Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Parenting in a New World of Walls


All a parent ever wants is a better world for their children, safe and full of opportunity.  Over generations, my family has gradually bettered themselves financially and academically.  On my dad's side, he was the first to attend a university, juggling school work with weekend shifts at his parents' fish shop.  On my mum's side, daughter of a Punjabi Civil Servant, her grandfather travelled on a dhow across the Indian Ocean to find new opportunities in British East Africa; her parents had emigrated on British Passports to escape Idi Amin's racial purification programme in 1972.  My childhood was happy and comfortable in bucolic charm, with a colour television and piano lessons.

I was twelve before I really understood racism.  Growing up in Tory Lincolnshire, the current hotbed for Farage's Brexit fans, I was aware of being a little different:  I had a Granny and a Naniji; I worshipped in a Church and in a Gurudwara and my mum sent me to my friend's pyjama party in a salwar kameez- an etymological master move ("pajama" is Hindi for loose trousers).  At age seven, I heard the school bully, eleven-year-old Walker, call my brother a "brownie".  Misunderstanding his meaning, I proudly interfered, stressing that I was a Brownie and my friends are Brownies, too.  My gang of Girl Guides then chased the offender around the school field, rudely chanting "Walkers Crisps".  Later in detention with my shamed face against the wall, the racial slur swept under the carpet, the Headmaster simply concluded, "Well, Walker, you're hardly a Golden Wonder".  

My plucky confidence was undone by one single incident at high school.  I remember walking alone down the corridor at lunchtime.  Up ahead were a group of boys, but it was fine because some were from my primary school and I'd even been at one boy's tenth birthday party, joked with his mum and eaten pizza in their kitchen.  That same boy gestured at me and as I smiled, he sputtered, "Paki".

Wounded, I gave no rebuttal and quickly walked along the corridor that seemed to go on forever, bursting into tears as I finally turned the corner.  It'd never occurred to me that I was so different to him.  I felt humiliated by this loaded word; my ego was shattered.  I felt unwanted, exiled from my hometown, my place of birth.  A friendly face found me at the end of the corridor and ushered me off to the Head's office.  Later, I silently accepted a muttered apology, but I couldn't meet his eyes.  The matter was closed, but I have never forgotten that moment.

If the Head had been a known favourite of the KKK and Neo-Nazi party, would there have been an apology, a consequence, or would I have had to accept the abusive language of fear and division.  Would we have studied race, abuse and identity in Literature?  Would the History syllabus include Apartheid, American Civil Rights and the evils of European Fascism? Would we have been so sure that the future could be free from prejudice?


Twenty years later, we are a generation on and we feel lucky to be able to build on our ancestors' hopes of raising children in a better world: freedom of religion, LGBT rights and instant global communication.  Our two little boys have a mixed heritage from England, Kenya, Tanzania and India; Sikhism, Christianity and Islam, but what defines them more is their delight in the moon and the stars, swings, trains and dinosaurs.  To have openly xenophobic leaders is an uncomfortable truth and our path forward is suddenly unclear and frightening.  For the sake of our children, all children, we have to speak up against hatred, smile at strangers and perform random acts of kindness.  Little by little, we can dismantle the walls (or fences) of fear and make the world a welcoming place.


7 comments:

  1. Boo hoo poor you.. We've all had nasty things said to us as kids. I was called nigger etc. White kids got bullied and called vile names as well.

    Toughen up and stop whining is my advice.

    BTW just who are these "openly xenophobic leaders" ? Can you tell us what they've done to you?

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    1. Yes, we have, but why should that make it ok? This has clearly very upset them, have some respect. Racism and intolerance are never ok.

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    2. I know that bullying is a huge issue for many many children, but racism is different and needs a different approach I think.
      It isn't ok to call anyone Paki or Brownie or Nigger or to pull off Hijabs or tell anyone who sounds or looks different to 'go home.'
      It's definitely worse since Brexit here. It has given a voice to every bigot, xenophobe, racist, homophone. And suddenly it's ok to make their opinions known. We have to stand up for anyone we see or hear who is on the receiving end of racism etc. Whether that's sitting next to someone who is being hassled or calling the police if the attack is physical and too dangerous to get involved. Each and every time. I'm Jewish and my parents died never daring to say the word Jew or Jewish out of the house. I don't want that for my children or anyone else's. Skin colour, religion, sexuality - we are equal and we are all part of the human race.

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    3. Thank you, Unknown. I have to agree with you that most people, if not all, become victim to abusive language, or physical hurt: race is just one factor that might make us different to another. My twelve year old self wanted to do what you advise here: didn't want to "whinge" or make a fuss. This was because I was embarrassed to have been labelled as someone different and I was scared of making it worse. I lacked courage and wasn't tough enough. Luckily for me, my friends and teachers possessed enough strength and hope to confront the issue and to make the environment a safer and happier place.

      Therefore, any leader in a position of power and influence- albeit political or social, who uses xenophobic rhetoric, language of intolerance or images to spread fear and hate is a threat to our communities. It is therefore vital to share our tales and to listen to each other, to be kind and to welcome others. This is what demands our courage and makes the world a better place.

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    4. And thanks to Teh Guz and Sarah Glynn: your courage to share your comments assert the whole point of this blog post, that the language of hate is never ok and we need to step up to show kindness to all.

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  2. How brave of you, Unknown to put a name to your comment. Oh, wait you didn't...
    One thing is for certain is that those of us who want love, reason and logic to triumph over hatred must ensure that we stand up for those who are on the receiving end of racist abuse. If can ensure that we are all of one planet then we can ensure the values that Jo Cox MP died for do not die with her.

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    1. Thanks, scaryj, for your comment and for endorsing the message of kindness and hope. And of course, for concluding with the values of the brave and wonderful Jo Cox. It was learning more about her life and work that inspired me to talk up more about important issues and to be hopeful for a better future for our kids.

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