Standing up to Racism

Published 7th Jul 2020

I am truly passionate about North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service being an organisation in which we recognise and welcome the unique skills, talents and experiences of all. That we are individuals with our own beliefs, stories and thoughts. When we take the time get to know each other better it expands our understanding. It makes our workplace more vibrant and helps us to be more responsive to our communities.

The following piece was written by one of my colleagues. It captures his own experience of growing up as a mixed-heritage lad in our county but he was prompted to write it when his own son was racially abused recently. What you will read is one person’s experience of racism and his outrage that his son is now facing the same experiences.

I can’t recommend the content of article strongly enough to you. It is a small way of being able to “walk a mile in another person’s shoes” and see the world from their perspective.

On Monday 6th July I joined my colleague and his son – one of our former Fire Cadets -to show solidarity and to publicly signal that racism has no place in our communities and that we are an anti-racist organisation.

people gathered in front of fire station

Andrew Brodie,
Chief Fire Officer 


A Personal Account

WARNING: The following contains some swearing which is not included to offend but as a true reflection of events. Names of individuals have been altered to protect their identity.

Edward, Clive and I were 6. We were running around the playground chucking pretend grenades and making the best machine gun noises we could. Ed liked to have a bazooka. It made the biggest bang in the war films he used to watch with his family on a Sunday afternoon. Clive could rattle like a machine gun for what seemed like hours before taking a breath. If I wasn’t pretending to have a machine gun, I was arms stretched out running around mimicking the fighter planes of World War 2.

Our Dads were in the R.A.F. so a Sunday afternoon war film was almost a staple diet…

So why did Ed and I get called ‘Wog’ or ‘Chink’? We didn’t get it. Clive said it was because of Ed’s curly hair and we were both brown. Eh? I thought it was because the juniors thought I was pretending to be a Japanese fighter plane. Ed said he didn’t even like jam! But no, that couldn’t be right because the game was always war against the juniors and somehow it was always decided who were Germans and who were Commandoes! We were good at playing armies and we ran around like possessed Tasmanian devils sweeping up the enemy and rarely getting shot or gunned down. Then again, when we did, our downfalls were so dramatic and spectacular Omar Sharif would be well behind our auditions for a leading role!

‘Wog’ and ‘Chink’ became a daily sound but never sat right with us. We didn’t understand why Ed was being compared to a golliwog and me to a Chinaman. We didn’t like it but it didn’t stop us winning at armies.

Jump forward to age 9 and a classmate of my elder sister says “Alright Tojo”? I smiled and said “Hello.” I quite liked the nickname, I’d never had one before, apart from ‘chink’, which I didn’t like. I didn’t know what Tojo meant.

Forward about another 5 years and I was in the third year at a grammar school. I was one of the first 16 boys to go to what had always been an all-girls grammar school. There were only 8 boys in my class. I had an argument with 1 of the boys about something on the way to a lesson. We were seen by a couple of teachers and given no more than a verbal dressing down. That lunchtime things were quite different. I was the last one to sit down for lunch at a table where the other 7 usually sat. There were only 6 that day because ‘Cookie’ was off poorly. No sooner had I sat down when everyone else got up and left. Someone said “hang on we’ve got to clear up” which was replied to with “slave will get it.” Is that what they said? “Save a pellet?” “Behave and sell it?” “Slave will get it?” Did I hear them right? Cate and Iona came to sit with me and told me what they heard. “Slave will get it.”

Next thing I remember walking down towards the tennis courts with the other boys walking towards me. They were throwing things….at me. Then came the ‘Sieg heils’ along with more mud! I turned around and ran.

That day after school I made sure I was last to leave class. Didn’t want to get caught up in anything. Got my stuff, went into the boys’ toilets and there was one of them stood at a urinal and another sat on the window sill. I shoved one into the urinal and as the other jumped down off the windowsill I hit him. The following few days he was off school. Many months later I found out his dad had got it out of him why I’d hit him. He’d been kept off school so no one would see his black eye. As for the others, over time, things got back to how they were. The biggest difference…I hated school.

