I was compelled awhile back to write something about racism. I did but I’ve never published it, I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s for fear of being controversial or for the reaction, comments, backlash and arguments it could lead on to, or maybe it’s just because I need to to get it off my chest rather than share. Really I think I should publish it, maybe one day I will, but here I am writing about it again after the recent news stories. This one will be published. I feel it needs to be otherwise I’m part of the problem.
This title might be misleading due its take on the #blacklivesmatter, it’s true, all lives matter and I’m not trying to say that it’s not about racism and being black, white or whatever else because it is. It absolutely is. It’s about discriminating against someone for their race. It’s about people dying or suffering violence because of racial hatred. It absolutely is about racism, being Black, White, Indian, Hispanic, Chinese, Irish or Welsh but is also about lives mattering, all lives, especially those at risk because of discrimination.
Someone once said to me I was lucky, that I didn’t suffer racist comments or behaviour. At the time I just nodded silently in agreement and changed the subject whilst internally recalling the Primary School teacher that made my entire year with her a misery and I mean a misery but of course she wasn’t racist (the Head of the school used to state that at the start of any conversation with my mum regardless of what they were about to talk about) she never called me a name or called out my race. She just treated me differently to every other child in the class. She singled me out and made me feel bad every day for no reason to the point that I didn’t want to school and used to wet myself in class for fear of asking her if I could go to the toilet. I’d like to say it doesn’t bother me anymore but that would be a lie, else why am I mentioning and recalling it now. The difference is, it bothers me now because as family we didn’t do anything about it at the time. Just like I didn’t when my friend told me I was lucky. But I should have. On both occasions.
The fact is we don’t call it out enough. We allow the silent prejudice, we allow the micro aggression far too often. I hear it all the time from people who would never consider themselves racist because they’re “friends with black people” or because they “love curry” yet they’ll make a discriminative comment or stereotypical assumption about a person because of what they perceive as their cultural background. I’ve been assumed to be Muslim or told that I’m “different” or “you’re alright though cause you drink n stuff” because drinking and stuff (whatever stuff is) makes me better and different than what and who exactly? Why categorise me or anyone else, why assume because I am or am not from somewhere or do or do not follow a certain religion that I will be a certain thing, why not just accept me for who I am and allow me to be that. The fact is, is that there’s often an instant dislike or belief that a person will behave in a certain way a lot of the time out of naivety and ignorance. We unfortunately live in a world where words like, Black, Asian, Muslim, Indian, Negro, Paki, Jew and many more are branded around forgetting their origin and true meaning. People are losing sight of geographical and religious knowledge confusing races and religions into one and making broad generalised terms and applying them to small groups of people. Asia is a big continent covering a lot of different countries, so using that as a term for one or two races isn’t really appropriate. Religion is a choice, being a particular race doesn’t automatically mean someone follows a certain religion, believe me I’m a mixed race atheist with parents that were both lapsed in their religions of Hinduism and the Catholic Church (Poppa M was also a Jehovah’s Witness for a short time). I honestly think it’s important we break the cycle of but “you’re different” by clarifying the details and improving the knowledge of different cultures, countries and religions how these three things are completely different. Because they’re not the same. They never will be. It’s about educating ourselves on people’s customs, beliefs and rituals and how these maybe similar or different to our own so that we can understand why they are important to them so that we can not only appreciate and respect them but also enjoy them alongside them, taking pleasure out of their happiness and contentment.
The reason I think I’m often seen as different is because I’m seen as more westernised, I tend to wear stereotypically British clothes, yes I enjoy a good glug of vino or Bombay Sapphire with a splash of tonic and I favour pizza over curry any day. Does that mean I’m favoured and alright then? Because I lean more towards the British side of my heritage. Why do I? Yes there’s a strong influence over growing up in British culture but if I’m really honest, I also for a long time, semi played down my Indian background. I really did. I did it to fit in, for fear of being different and excluded. Up until recently I wasn’t as open, honest, keen or celebratory of my heritage. Only my dad knows about this but at the age of 22 on my first trip to India he bought me my first traditional sari and I kicked off, I didn’t want to wear it, I hated it. I was embarrassed, I felt and looked stupid, I was out of my comfort zone, I’d had to be dressed in it by my Masi and cousins who shouted and babbled Gujarati instructions as me as I stood there in my bra and knickers whilst they wrapped material around me. Turns out I actually didn’t and the gasps and smiles when I finally came downstairs to the whole village (we Indians don’t do anything by halves #stereotyping) I felt as beautiful and as princess like as I did on my wedding day. It had taken some persuasion from Poppa M to make me chill out and keep it on throughout the griha pravesh. I suddenly felt proud that day and returned home after the trip a little more confident and willing to engage with my Indian heritage. I still don’t do enough though, it’s hard to break a 34 year old habit of suppressing part of your cultural back ground especially when you don’t know enough about it. At one time when younger I almost prided myself on not being “too Indian” I’ve never admitted that to anyone until now.
