This is the tale of how I accidentally slept with a racist, and the laughably horrible things he said to me while I lay in his bed.
In July I travelled around the Cyclades with two friends, reunited after spending a year apart at different universities, and re-learning who we might have become in the time away. We’d met Australian Sam and his friend in Athens and, excited at seeing a familiar face in a Mykonos club, dragged them across the dance floor. What we took for enthusiasm at mutual recognition turned out to be more prosaic; Australian Sam and co had no memory at all of our previous meeting and clearly thought their irresistible physical magnetism was what made us pluck them out of the crowd. When you’re determined to get over an ex – even if it has been the best part of a year since the breakup – and let’s be real, prove that “still got it!” attractiveness to yourself, bad things can happen.
Over his shoulder my friends wiggled their eyebrows and smiled encouragingly, knowing I was accomplishing my “mission”. I remember thinking his blue eyes (not my usual) seemed bright and fun, and though I felt very strongly that he was arrogant, his shoulders were the exact right height for me to wrap my arms around. So we ended up at his hotel on the other side of the island. Feel free to insert your chosen comic-book euphemism here.
I am no expert on the details of hookups. There aren’t a lot of notches on my bedpost but I feel certain casual racism isn’t the norm when it comes to postcoital pillow talk. We were sharing vaguely awkward, but perfectly pleasant, small talk about life in the UK and Australia and he had just demonstrated his predictably bad British accent, featuring all those familiar harmless stereotypes.
His “Indian” accent (purely the word “curry” repeated over and over) segued neatly into a generic “Asian” one (where he said words such as “noodles”, “massage”, and “ladyboy”).
It started to dawn on me that this good-looking stranger had deeper character flaws than just a tendency to focus all conversation on himself. Somehow, I’d foolishly assumed that everyone everywhere was now aware of how not OK this kind of shit is. Or at the very least that they would keep it between themselves and their white mates. How did I fuck up so monumentally and end up in a room alone with this jerk? The only consolation was the thought of how grimly hilarious a story it would become.
When I pointed out the blatant racism of his comments, Australian Sam told me Australians “just don’t care about that stuff”. Dancing about a half-step away from “I don’t see skin colour” territory, he said: “If someone wants to get offended because their skin colour is mentioned, that’s their fault.” I snorted in disbelief. My “racist radar” had experienced a major malfunction and now here I was in bed with a guy who thought his love for Biggie and 50 Cent negated his total inexperience with the existence of black people as actual human beings with whom he could interact. I was tired and tipsy, and even though I wanted to tell him where he was going, he wasn’t worth any more of my time or breath.
As it was, I was clinging to the very edge of the mattress with my body contorted to avoid any physical contact with this person who by now was truly repulsive to me, and trying not to cry, and wondering how I could get the fuck out of there.
Weeks later, seeking solace, I asked various women of colour friends if they’d experienced any similar racism from romantic or sexual partners, and so many had stories to tell: One told me how her ex-boyfriend used to mimic her accent as she spoke Tamil on the phone to her mum. Another – of Indian and Pakistani origin – was asked to “like, sing in Indian while I rap” by one sexual partner and told “you're quite pretty, and not that hairy, for one of your lot” by another. For every story of “casual racism as flirtation” shared, I have no doubt that hundreds more go unreported except among groups of exhausted women torn between grim amusement and despair.
A classmate I spoke to, who is of mixed black and white Southeast African origin, had slept with a white South African who insisted on discussing apartheid, her “tribe”, and his exhilaration at “breaking the rules”. The rhetoric and mentality of colonialism is so often still painfully present for so many of us – and not just in our institutions and systems. And unfortunately, racists don’t tend to wear badges to identify them: It would be a lot easier to work out who to avoid on a sweaty dance floor if they did, and whose bright blue eyes to ignore.
A stroke of genius reminded me I had the only set of keys to the room I was sharing with my friends. I dug them out of my pocket as proof but he’d already immediately offered to take me back. Perhaps he had sensed my discomfort, but more likely he felt I had fulfilled my purpose and was no longer necessary.
The grimmest circumstances often yield comedy like nothing else: As the bike plodded painfully up a hill, we realised it had a flat tyre. I would have laughed at the farce of it all if I hadn’t wanted to scream into the night at the thought of being trapped in the middle of nowhere with this foolish racist. By some minor miracle, the bike managed to last until the club, where I hopped off and ran awkwardly in my tight “pulling” skirt away into the crowds. I desperately – childishly – hoped his quad bike would give up entirely, leaving him stranded. I never saw Australian Sam again. I left Mykonos two days later. I don’t imagine I’ll ever return.
The happy ending is this: I channelled all my hurt and rage into the first iteration of this piece, and began to feel OK again. This didn’t have to scar me, or change my thoughts about sex, or myself. It could just be one experience of many, one sad night of so many happy ones, a valuable life lesson learnt (that lesson being “try not to sleep with awful racist men”). And frankly, getting a piece of writing internationally published is the biggest and best “fuck you” I could have.