Today is July 4 and for Americans like me, it is a big day, even though I now live in Great Britain. I don’t have the day off from work but that doesn’t stop me from celebrating. In the past, I have had some Independence Day barbecues, which many a British person has completely enjoyed. So, I have no problem celebrating my birth country’s biggest holiday in the country whom it gained its independence from and no one in the UK has a problem with me doing so. But it wasn’t always so.
During my first few years in the UK, I worked in a factory in East London. I started as a cleaner and worked my way up to a compounder where I was making industrial fragrances. When I was in the ‘lower’ jobs, I seemed to get on with the majority of my working companions. However, that changed when I actually began the job that was equal to them. Now I admit that starting out, I made a lot of mistakes and while I am not making excuses here, many of those were fueled by anxieties from previous employment where getting the job done was above all else. It didn’t help that as always with my Asperger’s, I was branded weird, nothing new there.
While my direct supervisor would say later that all the compounders had issue with me, there was one guy who was the main spark behind it all. This particular gentleman typified all stereotypes about English hooligans from the film “Green Street.” He used to fill small vials of chemicals from the factory and take them to football matches to throw at rival supporters. One time, right before the 1990 World Cup, a Dutch lorry driver came into the dressing room to use the toilet, this person informed him, “Hey Dutchman, see you at the World Cup.” Anyway, because of my perceived mistakes and the fact that there was only one other foreigner working there, he took issue with me and got his friends to join him. It started small, he and his mates would call out “wimp” when I was a long way down the corridor. Later, they got a little bolder and say it very lowly when I was there. One time, when I confronted them on it, they did the denial thing trying to make out that I was hearing things or making it up. To me, that is the most cowardly form of bullying.
Things digressed after that to the point where I had to involve my manager. There was a meeting with supervisors over it where the one informed them of all of my so called mistakes so not much was done about it. Then the climax happened. A few years earlier, I had been off sick on July 4 and came back to some innocent teasing. During the time mentioned, I happened to be genuinely off sick on that day again but this time it was worse. I returned to having “July 4, we know” on my locker and on a wall in the one office, there was written, “Independence Day Sickness, we know you’re lying.” When I had to talk about my sickness over that time, with my manager, I got the impression that he was thinking the same thing, so I didn’t say anything. However, some well meaning English friends were very quick to point out that if I had been of African or Asian origin, the race relations people would be in there collecting heads on platters, so I called the Commission for Racial Equality. Unfortunately, the person I spoke to very patronizingly told me that white Americans don’t come under the Racial Equality Act. She even went on to make excuses for those who were hassling me over it. So, I felt like there wasn’t anything I could do.
Fortunately, the hooligan would leave the company two months later and his mates would leave me alone after that. Things would be bearable again and I would leave the company a year later. Still, the act of being called a liar because I was sick on Independence Day tugs at the corner of my mind, especially the way the Racial Equality Commission handled it. However, there are many more people in Britain who accept that I celebrate the holiday and know that I wouldn’t lie about going sick on July 4 more than counteracts that brief experience.
To buy He Was Weird, go to: https://www.amazon.co.uk/He-Was-Weird-Michael-Lefevre/dp/1909740942/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467662529&sr=1-1&keywords=he+was+weird