My Experiences of Living with Racism All Around Us

By Islam Faqir

21/10/2020

 

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.

Islam Faqir
Chair, College of Paramedics Diversity Steering Group


Being a Muslim Paramedic during the COVID19 Pandemic - Beards, Ramadan and Eid

By Shumel Rahman MCPara, North East Ambulance Service

24/07/2020

 

At the beginning of the pandemic I had a big decision to make! Ambulance front line staff were asked to shave off their facial hair, for the FFP3 face masks to fit. I had a religious dispensation; however, I had felt a huge sense of responsibility to protect and safeguard people. I also wanted to do the right thing when it came to my faith. 

After a lot of thought and much deliberation I decided to shave my beard off, to allow the respiratory equipment to fit properly.

This is not a step I took lightly; my beard is not just part of my identity, it is not there just to look cool, even though it does, but it is part of my religion. I have had a beard for well over a decade and I cannot remember the last time I shaved. I consulted many Islamic scholars and teachers, locally and nationally, sought advice from fellow Muslim healthcare professionals and very helpfully from the BIMA British Islamic Medical Association. This was not a simple yes or no answer, however these are exceptional circumstances, totally unprecedented and a unique situation.

I shaved off my beard to protect my patients, colleagues and my family. One of the greatest acts is to save someone’s life. This simple act may help do that.

My faith is something very personal to me and it is not something I often talk about at work unless someone asks me about it. Being a Muslim is an integral part of my life and identity. My faith is like a shield that protects me, it gives me focus and balance, gives me a code to live my life by, a belief system, provides me with important values such as respect, it gives me peace, not just a belief in God.

For a Muslim, Ramadan is a very special time, a time to treasure and looked forward to, a time to reconnect to Allah, a time to focus on my faith, a time for spirituality, a time to spend in the Mosque, a time to spend with family, a time for charity and giving, a time to reflect on what we have got rather than what we have not, a time to think about those less fortunate than ourselves, a time to think about all those who are suffering around the world or who are in despair. It is a time for discipline and centering yourself. A time for family, for friends, for community and for coming together. Oh, it is about fasting too, but the other stuff is just as important if not more so.

What many people misunderstand, is that Muslims fast not out of obligation, but because they want to. I think many people who are not Muslim do not quite understand Ramadan, often people see fasting and Ramadan as a chore or period to get out the way or we cannot be bothered with. For Muslims it is an incredibly special time, that we actually look forward to, a very important time for us, that we love.

This year was exceptional; never have I experienced a Ramadan where we were unable to go to the Mosque, to enjoy Iftar breaking the fast together, spending time with our family or friends. This Ramadan was vastly different, we could not do the things we would normally do. We still had a rewarding and spiritual Ramadan staying at home. This year has been strange, it was completely different. It felt like Ramadan, but then at the same time it did not, if that makes sense.

I was working on Eid, so missed out on some of the celebrations. Normally I would go to Eid prayers, we have outdoor Eid prayer in a local park in Newcastle. Unfortunately, we were still in lock down on Eid, so that got cancelled and I ended up doing my prayers in the back garden. I live with my family, so we managed to celebrate the occasion and ending up having a virtual Eid online with the rest of the family all over the country. I was really hoping we would be out of lock down but unfortunately that was not to be.

I am very pleased to say that just before Eid, the Trust provided me with a respirator hood, that goes over my head and is able to work with facial hair. It is similar to what you see in the movies, like ET. Having the hood allowed me to start growing back my beard just in time for Eid, you could call it a little Eid Ramadan gift.

It has been an extraordinary year for everyone, particularly in the realms of equality & diversity. We have seen the impact of COVID19 on black, asian and minority ethnic communities and healthcare professionals, disproportionately high COVID-19 death rate among BAME people and the effect on BAME colleagues is very scary and concerning. We’ve also seen the brutal killing of George Floyd and the mass mobilisation of the Black Lives Matter movement, globally demanding justice for George Floyd and eradication of institutional and systemic racism, and the conditions which have given rise to racism, which is potentially interlinked with the disproportionate number of BAME COVID19 deaths.

It has been a very strange year so far, Eid Mubarak & stay safe.

