I’ve been writing an autobiography of my life which I was supposed to have started months ago and as per usual, I’m scrambling about last minute to get it done. It forms part of a presentation I’m supposed to make as I start my counselling course. I work better under pressure anyway…..well that’s what I’m telling myself right now. I really should be cracking on with it but I’ll just take a break and write a little blog post instead.
What struck me as I started this autobiography was how much racism featured in my early life and how prevalent “casual racism” still is to this day. If you’re about my age group then the word “dirty paki” will have followed you around the playground more times than you care to remember or spat at your parents as they innoculously shopped in the city centre back in the day.
I hadn’t quite thought about the impact of those words until I recently spoke to a Romani friend who told me her mum would make sure the house was pristine so nobody could accuse them of being “dirty”. It reminded me of my mum’s words when we were children “don’t give anybody an excuse to say Pakistanis are dirty”. We would be extra aware of how we presented ourselves, never wanting to give any ammunition to their screeches of “dirty, smelly paki”. The insult ofcourse never implied that we had unclean houses, wore unclean clothes etc but that we simply looked dirty from the colour of our brown skin.
“He’s a blacko”, “going for a chinky”, “the paki shop” – still words that I hear to this day. “It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just what we say”, I get told when I challenge them. Well, you see, it does mean something. These phrases comprise words that always suggested we are less than anybody white, words that we accepted in childhood because our parents didn’t want us to fight; “sticks and stones may break your bones” they would remind us. These words however are degrading, racist and above all “…names can never hurt you” was a lie.