I’ve also felt it the other way as well. That trip to India was an eye opener. For the first time in my life I felt ashamed at my lack of knowledge about India and my inability to speak Gujarati. I stuck out like a sore thumb and instead of feeling not British enough, I felt not Indian enough. It also made me ponder even more the whole debate about what defines your nationality, is it just your passport and your country of residence, your parents origins or everything put together? Fact is I had a moment where I didn’t really know where I fit in, I was literally split between the two.
I know I’ve gone a bit off piste but my ramblings are because I don’t always think people who haven’t suffered true racism or discrimination (yes I’m not just talking colour) get it. We are all very good at calling it out when it’s blatant and clear, when it’s violent and disgusting like the recent incident in Minneapolis. We’re not so good when it’s discreet, when it’s the homosexual being left out during a staff room chit chat or the black kid not picked for the football team. When it’s the intelligent female with a valid point being patronised in the predominantly male board room or the Polish physiotherapist being assumed to be the cleaning lady because of her accent. When the assumption is that a certain cultural group will be the ones to break lockdown rules because “that’s what they’re like” but then the tabloid pictures actually show hundreds of White Brits at the coast. We don’t tackle that enough, we don’t question why someone is making an assumption, stereotyping or shutting someone out unnecessarily.
I was a bit naive to the discriminative micro-aggression until recently when I went on a training course through work aimed at aspiring BAME leaders. We didn’t just discuss the difficulties or racial prejudice, we discussed all prejudice. Most importantly we talked about having the confidence to appropriately call it out, how to be fair, how to be polite and maintain integrity and professionalism whilst correcting it. It finally gave me the confidence to acknowledge where it had been wrong for me to accept certain treatment, some of which had come from within my marriage and the circle of friends accumulated through it such as inappropriate questions about whether or not I’d have an Asian wedding (not sure why they thought I’d have a Thai or Chinese ceremony given I’ve no particular connection with either country or maybe they didn’t mean there), how dare I suggest Indian food be served as certain guests wouldn’t approve and people still unable to spell my name correctly despite being in their family for 6 years. It was an eye opener and really added to the journey of strength I was on post divorce as well as to my career path.
It is key for me to mention that I’m not saying don’t call out discrimination of any kind when it’s violent or aggressive. Please do. Please don’t let the women/homosexuals/transgender/black/Pakistani/Romanian/men/elderly/disabled etc suffer because of angry discrimination and violence. However, let’s also educate ourselves on our differences, let’s tackle the more silent, micro aggressive discriminations, but not with anger, with calm, correction and education. Don’t fight fire with fire, anger only hurts your own self even more. Knowledge is power and by gaining more understanding the less blatant discrimination and micro aggression reduces and sometimes tackling the smaller issues helps reduce the bigger.
I’m not perfect, I don’t profess to be. I work in a school with a wide variety of racial, cultural and religious backgrounds some of which I know far from enough about, I’m still learning and I always will be as I meet more and more new students and colleagues from all walks of life. I often make naive assumptions. I say the wrong thing, I make mistakes and I misjudge things. I’m not perfect. But I’m kind and I always hand on heart do things with the best of intentions. I judge people by their kindness, respect and treatment of others, I look for honesty, integrity and truth in people. I also seek to learn and understand, I don’t profess to know everything or get everything right but I do know that everyone deserves to be treated equally, fairly and kindly and aim to do that. Because lives matter, no one should be in danger because of who they are or where they are from.
Black lives matter is more than a hash tag. Being kind is more than a hash tag.