Aged 16, walking back to my weekend/holiday job I heard a load of chanting, shouting, like a football crowd. I stopped, turned around and saw a procession of Union Flags flanked by Police. About 200 National Front members were marching through Acomb towards York. I stood there gobsmacked and angry, scared, amazed, hurt, fearful. Then I saw my mate Dave’s elder brother Neal and his girlfriend in a phone box opposite. Dave and Neal are black, Neal’s girlfriend white. His girlfriend was struggling to keep him in the phone box. His eyes were full off anger and he was in a rage. I knew how he felt. Then he saw me. He looked at me and just nodded. I did the same back then went back to work.

Around the same time, I had a girlfriend who was called a nigger lover by a couple of lads when she was walking to her local shop for her mum. I knew who’d said it and actually ended up working with one of them about 10 years later. He was my supervisor! Sometime after the incident I had a fight with the other one.

18 years old I was on my usual Friday night out. Up at 5.30am for work, home for 6pm. In town for 8pm, met with mates, had a few sherbets, 10.45pm Plonkers Wine Bar last orders for a jug of sangria between 2 of us, good wobble down to Hotshots night club and walk home for 2.30am.

This one night I went for my jumper in the cloakroom and saw some people I knew and another, who I knew of, sat around laughing and joking. He had a reputation. Not a good one. I stopped to join in and was promptly told to “**** off Chink.” So, I ****ed off…quickly.

A few weeks later I was at my very first scooter rally. It was Skegness 1984.

Saturday morning, after sleeping for only about an hour under the club van the night before, we’re in a café, for breakfast, when the same said person with a reputation sits down behind me. “Pass the sugar nigger”. “Yaaaas sa massa…” was all I could think to say. I ridiculed an African slave in some perverse attempt to preserve myself by belittling myself. But I got a very strange reaction. “You’ll do for me kid, come and sit here.” So, I shifted seats and sat with Steve. He asked me where I was from. Asked me what I did, who I was with that day. He didn’t even know that I was with the same scooter club that he’d travelled with but he was in the club’s van. His scooter was off the road. He apologised for being racist. He said he felt stupid, I told him he was!! We became friends.

From then on, I’ve encountered countless occasions when racist abuse has been thrown my way. The few occasions above I can talk about with some good memories because they involved others who I regarded as friends, apart from school.

There were more occasions when my heritage and physical look caused others to act so abhorrently.

I’ve been spat at, had monkey noises aimed at me (they quickly stopped when I turned around and bettered their monkey impressions!) then again it did result in me being chased around town, (I got away, fast runner!!!). I’ve also been called paki, wog, chink, jap, slant eyes, greaseball (not a clue!), told to go back to my own country…

 There’s been racist innuendo, on the street, on the football pitch, in pubs, clubs and workplaces.

I myself have laughed at racist innuendo, ignored racist remarks or outbursts. Why? It was what I’d become accustomed to do. Why? I couldn’t fight every time. Why? I have a living to earn. Why? I have a family to provide for. Why? I would have ended up in prison or hospital or worse. Why? Because it was easier. I thought it made for an easier life.

For virtually all my adult life I’ve identified as White British. Why? It was easier.

Why should I have to justify myself?

What’s changed?

On 23rd June 2020 my 16-year-old son was walking home from playing football and just generally hanging about in a local park with a couple of mates.  His mum and I ask him to be home for 5.30pm so he’s home when we get home from work. My son and his 2 mates had to walk past a handful of males aged 18-20. My son recognised one of them.

Later that evening I could hear my son’s voice getting louder and sounding angry. He was outside telling his mum that he’d been called a paki b*stard, black c**t and nigger by the group he walked past. He was in tears. He said his mum couldn’t understand how he felt. I could.

The police now have a statement from my son for this crime. That’s what it is. A crime. It’s not an opportunity for him to start fighting, to ridicule himself at his own expense, to lie down and ignore what happened. He’s 16 and has shown great courage in wanting to have this disgusting, heinous crime dealt with and those involved punished.

But now I’m standing up. Enough is enough. Racism is a crime. I’m British. I’ve only ever been abroad once. But I also have a heritage from Singapore, Macassar, China and India, as well as Ireland and my beloved Yorkshire.

I stand up against racism.


The firefighter who wrote this piece was interviewd by BBC Radio York on Monday 13th July. You can listen to it here at about 1 hour34 minutes in