Racism is not a black or white issue....it is an issue of the prejudices in ALL of us
This is my first ever blog in my life and I’m very proud to be writing it on the issue of racism.
To put my whole blog in context I think it is very important that you understand who I am. My name is Nazma and I am 43 years old. I am a British-Bangladeshi. I was born in Bangladesh in January 1977 and moved to the UK in December 1977. You could almost say I was born here, but I was not and I am very proud of my Bangladeshi heritage.
My dad came to the UK at the age of 12 years old with his dad and has worked as an Indian Restaurant Chef since then. I moved here with my mum and older brother and we lived in Hammersmith, London. My dad owned a restaurant. I went to a church of England school and as far as I can remember, I was not subjected to any racism although I was one of a few people of colour
Due to the recent events with regards to George Floyd, it got me thinking about the issue of racism and what is it and why can we not get rid of it. As stated before, I went to a Church of England junior school. We then moved to Bedford in 1986. I feel my dad was ahead of his times, as initially my brother and I were enrolled in a school where all the Bengalis went. But my dad hated the way the school operated it, the fact that it seemed the teachers had no expectations of the children and the fact that all he heard as he went into the school were children talking their own language…no English!
Therefore…he pulled us out of this school and we attended the local catholic school, St Bede’s. Needless to say, we were the only Bengali Muslim children in the entire school. There were some mixed race and black children but majority, white and Catholic. These were the best days of my life. I cannot remember one incident of racism or feeling out of place or any such thing. Both the teachers and the children were just accepting. As a Catholic school, I attended mass, sang in the choir, took part in the Christmas play and loved every minute. I then moved onto a Catholic Upper School, again, never experienced racism. This school was predominantly Italian Catholics and again, I did not suffer any incidents of racism apart from one white boy, who thought it was funny to call me plasma, because we learnt it in science and it rhymed with my name! Didn’t bother me because I saw it as childish behaviour on his part and whether he was white, brown or green, I would have still felt the same.
I got my GCSE’s, 1 A (in Italian!), 5 B’s and 4 C’s. Bearing in mind my parents did not speak English and could not help me with my work and we did not have the internet then, but my school friends, teachers and the library were fantastic! I love reading and this helped me in my studies. I then did a YTS (sort of an apprenticeship). Again, working with predominantly white people in a university conference centre, I did not experience any racism. When I was working at Abbey National, a senior white female Manager came over to me one day and said, did you know the head of the financial operations at Abbey Nation is an Indian woman? At that time (1998), I did not think anything of it, smiled and said how clever that lady was and carried on with my work. Having watched the recent video that has gone viral about that white woman politely speaking to the black man as he graffiti’s something on his outside wall, bought the undercover racism back to me like punch in the face! What that Manager was implying was, the Financial director was an Asian woman…. Asian. But she was saying it in such a nice way, why would I think she was being racist. Why would I challenge her?
This put my whole life in perspective, and I started going back over my life to see if there were any incidents of “undercover racism” that I could think off. Whilst the world at the moment is fighting for justice for George Floyd, we must accept that racism has never gone away and has not got better despite many pledges, programmes and initiatives. But why hasn’t it gone away? What is it that makes people racist? Racism means when one group looks down on another group. They think they are superior. Who gives them the right to be superior? This is not a fight about Blacks and whites, nor a fight about white owners and black slaves. Historically, black/Asian wealthy people have owned black slaves. In India, it still exists. People have slaves, the caste system is probably one of the worse examples of racism that exists and the colourism or shadeism issue is prevalent even to this day and this is evident from the face whitening cosmetics market which is worth millions if not billions of pounds.
When I have not got a job and they did not provide feedback because it is not their company policy….was it because I was a Bengali Muslim? I have never thought of it this way but it has got me thinking now.
This racism issue needs to be sorted within each’s culture and each’s religion before it can be taken to a wider context. When you have Pakistani people from a certain region where they are very fair, outrightly claiming they would never marry a Pakistani person that is darker than them and from another region, what hope is there for black and white?
