Respect… goes both ways!

My ‘View from the Bottom’ on Comment is free ( – Young Londoners still don’t feel police are on their side…

Yesterday, I was travelling on the top deck of a bus through North London. A white couple where sitting behind me with their two young children. Several stops later, four black teenage girls got on and sat in front of me, and the couple. Race becomes relevant.

The girls chatted away loudly about boys and music, as most sixteen year old’s do. They were loud enough for the whole bus to hear them, and after a short while some of them began to swear. Just after this, a young mum sat near the girls with her daughter.

One of the girls swore again, and it was at this point that I said something to them – only in London aye! I asked… ‘is there a need to swear?’ and reminded them that there was children sitting behind them. The four girls looked at me surprisingly.

The woman behind me with the youngest child said ‘thank you’, and her husband tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘thanks’ also. I’d just become a hero – well, sort of? The four girls continued to chat, but quieter and without the foul language they had been using. It was too much, even for me.

It was then that something hit me (and not one of their fists!)… these girls weren’t bad or rude, they just needed someone to tell them politely, that the swearing was not appropriate. No one was telling them to sit there in silence.

It didn’t surprise me either, that the couple sitting behind didn’t say anything themselves to the girls, even though it was clear they wanted to. For that matter, this was the general consensus on the bus. It’s very much different Up North – in Liverpool and Manchester, where I originate from.

The couple and their two children got off the bus, followed by the young mum and her child. They said ‘thanks’ again. It was then that I spoke with the four girls.

I said, I didn’t mean to embarrass them, but swearing was too much. I also said that, part of the reason I intervened is that I didn’t want that couple and anybody else on the top deck going away with negative views of these four ‘black’ girls.

I say black, because that is more than likely how they will be described, not just four girls, but four black girls. I was doing my bit, to defend any negativity that may have existed towards people of colour – from this bus experience. I felt compelled.

I would have done the same if they had been white teenagers, but I wouldn’t have been able to relate as well as I did with these particular girls, as I am black (mixed-race) myself.

The four girls were respectable to me and listened, they just needed a positive role model ‘then and there’ to show them that some of their behaviour was not acceptable. The thing is, they got me, and yes partly because I am just like them.

The girls didn’t argue back with me, and they didn’t mumble under their breaths either. They acknowledged and accepted what I had to say, on behalf of the other passengers.

I have no doubt that the couple and their children, left that bus with a more positive view of teenagers, and in particularly black youth. Not only did a black passenger assist in the stopping of the swearing, but these black girls respected that too.

The girls and I chatted for a little while, I was mindful not to completely ruin their street cred – talking to a stiff like me (obviously, that’s a joke)! I left the bus really positive about them, and learned something new myself – how to engage with those younger than me.

In relation to this particular article… if the police give respect to young people whether they are white, black or in-between, then they are likely to get it back. Having power and authority over others, does not command respect – if anything, it alienates.

It too is important how we speak with young people. These days (now I do sound old), children are much more wiser and intellectual than I was as a kid. There wasn’t any social networking or mobile phones – Facebook is their Tweeting Space to be Linkedin!

I spoke up for the couple, who didn’t (for whatever reason) and I got no back-chat. This is because I talked to the girls with respect. You give it, you get it. I didn’t talk down to them or try and humiliate them in front of the other passengers either. I guess I just wanted them to decide themselves, if what they were saying was right.

You do have to be mindful of your personal safety, when on public transport. No doubt, this couple took the right decision for them with their young children. But, it’s a sad day when adults can’t talk to, or are afraid of children – these were four young girls after all!

I partly blame the media for this. Not every young person in London carries a knife, the same as not all black males are going to rob you, as some politicians and publications will have you believe.

We’re never going to understand those younger than ourselves, if we don’t speak and listen to them, properly. We are after all (just like Police Officers), the adults at the end of the day.

Max x

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© Kevin Maxwell Film, Media & Performance 2011 – Published by My Mum