From my first ever recollection of experiencing racism, I feel at times, talking to people that they just don’t get it, mainly around how it feels, the thoughts that pass through your mind, the effect it has on you and your family, the resulting apprehensiveness and the impact on your social interactions. Whilst speaking to friends and colleagues, they offer sympathy and empathy, but I ask, do they really know how it makes someone feel, and the cautious behaviour it results in?
I thought I would write this to give context and feelings to my experiences which I have titled,
Have you ever experienced and felt…
My very first recollection centres around playing in the school playground and being called a paki, at that point being a juvenile and not really understanding what the slur means, being at a school that was 96% white… I would just put my head down and carry on playing, but feeling like I was different as it was pointed out my skin colour was different. Of course, going home, I never shared these experience’s because I just didn’t, I can’t really give a reason…
I think back and I can remember being stood in a queue with my dad and a white individual hit my dad in the legs with a trolley and said, "Get of out the way paki." I turned around and swore at the individual, I was in my early teens but I felt protective of my dad. My dad turned to me and said, "Son ignore him, this is something I have experienced many times." I was really angry and asked the individual, who seemed to be a bit older than me, to say it again and I would, well I think you get the picture… My dad again calmed me down and did not rise to it. First, I thought ‘wow my dad has the resilience and calmness to just be a bigger person.’ I now think my dad’s generation just accepted it and that was because to them that behaviour was normal.
As I grew and joined the working world, at times work colleagues would ask if I wanted to go out socially and I would say yes. However, I found after queuing up with my colleagues, I would be pulled out of the queue by the doorman and searched. When my colleagues asked, "Why are you picking on him?", the reply would be because I was black and looked like most drug dealers; ‘Black’. I would eventually get into the venue and try to enjoy myself, but afterwards it would affect me because I would be embarrassed to go out in case this happened again. After joining the ambulance service, this was even more so, I would feel different, I would worry what people may think and how it looks!
BREXIT and how things changed. Not so long after the vote whilst leaving a supermarket, I was walking passed an individual who just blurted out, "You’re all out now.", puzzled I said, "What do you mean?", the reply was or how I translated it, as a result of Brexit I or all people who were not white could return back to where they came from. I did say "Well, where is that?", the reply was "Where you were born." I replied "That would be here then…", the man looked puzzled!
The holiday season is something we all look forward to. There were occasions where I went away with work colleagues, and it would be standard that I would be picked out of the boarding line for a plane, and asked questions. My work mates would laugh and take the mick, which I would laugh along with. However, these experiences would leave me embarrassed and dreading the journey home, as it would often be a repeat.
I had the same experiences catching a flight to the USA with family and we got a lot of looks from fellow passengers. At times I would say "Well they are only doing their job.", but as my partner would point out to the people asking the questions "Why are you only picking on him?". Well we know why, I do not have white skin and I have a Muslim name. I do believe in keeping everyone safe, however, this treatment becomes tiring and I feel weathered by it, as it’s the same over and over, and over.
Other things that leave you demoralised are:
- Sharing with a colleague your interest in a job role, and hearing them tell you the name of the person they already know will get the job.
- Not having people that look like you that you can aspire to be.
- Being racially abused at work whilst you are trying to help the person that called for your help, but doesn’t want you to put your black hands anywhere near them.
You go home feeling demoralised and asking yourself where you fit in society and why you are doing the job you are doing.
Being pulled over by the police because you are driving a nice car, being searched before getting on a train whilst on the way to a conference, because they say you looked suspicious (must have meant the case I had with me). I am always polite, as I think ‘they are doing their job’ but it does rile me when they ask what I do and when I say paramedic their tone and behaviours change to, let’s say, a little more professional.
Being described as a terrorist, accused of actions based on what I can only call inhuman ideology, becomes tiresome, hurtful, unwanted and undervalued, being compared with animals, who are only similarity to me is the colour of their skin.
Living with racism is something most people of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds face every day, it is all around us. It does not have to be just name calling, it is behaviours, actions, assumption, jokes. Mostly, people do not realise the impact it has on our thoughts, emotions and mental health. The examples above are only a few of many I could write about, these were just to give substance in how my experiences have affected me.
Chair, College of Paramedics Diversity Steering Group