My place

In my youth, there were many who decided I had to be put in my place. At university, one was my so-called brother in faith, a fearless activist and latterly failed politician, whose intimidation culminated in me being pinned to the wall by my neck. My crime, perhaps, to have been a white convert, all too reminiscent of other white converts he had encountered previously, or to have been too shy and timid to satisfy his macho rendition of faith, or simply because he had heard the rumours about me, whatever they were.

Half a decade earlier, it was a school prefect who pinned me to the wall, also by my neck, his thumbs pressed against my larynx. On that occasion, my crime was resisting him when he prevented me from passing through a door I had a right to pass through. Actually, I called him a dickhead, just after another prefect intervened to let me through. That was why he slammed me against the wall, and slid me up it until my feet no longer touched the ground. My place then: to learn not to resist.

A few years after that, a policeman in King’s Cross decided my mate and I were racist skinheads — unlikely, as we were both students of international development — and thought he should show us our place too. “I know your kind,” he told us, threatening us with arrest for, well, standing outside a kebab shop.

Two years on from that, my born-again flatmate threatened to report me to the Christian housing association we rented our dingy flat from for the sin of becoming a Muslim. He too decided to show me my place, as he set out on a campaign of harassment, blasting me with Christian rock music every night, until finally I gave my notice and left. At which point the landlord asked me if I had anything to do with a violent break-in downstairs. Yes, for the “nice, quiet” tenant once praised for cleaning their grimy flats each week now had to be shown his place.

Throughout my youth I experienced so many instances like this, as strangers decided to show me my place, based on whatever conclusion they had reached to describe who and what I was. Everyone had an opinion, each one even more extraordinary than the last.

So it was that long ago I learned my place. That place: to walk lightly on the earth, to swallow my pride, to let others wander on ahead of me. It wasn’t a bad education though, for all of these are worthy traits. From each of these cases, and many more, came good in the end. You just have to take a long view. Verily, after every difficulty comes ease.

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