There was a strange moment today. A memory of mine brought to the surface by an overheard comment. ‘They’re coming over here and taking our jobs. I’m paying mine to support them.’
The comment was said with forceful energy. Aggressive energy. I felt uncomfortable to be around that statement. I wondered if I should challenge it. Then I was suddenly back in time more than 50 years. As a child I lived in an ordinary terraced house. In a mill town. In a respectable but poor area. There was great excitement in my street one day as the landlord had let the house next door to some Pakistani men. They were going to be working in the mills. It seemed there were quite a lot of them in the house. Many more than in mine. There was also a strange smell at dinner time. It was my first exposure to what a curry was. The men seemed to come and go at all times. But very quietly. Respectfully.
My Mum and Dad certainly weren’t disturbed by our new neighbours. And neither were we children.The street was very much like any street. Although the men kept themselves to themselves – English not being their first language – they smiled and nodded to everyone. Time passed and so did the nine day wonder of the new neighbours. It was only later, after a few years, that I started to hear people being unpleasant about our neighbours. Apparently they had come to take our jobs. Or to get our benefits if they didn’t have jobs. Worst of all, it seemed, they were sending all of their money ‘back home’ to their families. Who might also want to come here and take our jobs. It seemed that some sort of backlash had been building. Our town started to become divided along racial lines.
That’s when I really started to notice possesive pronouns. Mine. Yours. Ours. Theirs. Suddenly people were laying claim to an insubstantial idea as if it was a possession.
After all, I reasoned in my young head, a job has no ownership. It only belongs to someone for the time that they are occupying it. A land is the same. The British found that out about the Empire. Perhaps it was because my Dad came from another country too. When he met my Mum he decided he wanted to stay here, got himself into work and built a family life. He did jobs for very little pay. Hard jobs that other people hadn’t wanted. Dirty jobs that exhausted him. All to provide for his wife and family. I saw that. I didn’t exactly understand it. But I knew part of what he earned was mine. Because I ate the food and wore the clothes he had provided. How was my Dad any different from these neighbours?
‘It took me quite a while to understand that people use mine, yours, ours and theirs as a way to divide humanity. To give an entitlement to something. Whether earned or not. Or deserved or not. The one who shouts the loudest, or has the biggest weapons, can grab whatever they like. It’s socially acceptable. Think about the way women have been bartered and traded for thousands of years. So it’s easy to see that if you think something is yours you will be very unhappy when someone else says ‘no, it’s mine’. You might even want to fight about it. Especially if you think you have been the one to pay for that ‘thing’.
Back to the present day. In all these years the issue of mine, yours, ours, theirs has never gone away. Underneath the surface there is simmering belief in ownership. Of things that can’t actually be owned..
We even have patents to protect the ownership of ideas. I understand that patents place restrictions on what can be done with ideas. Yet why would we want to hold back the development of good ideas by saying only one person can profit from them? Back to the comment I overheard. Instead of understanding that those who can pay more in society can help the vulnerable until they no longer require that help the speaker applied the logic of mine and ours. In effect the person was saying you can’t earn to provide for yourself. Nor can you get help from me. I won’t let you pay your own way through employment. I walked away trying to find a lighter side to what I’d heard.
In my mind I started to run the scene from the Life of Brian where they discuss what the Romans did for us. It made me smile. A lot. Then feel somewhat disappointed. The person who made the comment probably went out for a curry now and again. Or relied on an NHS were talented immigrants and their children and grandchildren were involved in all aspects of medical care. Right down to the cleaners, porters and admin clerks. Or visited the local supermarket which is open on popular religious holidays due to people here who take different religious holidays. Perhaps the speaker was a prudent person who saved up to help buy a house or two for children and grandchildren in order to contribute to the local economy.
Who knows what the waves of immigrants have given to this land. Or any other for that matter.
I know that family members of mine put their life into being part of the local community. That was the only things they ‘owned’ in any real sense. And they couldn’t take anything material with them when they died. It’s time to stop fighting over these pronouns. I rather wish I had challenged what was being said in a public place for all to hear. Even if it meant driving the conversation underground again? Because that is what has happened so often. The challenge to this divisive language has only ended up with hidden hate. When I think about it now perhaps it’s better to hear it and know it’s still there. So I can start to challenge the mine, yours, ours and theirs that is within myself. I’ve been exposed to that energy most of my life. Hearing it spoken by another reminded me it’s time to make sure I’m not doing the same as that person.
Day 460 of my blogging challenge.