We have had this blog post planned for a while and it was scheduled to go live in April, however with the current news regarding the racism Meghan Markle experienced at the hands of the British Media and within the Royal household, we felt it was important to continue the conversation. We are sharing the experiences of three incredible women who have experienced racism in the UK, it is such a common misconception that “racism doesn’t happen here”, which is completely untrue. They are sharing their experience of growing up in Britain and how racism has impacted them.
RACISM IN THE UK
As the years went by, it really became apparent what had happened and put me in quite a bad place of not being comfortable in my own skin. I ended up seeking some therapy 2 years ago to help me figure out what happened and how it affected me.
Now I can safely say at nearly 30 years old, I finally feel comfortable with who I am. I don’t feel pressure to act a certain way, dress a certain way, look a certain way. I wear my hair with pride and can walk into a room with confidence knowing I am good enough and to he proud of the skin I’m in and who I am!
Racism in the UK is still rife in 2021 and still an everyday challenge to people of colour, even if they’ve overcome some hurdles. And I now feel confident enough to challenge the stereotype and discrimination that the BAME community are going through.”
“If someone were to ask you: do you feel like you belong here, what would you say? Would you say yes without question, or would you falter and take a moment to assess what to ‘belong’ in a place actually means? To me, belonging implies identifying and building a rapport with those around you, knowing that you can be who you are without judgment. To belong is to lead a life where the only person who defines you is you and you don’t have to live under anyone else’s shadow or label because you just know that you will succeed in whatever you want to be.
It is a life without racism; where the colour of your skin doesn’t matter- just how you express what you stand for because freedom of speech prevails. Sadly, nowadays, because there is still latent racism which prevails in society to the extent that it does, the latter ideas may come across as naïve. There will be occasions when people will contest whether you do actually belong because of your ethnicity. I was born in Britain but grew up in Luxembourg, raised by two Pakistanis. My parents spoke both fluent English and Urdu; they wanted me to learn how to speak English, so they sent me to an American school where I learned to speak American English.
As a consequence, throughout my entire life, I have been seen as odd, different, ‘other’. My dialect is strange: broad, neither British nor fully American and so is my lexis. In a way, when a few people would call me ‘foreign’ it was accurate even though it was racist. But this is not what has bothered me. It is the memory of what it was like to return to the UK when I was training as a PGCE student, and then later, as an adult. I was subjected to racism, luckily, not on many accounts, but it was enough to leave a scar, and to make me reflect upon why some people felt I did not deserve to belong here in the UK.
My first experience of racism as a student teacher was brutal and shocking. During my first ever teaching placement, I used to catch two buses to get to a Secondary school in Aberdeen city. Leaving early in the morning just after 6 am, when the ebony sky was crisp and uninviting, I would wait for the bus. Running late one morning, I flagged it down a few metres away from the official bus stop and was called a ‘fucking cunt’ for doing so. The woman who uttered the racist slur looked down at me, her eyes tight slits beneath a thick mop of hair. She didn’t murmur the insult, she said it quite piercingly. In that moment, I remember that I felt like Rosa Parks, like I had broken some unofficial bus rule. But instead of anger, I felt shock. The anger welled up inside of me later. That day, something changed but I didn’t realise it at the time.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only example of racism I have suffered in my lifetime. A few years later, outside a big supermarket in the light of day, a man was verbally abusive and overtly racist. I had set out to buy some lunch and I noticed that there was a man, who had a very unusual tick, shouting his head off, slurring his words, standing near the double glass doors right next to the entrance. As I approached, what he said to me made me do a double take: ‘You fucking cunt, go back to where you came from. You don’t belong here.’
Again, this concept of belonging is thrown into the air. Was it jealousy? Anger that fuelled that hostile message on his part? I will never know. Maybe the security guards that I informed discovered why he acted the way he did that day…
Looking back now, no one deserves to be treated this way. It’s inhumane. It’s base, and it’s deeply unkind.
The final example of racism that I experienced very recently, stemmed from a white woman deeming that I was unworthy of success in a private school run by white women. When I inquired about a vacancy, the registrar gave me such a dirty, condescending look, making it quite clear that I was a fool to even consider applying. The way she uttered the phrase, ‘well I suppose you can try’ stopped me dead in my tracks. I spent the whole day battling with myself, thinking: why does she not think I am good enough? I know I’m worthy. I am a qualified teacher with tonnes of relevant experience. I know I’m good at what I do.
Then I replaced my critical mindset with: how dare she make me feel this way? I am entitled to apply to whatever institution I want to. I am good enough. It angers me and frustrates me that in 2021, racism is still an ugly pimple that people conceal and disguise: it rears its ugly head and it is most definitely still a problem. Over the years, I’ve had to battle with being ‘different’ and branded with all sorts of names such as ‘that coloured woman’ by a colleague and students, which underlines the height of ignorance when it comes to race. I’ve been asked where I get my colouring from, a question that no one of sound mind would dare to ask a white person because in essence, it is utterly ridiculous. I have had to contend with the nursery reducing my son’s name to a nickname because they find his own name (Sulayman) too hard to pronounce.
But this sort of ignorance about race needs to change.
I guess one way that we can battle this problem is by being much more transparent about examples of racism that affect our lives; we all deserve a chance to belong and feel comfortable and happy within our own skin.
Naturally, there are MANY people who are so tolerant and open minded. I have been fortunate in my teaching career so far; I have earned the respect of both students and colleagues alike, but there is still a need to struggle against those who continue to spread hatred and racism, teaching their children to ridicule ‘foreign’ sounding names because they are deemed ‘unpronounceable’ and making people like my daughter feel bad for having brown skin. I don’t want her to grow up living in a hostile world full of ignorance.
While the solution isn’t clear cut, reading and discussing the right literature definitely helps to start to make a change. At school, we teach a wonderful poem by John Agard in our GCSE Literature curriculum and it ends with a desire and craving to ‘carve’ out his own ‘identity’. And you know what- that is what everyone deserves and no one should stop anyone from being exactly who they are just because of their race.
Just remember: You belong. You are enough.”
“This is a prime example of even the smallest interaction, can have a long lasting impression on someone forever. My husband was in the queue at McDonald’s and I was trying to figure out where we could sit. Most of the seats were already occupied by families or teenagers. Suddenly I saw there was a couple of empty seats in front of an elderly white woman, so I thought we could sit there. We have been here before and due to it being so busy, you can just sit wherever and often you end up sitting with random people. So after seeing a whole bench empty in front of this woman, I thought I could sit there. Out of courtesy I asked if she minded and permission to sit in the empty seats. She looked at me angrily and muttered something under her breath. I was taken aback, as this is not a civilized reaction expected from such an elderly woman. I just stood there for a while stunned and blank.
We want to say a huge thank you to these incredible Women for sharing their stories with us.