Darkness and Isolation

By Izzy Faqir MCPara, Clinical Pathways Manager, Yorkshire Ambulance Service 

08/06/2020

 

I am an NHS Paramedic and a father to 5 children.  I had recently been successful in being appointed as a Clinical Manager for Pathways and started in early February 2020, after trying for a number of years to progress. I identify as disabled, due to an organ transplant, and come from a BME background and I have faced many challenges in my career as a result of both (maybe my next blog will be about that). When I started my new role, I felt like I had a new direction and purpose and was, after a long time, really happy with my life at home and work. 

It was at this time that I started to hear, on the news, how in East Asia a new illness was taking lives and having an impact on so many people. I remember thinking we were all so lucky to be so far away, and never for a moment thought it would bring its devastation so close, and affect my world, as much as it has. Gradually though, I began to see the destruction this disease was having on people, like a darkness spreading from East to West, from North to South. I started to think, would it reach these shores, surely not? I had seen SARS and MERS, but this seemed different. This disease seemed to hold no mercy, particularly for those with health issues.

In March, I was asked to help with the increasing workload, which involved working within 111, and I happily agreed, after all, these were unprecedented times. The dark cloud had reached our shores. As I assisted people; taking their histories and listening to their stories, fears started to rise in the back of my mind, about the fact I am immunosuppressed. I also had rising fear for others around me. One caller, had travelled, with symptoms, from Italy to the UK, by train! All those contacts! I visualised again the darkness spreading and engulfing the world.

Pressure for the ambulance trust to respond effectively to the pandemic increased, of course, and I was told I would have to return to my substantive role in the Emergency Operational Centre. I was becoming really anxious now; going back into an environment with 60-70 people, working within the same room, left me feeling vulnerable and fearful for my own health, and the possible implications that it could have on me and my family. 

Thankfully though, government guidance and discussions with managers confirmed that, as I was in a high-risk group for severe disease if infected, I should be shielded and isolate. 

Well at least I could be safe; however, isolation was just that, I am living in one room in my house, isolated from even my wife and children. I of course wanted to help, I wanted to do something as part of the NHS family of 20 years, I wanted to do my bit. Unfortunately, due to some issues around IT this became a problem and not possible. It should never be underestimated how work brings normality, and as time went on, life without family and work became less and less normal. Time leaves you to think, and while thoughts can leave you happy, more often can be quite depressive as its only you that can snap you out of it.

I certainly did not realise the effect of being on my own; wanting just a cuddle from the kids but this was not allowed, having to watch them play in the garden and not being able to do be with them. All the things we take for granted now were not possible and this weighs quite heavy on your mind, I think back a few months ago and now it seems the world has tipped itself upside down. 

I was also reminded of when I was having dialysis at home and how I felt quite alone then, as I do now. The thoughts and the emotions came back to me. Some days were better than others, but nothing can really prepare you for the cloud that hangs over you. On one hand I was safe, on the other I longed for normality.

I had some contact from work colleagues and those who I can call my friends, such as Gary, Kirsty and Imogen and it was whilst speaking to Imogen, when I said I am grateful that I am safe but this is heavy going, she replied that, in most instances, isolation was deemed a punishment. This allowed me to accept it was understandable that I was finding my situation so difficult, but I also felt guilt. I felt guilt as I was safe, yet my friends were out there and there were colleagues that had passed away. I felt quite upset hearing of these deaths, all deaths of course, but these were people I knew well, that had been taken far, far too soon. Why? For carrying out their duty, for doing what we all set out to do when joining any NHS trust, to help others. My thoughts and prayers go to each and every person who has lost someone to this dark cloud. 

So how to I cope? I think a lot about how fortunate I am in this. I have support in my family and friends, but what about those who do not have that. No school, no face-to-face contact with family or friends, no workplace, no shopping, no clubs and societies. I am paying this price, I am isolated, but I am not fully alone.

I also try to keep myself occupied, catching up on reading, passing the time with boxsets. I started by watching lots of the news to keep up with what’s going on in the world, but now I try to avoid this, for several reasons; it seems to consume you, and as for watching politicians giving advice across the world, in most instances it’s sensible advice, but in others…, well I will just leave that out there…….

I also hold onto the thought that, as with any darkness, there will always be light at the end of this. I know we can do this, but we need to look after each other and care for our mental health. This does not stop us feeling darkness at times, after all we are all human, but we can stand together. My message is to be kind to each other, to the Ambulance family; STAY SAFE.   