My sister shocked me the other day because she said that growing up she suffered racism from our extended family and friends. I disputed it and she said, you did not experience it because you were fair. She is darker than me. She said that comments were often made about how dark she is and isn’t it a shame. She was also rejected for a marriage proposal because one of my other sisters are fair and because they knew she was her sister, they thought she would be fair too. When they came to see her they politely rejected her without even getting to know her. here is 6 of us and we are literally like the colour of the rainbow….not quite that colourful, but from a very very dark brown, to brown, to fair, to very fair. My mother is dark brown and my father is fair. Not English white but Asian fair.
I was reading a tweet by Nadia Hussain (Bake Off winner) the other day. She said that as a teenager she applied for a job for a hand model for jewellery, and when she turned up for the interview, they were very surprised that she was that dark and blatantly told her that dark hands do not sell jewellery. She is now an ambassador for Swarovski.
I have read articles where mixed race people are targeted by their black and white counterparts respectively and targeted for mixing and it is seen as a sort of betrayal. For BAME people who try and be remotely English, we are called coconuts by our own. Not the white people…by our own.
When I moved to Birmingham, my colleagues and staff assumed I was Indian because my accent was posh and my manners and etiquette were different. When I started to wear the hijab and Salwar kameez, people were shocked because apparently my accent did not match my attire! This was not white people making assumptions, these were Asian people. Many of my staff and parents have referred to white people as “gora or gore” which means white. The numerous times I have had to reprimand them because it is a racist term. They do not think so because they have got so used to saying it so I then say to them, you cannot be upset when people call you a paki. You have to take responsibility for your actions.
My two teenagers were both robbed at knifepoint for their iphones, chains and designer man bags, both times by black youths that were the same age as them. I am still counselling them to make them realise that this does not mean ALL black youths are dangerous and violent…but their experience has prejudiced them against black people. As a mother I was hurting because of what had happened to my children however as an experienced and educated adult, I know that ALL black youths are not like this and there are so many reasons why these boys would have done this. But it does not stop the feeling of prejudice against them temporarily as I am sure would be the same for a black mother if her son was mugged by Asian youths.
There is no quick fix when it comes to racism. It is all around us and it is so deeply embedded into each and every one of us. and until we as individuals do not DECIDE to change our prejudices, no amount of tweeting in solidarity, blacking your profile picture or wanting to read and learn more about racism is going to make a difference. We also need to decide what is it we WANT from the world and society. Being treated equally? Well, if we don’t treat our own equally, how do we expect others to treat us equally?
In 2020, there was talk of a black James Bond. That did not materialise. Why? Are there no talented BAME actors to do this role? Why has no one asked the producers why they do not think a BAME could do this role. Deep down there will be some sort of prejudice that is stopping them from doing this.
Racism is embedded so deeply, I would go as far as saying it is in the blood. Physically we cannot possibly change our blood, so it is important that we start with a step. It was interesting that Jesse Jackson said that racism is bone deep……The first step has got to be acknowledging all of us are racist. Once we acknowledge this, we can then proceed to deal with it. Majority of us are not openly racist but deep down we are. Hence why, when we thought all the Europeans were taking our jobs and houses, we voted BREXIT. When we look at large Asian families, we think, having children for a council house and benefits. When we see Somalians, we think refugees, when we see Roma Gypsies, we see thieves and looters. These are all forms of racism and we have all had these thoughts.
Once we can change these thoughts….we can then proceed to dealing with the Black and White issue. In the meantime, the best that we can do is be kind and open minded about everybody and everybody’s situation. Who are we to judge what is right or wrong? In this country Gay marriage is legal however, gay people can still not openly walk down a street or hold hands for fear of persecution and that is from black, white, green or orange! Small steps need to be taken on a long journey and then one day, maybe, one day, we will all be tolerant of each other with no restrictions. If you cannot be nice to someone, please do not be horrible. There is absolutely no need to be. Being horrible will not make you a better or superior person but it will make the other person feel the worst. So, to leave you with a thought and action….if every one of us takes one small step….just be kinder. Eventually, the world will be a better place.