I think I'll ask her about the labels - there is this worry about offending people or even worse hurting them.