For several years Tuesday night was pub quiz night. I joined an established team of people I’d known for years through the offsprings’ school. Eliza was two weeks old, if I recall correctly, when we first met and we became close friends. I’ve picked up quite a lot of this and that general knowledge over the years and my elderly team often relied on me, wrongly, for knowledge of pop songs, foreign culture and, oddly, geography. Generally we did reasonably well depending on the theme of the questions: I’m not great with films, sport or pop music since the mid 80s.
I enjoyed these companionable evenings over a pint of cider or a gin and tonic but sometimes they were tainted by the odd passing comment that I would ascribe to people of a different generation who weren’t quite in tune with changing, progressive attitudes. To be fair, the atmosphere in the pub didn’t really foster an open-minded, accepting outlook, but still I’d excuse it because it wasn’t worth making a scene with my friends. I’d often come home and fret about what they said for days afterwards. And perhaps I was being too sensitive, as I often am. There were several occasions when the finger wagging at things they erroneously believed to be the truth, quiz answers that is, not even mindset, got so belligerent that I came home feeling quite wound up and bruised.
In this way I excused their imperialist apologism and homophobia and racism, human rights, refugees and all sorts of things, as you would tolerate an elderly or uneducated relative sounding off in a corner about something they didn’t understand. But my friends were supposed to understand these things. They were supposed to be well-informed – they thought they were – and maybe I was in the wrong, in my liberal, progressive bubble, removed from the real world?
Predictably, it all came to a head a few weeks ago. OH had come to quiz a few times but, on top of a long day at work, it was often too much for him. He often travels to Paris for meetings on Tuesdays too, and had also been to Dublin. “When will it stop?” wailed one of my quiz mates, as if travel was a bad thing. I then dropped the bombshell that he’s probably moving to Hong Kong next year.
Immediately the question was “Is that because of Brexit?” They always say this in shock, Brexiters. It’s as though they think that the whole thing doesn’t apply to them, that they are completely untouched and unaffected by the havoc that has already started affecting us. When the consequences of the idiotic decision by a small minority of people in an advisory referendum finally affects people they know, they look to deny that they ever had anything to do with it.
Anyway, I explained that it’s only indirectly connected with Brexit but that many European financial institutions will move from London if they cannot secure passporting rights to carry on their business here. Angry denials ensued followed by the predictable talk about sunlit uplands and opportunties to trade with the rest of the world. I decided, after trying to press my points on people so indoctrinated by the filth, lies and misinformation in the Daily Mail that they refused to see reason, that I could not irritate them further but the damage was done.
I had made up my mind to leave the team. You might well think that it’s ridiculous of me to fall out with people over politics but it’s not really about that. I have plenty of friends with different politics from mine but this is a different mindset that stems from a feeling of special entitlement. It enables selfishness and mediocrity. It means that people don’t take things seriously and fail to consider the effects of their actions on other people.
More enlightened friends pointed out that my continuing to tolerate their egregious behaviour and comments was complicity: if I, a woman and an ethnic minority, appeared to be OK with the things they were saying then they couldn’t be that bad. I was being used, an Uncle Tom. Deep down I understood thi,s and the tension between how I was being treated and how I saw them, as friends, was making me anxious. It’s like when someone you love makes some stupid comment and then, grimacing, adds, “But you can’t say that anymore because of political correctness.” You wonder whether they’ve looked on you as some sort of the insect to be indulged for all of the time they’ve known you.
It took me a while to decide how to leave and that I must tell them why: I owed them some sort of explanation. First I wrote this email:
Dear X, dear teamI have decided to resign from [team name] with immediate effect.This might come as a surprise but I have been wrestling with my decision and its implications over many months. I have found myself spending far too much time fretting about hurtful comments and behaviour directed at people like me. Looking back, I have tolerated belligerent homophobia, xenophobia, the glorification of colonialism. The anti-European bile is just as hard to take. Those revelling in Brexit have sided unashamedly with the vicious, hateful people who have stoked ignorant, xenophobic populism to ruin the prospects of future generations for their own selfish ends. I can no longer sit there maintaining a polite and indulgent silence while validating opinions straight from the pages of the vile Daily Mail. Collaborating with this stuff every week is destroying my personal integrity.People with different politics and different worldviews can and should be friends. This does not extend, however, to behaviour that denigrates people and undermines their existence as equals. I believe strongly that people need to face the consequences of their behaviour. These are the consequences.We have been friends for a long time. It is unbearably difficult to end it like this. I wish you all the very best.Gita
I showed it to OH and he understood why I had written it but made no comment. It was cathartic but I did feel uncomfortable about the language. So in the end, this was what I actually sent:
I have decided to withdraw from the [Team name] with immediate effect.
This might come as a surprise but I have been wrestling with my decision for some time now. Quiz night has been an uncomfortable environment for me for a while and I find that I am spending far too much time every week fretting about being complicit in behaviour that hurts me and others because I don’t want to make a scene.
I am sorry to let you down. I enjoy the quizzes and it’s a big loss for me. This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision and, yet, a simple one.
Thank you for the drinks and the laughs. I wish you all the best
It’s been six weeks. I’ve heard nothing from any of the team. It still hurts.