From Me to You - A Student's Personal Story on Experiences of Racism
*Editorial note: The following has been written by one of our students at the University of Strathclyde School of Law. The student has requested not to be credited, but these are their words. The only amendments I have made are to add links to the suggested sources. Please do take the time to read it in full - it is a personal account, which conveys the student's own experience with racism and bias. We are incredibly grateful to the student for writing this, and hope that it is as informative for you, as it was for me, editing it*
Dear fellow colleagues,
I hope this finds you well.
Following the multifaceted discussions that are happening around the world on racism sparked by the killing of George Floyd, I have some things I want to say to you and so I need a few minutes of your time.
I am a third generation Scot of Pakistani heritage born and bred in Glasgow, and a Muslim. Before migrating to this country, my grandparents lived through the end of the British Empire rule over their homeland and the chaotic partition of India which resulted in the deaths of millions of people. History I did not discover nor question until I was in my early twenties.
The UK has a long-standing history of atrocious crimes, from near or actual genocide to the pillaging of nation’s natural resources, which is largely ignored and not discussed. Despite being aware of racism from a young age, the book that was used to discuss the issue of race was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ planting the seed of the lifelong myth that racism is a US problem. You can study history from the age of 7 to 21 in the UK classroom and never have to go into any depth about the UK’s role in colonising and depriving nations of their freedoms, rights and resources. It is a glaring hole not only in children’s education, but by proxy our own; how can we move past our history and its effects if it remains unaddressed? So, how do we begin to plug these gaps in our collective knowledge on racism?
In the spirit of speaking up, I wanted to share a few examples of prejudice and racism that I have experienced and witnessed in my lifetime because I recognise that many of you will not have encountered the microaggressions that come with being a person of colour. I haven’t shared these incidents before because not only do I, as human beings do, suppress the painful and uncomfortable in an effort to make it go away, but I was taught within my community “not to make a fuss,” “you know you already have to work twice as hard just to level up,” and/or “don’t rock the boat, it’s not worth it.” What’s more, when I have spoken up, I’ve dealt with responses such as “are you sure that’s what you heard?,” or “are you sure that’s what they meant?,” “surely there were other reasons; you’re overreacting,” and the classic: “It’s not that bad in Scotland.”
I have experienced obvious incidents of racism such as being called a “Paki” and “Terrorist Bitch,” but more subtle forms, which are usually cloaked in ‘banter’ and where I am expected to laugh at the expense of my ethnic origin/religion, are the ones that have left an impact on me the most. The most common forms of racism are the microaggressions because of their covert, ambiguous, and unintentional nature, and which need the most attention for us to start the dialogue of dismantling racism from within. Below are a few examples of these.
It’s experiences such as coming back from a funeral midday and gathering outside a packed home with loved ones and having a neighbour call the Police because they were “frightened.”
It’s being stopped by the Police from entering your own house because you live in a “nice area” and they are “just making sure you live there.”
It’s being sworn at and racially abused by another driver, swearing back and then having the Police turn up at your home because you were reported.
It’s every male you know being given the chat by a loved one about being stopped by the Police at night because they are viewed as “suspicious.”
It’s wanting to get a McDonald’s late at night and being told, “you know you are at a higher risk of getting stopped by the Police, just go tomorrow.”
Its parents worried about their children coming home late, even if they are in the library and its exam time, because what if that day on the way home, someone didn’t like the shade of their skin or the cloth on their head.
It’s the deafening silence and lack of comprehension from your non-Muslim colleagues when you discuss a terror attack which has taken place at your place of worship; a Mosque.
It’s going through 23 years of formal education without having a single educator that looks like you.
It’s repeating the pronunciation of your name a few times to be asked “ha-ha, can I just call you XXXX?”.
It’s knowing people of colour who have never achieved less than an ‘A’ in school, being rejected by a Russell group university while their white counterparts get in, and then painfully watching them question their worth.
It’s being successfully interviewed for a permanent job by someone from HQ, to then before the first shift, be contacted by the in-house manager and given a temporary contract instead because “it suits the company better.” Then, having to watch while they interview and employ a white person for a permanent position for the same role.
All of the above are real life experiences, and although in some examples the prejudice and racism is not obvious and provable, it illustrates a snapshot of what life can be like for a person of colour for whom those incidents do not happen once in a blue moon but on a regular basis.
The uncomfortable truth that I continue to struggle with is the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities across the legal sector and in leadership positions. Knowing that this under-representation is not based upon skill or merit, but age-old social constructs that will not change unless we all recognise that we have a part to play in keeping this system going, consciously or subconsciously.
Like many of you, I will be graduating this year and so our paths may not cross again. However, I leave you with this request, as a person of colour, your fellow colleague, I say to you: I do not just need your solidarity against racism; what I also need from you is self-reflection and action. I need you to question your own unintentional contribution to those prejudices, and for you to become not just “not racist” but actively anti-racist in your conduct. There is no quick fix to internalised prejudices and institutionalised racism that undoubtedly affects us all in the way it shapes how we view and understand the societies in which we live, but surely, we all have a role to play to dismantle it and I believe it starts with educating ourselves.
The following sources that I’ve picked out may offer some starting point (Editorial point: I have added links to where I can find the details of the book/posts on the original publisher's website):
1. British: On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch (Book)
2. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo- Lodge (Book)
3. Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’ by Akala (Book) (YouTube Talks)
4. The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla (Book)
5. How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford (Book)
6. Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad (Book)
7. Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga (Book)
8. Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini (Book)
9. White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society by Kalwant Bhopal (Book)
10. ‘I Will Not Be Erased’ from Gal-dem (Book and online Blog)
11. It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Miriam Khan (Book)
12. Riz Ahmed - YouTube The Long Goodbye (Short film), Where Are you Really From, and The Breakup (Spoken word)
13. Lowkey - YouTube talks and Music
14. Dave - YouTube Black (Live) (Music)
15. Myriam Francois Cerrah - YouTube talks particularly on Feminism and Race
(Editorial note: As an example, see) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzrEn-gQgMI
Future professionals, academics, lawyers, advocates, judges, and leaders.
I’m counting on you, let’s do better!
Your Anon Colleague