Some time in my early twenties, while I was working in the (British) Government Statistical Service, I went on a bus tour of Italy. At our first meal I happened to sit with a young couple who had immigrated to England from Trinidad. The man's name was Louis; the name of his wife I no longer recall. They were the only nonwhites in the tour group.
At the second meal I happened to sit with some of the other tourists. When I next ran into Louis and his wife, I saw that they were quite upset. "Stephen, why did you abandon us?" they asked. It became clear that they wanted me to stay with them all the time. At first I thought it was ridiculous. Then I realized that if I did not keep them company no one else would and they would feel miserable right through the tour. What sort of a vacation would it be for them? So I did as they asked.
Reflecting on the situation, I concluded that when black people say that the great majority of white people are racist they are not exaggerating. Of course, the really virulent racists may now be in the minority, but I had gained an inkling of the amount of suffering caused even by the passive racism of those who do no more than ignore and keep their distance from black people.
Later, when Louis and I were walking down a lane in Florence, I was astonished to see Mr. X approach us, a beautiful young woman by his side. Mr. X had been a colleague of mine in the statistical service. He was originally from Martinique. I did not know him well; we had met two or perhaps three times. I recall another (white) colleague remarking that he "had a chip on his shoulder," meaning that he had the irritating habit of complaining about racial discrimination -- which as we all know does not exist, or if it does exist is insignificant, or if it is significant is fast declining. Anyway, Mr. X recognized me too and the four of us stopped to talk.
I introduced Louis. "This is my friend Louis," I told them. Mr. X looked surprised. "This is your friend?!" he asked, as though he couldn't believe that he had heard correctly. Louis and I nodded. Then it was as though a wave of joy suddenly swept over Mr. X. He invited us to a nearby cafe. As we sat there I noticed that he kept gazing at Louis and myself, like a man in the desert who finally reaches an oasis and drinks and drinks and drinks to quench an enormous thirst. And I thought: what a world that such an ordinary thing (or something that SHOULD be a very ordinary thing) should evoke such a disproportionate reaction.
While we were still in Florence, Louis and I went at my suggestion to visit the synagogue there. I showed him round and explained what things were. He had never been in a synagogue before; it was a wondrous experience for him. Then later, when Louis and his wife and I were sitting together as usual at the hotel, his wife started to say something bad about "the Jews." Louis sprung to his feet in agitation and began yelling at her, over and over: "You stupid woman! You stupid woman!" She did not respond but just sat there frozen. After a bit things calmed down (I can't remember exactly how) and we were dancing and joking.