RACISM IN THE UK | THREE WOMEN SHARE THEIR EXPERIENCES

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

RACISM IN THE UK

YASMIN WILLIAMS

“Being from a mixed heritage background I’ve had a few experiences of racism. From being shouted at across the street by a group of people “what are you trying to be, black or white?”, to being asked at my place of work if I could ‘tame’ my hair so I look more professional. Knowing that the colour of my skin was a problem to people was and still is hard. As a teenager I was always known as “the black friend” and was even used as a threat towards someone because I was “scary looking”. Honestly, at the time I just shrugged it off, which I haven’t forgiven myself for!

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.”

SEHER TAWFIK

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.”

 

RUPALI PAUL

“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.

I could feel her hatred for my brown Indian skin colour in her angry eyes. I was nearly in tears, when my husband came with our McDonald’s food, he took one glance at me, and knew there was something wrong. I told him what happened. Just then a family happened to leave that place and we went and sat there. This was one incident which I remember today even after more than 12 years have passed. It has left a scar and thereafter, I stopped expecting any courteous encounters. Not that I haven’t met any nice and friendly white people. In fact I have met many lovely Brits who are well spoken and courteous with people from any race but somehow I haven’t been able to wipe away this scar from my early days.

We want to say a huge thank you to these incredible Women for sharing their stories with us.

 

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12 Comments

  1. March 14, 2021 / 8:43 am

    Reading these stories shows how important it is to discuss the impacts of systemic racism on everyday lives and why these conversations needs to be continuous. We can say ‘look how far we’ve come’ in regards to the UK’s multiculturalism, but events from the past few have proven we still have a long way to go before we can live in a fully tolerant society.

  2. March 14, 2021 / 9:37 am

    Really interesting read, but so awful that they had to experience these things. I just don’t understand why people have an issue with skin colour. It baffles me. I think it’s beautiful ❤️ I hope this article will change some people’s opinions. Thanks for sharing…

  3. March 14, 2021 / 10:06 am

    I am so thankful to That Mama Club, to have given me the opportunity to share my experience. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the voices raised by TMC on various issues and not just this one. Thank You ❤

  4. Rachel Duerden
    March 14, 2021 / 10:23 am

    I’m sadden by these experiences. Nobody should have to go through this.

  5. March 14, 2021 / 10:35 am

    Thank you for sharing these honest experiences of racism. It is a problem that affects so many people in so many ways, and the UK is no exception. It’s important to share experiences such as this x

  6. March 14, 2021 / 11:31 am

    It’s very interesting hearing about the encounters faced by the different women as racism is quite hidden and very often implied in the UK. Hopefully, with more education and subjects like black history on school curriculums and unconscious bias training in workplaces then more people may be able to identify when there are examples of blatant racism to others and become allies.

  7. March 14, 2021 / 1:14 pm

    I’m not a fan of the term BAME because just because people aren’t white British, don’t mean we’re all the same and all have the same experience. I’m also not a fan of the term, person of colour, as you can be of mixed ethnicity and look white with a black parent. Plus, some Asian ethnicities can look just as white as white Europeans.

    The only people that think racism doesn’t exist in the UK are generally white people who hold prejudice views, in my experience. My mum is one of those people, even though her black son was so badly racially abused growing up that I was suicidal by the time in was eight years old.

    Then, just to add the icing on the cake, you vomit up stuff about Muslim’s and and shit about the great replacement. Racism is alive and thriving in Boris ‘The Bigot’ Johnson’s dis-United Kingdom, as piccaninnies with watermelon smiles are still demonised and hated simply for existing in white spaces and asking for fair treatment protected by the law

  8. March 14, 2021 / 1:55 pm

    Wonderful post with amazing, yet unfortunately, sad accounts of racism. I particularly liked the first one because I’m mixed myself and I resonated with her struggles as well. I hope one day this topic isn’t a discussion anymore. But for now it is and we all need to do our part to ensure this discontinues.

  9. March 14, 2021 / 10:00 pm

    I love this post. Racism is a phenomenon that is becoming more rampant as time goes by. No one is meant to be treated differently or discriminated. Racism for some reason is very common in the UK. I loved reading these experiences. The Meghan Markle thing is just another thing entirely. I hope we somehow get to a point where racism isn’t a thing anymore. Amazing post xx

  10. March 15, 2021 / 1:01 am

    As a mixed race woman I have unfortunately experienced racism myself. I am American and it’s sad to hear of what is happening in the UK. These women are so brave to share their stories and I glad they are speaking about this.

  11. March 15, 2021 / 9:18 am

    Amazing post. Thank you so much for giving these women a platform to share their experiences and thank you to all 3 of them for sharing and opening our eyes a little more to racism within the UK. I feel like it’s so “hidden” within the UK. Like, we’re “not” a racist country but it very much is and the more people speak out, the better xxx

  12. March 15, 2021 / 1:56 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Racism and discrimination are both still so diffused, but the more people educate themselves the more they can become better allies. Thank you for sharing this!

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