 

Covid-19 shines a spotlight on inequalities

By Gemma Howlett MCPara, Senior Lecturer in Paramedic Science at the University of Gloucestershire

4/06/2020

We have lost more people than I am able to comprehend and there is a sadness that hangs over me whenever I think about it, as I am sure it does many of you. We have lost colleagues on the frontline, and our thoughts are with their family, friends and colleagues. Stand down and rest in peace. I fear by the time this blog is released we will have lost more colleagues in green. Such a devastating realisation and something that no one should even have to consider when they sign up for the role. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. Thank you also to our colleagues across the NHS where we have again lost people who were trying to help us all. It is a sad time in our history and one death would have been too many, so the true scale of the loss is devastating. 

Amongst the sadness of this crisis, it is true that we have seen some amazing acts of kindness. Major Tom is just one instance of people doing everything they can to help others. We have seen people setting up community support groups, we have seen people donating generously with time, resources and produce to foodbanks. We have seen the beginning of brilliant initiatives like clap for carers, various community initiatives to support vulnerable neighbours and widespread donating such as food or hotel spaces for NHS staff. Our NHS, postal workers, delivery drivers, refuse collectors, teachers are all continuing to work and keeping the country going during this pandemic. There is lots to make us smile in these horribly sad and distressing times. But the sadness is overwhelming, this crisis has highlighted inequalities like nothing else has done for many years. 

The thing that I find simply inescapable and truly horrifying is the startling inequality that the virus has shone a spotlight on. The longer this crisis goes on the clearer it becomes that with what, and where, you started this crisis, will have a huge effect on how well, and indeed if, you come out of it the other side. This stark social and economic divide, and sections of society having such poorer health outcomes than others is not a society we should accept. Inequality is allowing the virus to sweep through these communities in far higher numbers than anywhere else. There is also a shocking difference in the number of deaths in BAME communities, which is startlingly high, both in the figures for NHS deaths and the wider community. As the news breaks of another death, you see another black, Asian or minority ethnic face. Nurses, doctors care workers, no area of the NHS appears to be unaffected. And then you see the news stories that feature others that have died, those not in the NHS or on the frontline and again the visual is clear yet more people from BAME communities, making up a startling amount of the numbers. The first ten doctors to have died of Covid-19, and two thirds of the first 100 health and social care workers, were from ethnic minorities. That translates to 64% of the deaths being BAME staff members, which is significantly disproportionate as only 20% of NHS are from ethnic minority backgrounds (Kings Fund, 2020).

I urge you all to open your eyes to this, to see these stark problems that exist both within our beloved NHS, but also society as a whole. There is a brilliant Guardian article that I urge you all to read that really highlights this issue. It is called “Coronavirus exposes how riddled Britain is with racial inequality”. The Guardian project that looks to stop and remember each of the health and care worker deaths, a look through the photos a startling reminder of the inequity that we are encountering. The amazing video called “You clap for me now”, urging people to not forget that lots of BAME community and NHS staff put their lives on the line too to help us through this crisis. Enlighten yourselves about these issues, seek to understand what is at play. Ignoring it and believing that everything is okay and equal for everybody is not an option anymore. Help change this path, help ensure that this inequality can no longer exist or thrive, do not let those in power let this matter disappear into the archives of history, but pressure on them to make meaningful change.

This is a systemic problem that is complicated and multi-faceted undoubtedly. But each and every one of us can start to open our eyes and start to accept that this is all our problem. “It may be hard for white people to accept that we are part of the problem. Almost all of the us as individuals will say we are not – It’s other white people, but in reality, we are all part of the problem and we should all be part of the solution” This, from the Kings Fund, reflects what I have written in my articles on diversity in Insight, and I’m sure to write again in further blogs. But the standard you walk past and ignore is the standard that you accept. We must all no longer just walk past. This applies to all inequality and discrimination, we can all be part of the solution, part of the change for the better. 

Stay safe and be kind to yourself and others, and #bethechange

Also read, in the June 2020 issue of Paramedic INSIGHT, Coronavirus, a health inequalities pandemic by Gemma Howlett and Imogen Carter.

 
Disclaimer
The opinions expressed by the various contributors are not necessarily those of the College of Paramedics. The inclusion of a blog does not necessarily imply recommendation of its aims, policies or methods. The College of Paramedics will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information.