This week Home Secretary Theresa May made a bold statement that immigration does not help cohesion and as a result many racists came out of the woodwork. Social media filled with comments that Muslims were taking over and immigrants should go back home. In the past I have personally encountered my share of racism.
As a child from an immigrant family, growing up in the 80s and 90s in South and West London, I knew I was different. Not simply because I could see that the colour of my skin was different to my white friends, these differences are not so obvious to a child, but because I was different in other ways. My parents had accents, they dressed differently, they sometimes struggled with English, they would often refer to "back home", their native Pakistan which seemed like this amazing place that we desperately wanted to visit and many other things. Otherwise, from my accent down to my clothes, there was nothing else to differentiate me, apart from the colour of my skin.
I often encountered racism. I remember a particular incident as clearly as though it happened yesterday. I was aged nine years old and started a new junior school in a new area we had moved to. A girl in the year above me sat opposite me at lunch time. She opened her can of drink, took a sip, stared me straight in the eye and said "This tastes like Paki". I did not react. In my mind, as an above-average student, I wanted to tell her that she was ridiculous, how does she know what "Paki" tastes like, has she ever eaten a person? But as a shy girl in a new school, I didn't respond. She then repeated herself, wanting to provoke a reaction, but, luckily for me, got distracted by a friend calling her from the other side of the room.
As the years went on the odd incident here and there would remind me I was from a minority group. When I started secondary school a girl in my class said loudly to the class, in front of the teacher, "How come we always get people like them in our class?" referring to me and gesturing to some other Asian girls. The teacher did not call her out on this remark. But these incidents did not impact on me much. I still continued through school, university and Law School and into my chosen profession. Knowing I was different prepared me for possible discrimination and I was always ready to defend myself and prove that I was just as capable and worthy of my place in society as anyone else.
But now, as a mother to two young boys, I fear what lies ahead of them. In a way they have it harder than me. I knew I was different because of my life at home. This prepared me for the possibility that I may be treated in an inferior manner and taught me how to fight it. But for my children, they have parents who are "at home", we speak the same language: English with a strong London accent, we eat the same food, we wear the same clothes. Everything is the same as the White British majority. Except for the colour of our skin. And, like me and most children, my children won't see this. But that won't stop some people in society treating them differently. Someone may be unnecessarily rude to them or deny them an opportunity. It will be harder for my children than it was for me because they won't even know why.
Racist incidents are apparently on the increase, whether it be down to immigration or economics. As a mother I want to prepare my children for any obstacles they may encounter. I want to encourage them to work hard, treat others with respect and kindness, be good citizens and contribute to society in a positive manner. But how do I prepare their innocent young minds for possible racism when they see everyone as the same as them?
For more posts on my experience of motherhood, check out my Facebook page Mama Not Dumber.