Recently, a video surfaced where a 15-year-old Syrian boy Jamal was physically bullied and ultimately an online petition raised over £100,000 for the family's relocation in the UK. Home Secretary Sajid Javid, was “outraged” by the video to the extent that it reminded him of the time when he had been punched for being Asian. In his interview to the Today Programme of the BBC Radio 4, Javid said,“When I was 11 and had just started my new comprehensive school, I had a very very similar incident. I hated it and I thought how that boy must have felt. How can this kind of thing still be going?”
Currently, 8.5 million people in the UK are from minority backgrounds and while racism or discriminatory hate crime incidents may not be clearly visible and reported on all fronts, they fracture Britain's diversity and continue to challenge its social security systems.
43% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) citizens in 21st-century Britain face racial abuse such that they had been unfairly overlooked for a work promotion in comparison to the 18% white people according to a new survey.
The Guardian's survey of 1,000 BAME people analysed their everyday negative experiences – all frequently associated with racism – than white people in a comparison poll.
“There was a time when I used to buy fairness creams just to fit in and look like one of them instead of being the only “brownie” in the group photo until the point when I realised that being brown was actually my strength,” Vaishnavi* revealed.
Vaishnavi, is an undergraduate from City University and originally from India. During her university days she recalls of how people “out of curiosity” asked her how and why her English was so good and how she used to explain each time that right from our childhood to our high school education, English was our first language.
“There is a general ignorance and a lack of awareness among the European students with respect to Asian cultures and identities. And at one point of time such subtle differences used to create an invisible divide among us!” she explains.
But it is not about Christmas holidays or Diwali dinners or Iftar parties that mark the basic difference. That according to Vaishnavi is just the tip of an iceberg. Although, the UK universities claim themselves to be the most diverse with their admissions pages listing how they have global students from 50+ cultures, what is often not observed is the different cultural societies. Whether it is the Arabic, Indian society or Latin American society, the cultural diaspora of these universities is inherently fractured and amalgamation according to Vaishnavi happens only at surface levels.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has reportedly said there is a "growing body of evidence" that racism is affecting students and staff at universities. It has also pointed to racism as a possible link between the lower qualifications achieved by ethnic minority students, despite more entering higher education. Students and staff have until 15 February 2019 to submit evidence. There have been several racism-related incidents at universities in 2018 which have made national news headlines, including in University of Warwick and Nottingham Trent university.
“After a few months, you just start hanging out with your own tribe because frankly enduring the same old conversation where they tell you how they like “my tanned skin colour” is a wasted night-out! I am not saying that this is the universal trend but this is what I have experienced,” added Vaishnavi.
*Neha is from Warrick University and although she doesn't find it so difficult to mix among her “white friends” being born and brought up in the UK. But even as someone who is inherently British doesn't mean that they are considered as part of their own people. It is this prejudice against the brown people that exists even today regardless of the geographical locations and is ingrained in people's perceptions and is reflected at times of community events or student body elections. Neha recalls of this one time when she was running for the position of president for her society and the next day after being elected she saw a message on Facebook's post and it read-
“The only reason Neha even became a President was because she is brown and she got all her brown friends to vote for her”
Neha took the issue to the principal of the university and the comment was later taken down by the authorities. But these little things impact the confidence and shape one's personality.
“On one hand the government is allowing many international students the valid visas to study at these globally acclaimed universities and on the other hand within the cultural diaspora there is so much isolation and marginalisation that it often leads to mental health issues and we see them queueing up for counselling!”
According to The Guardian's survey 12% of BAME people have had racist language directed at them in the past month, rising almost to 43% in the past five years. But where does one draw the line between racism and hate crime?
Sahr Al Faifi is a health worker from Cardiff and in March 2018 and at the stand up to racism rally against the splash of Nazi graffiti, she told me about how wearing a niqab attracts unwanted attention to her on a regular basis-
“I was walking down St. Mary's street when someone passed by pulling at my niqab and calling me a “terrorist,” Sahr had said.
The number of recorded hate crime incidents have more than doubled in the last five years and is likely to be related to the aftermath of Brexit and the spate of terrorist attacks last year, according to the Home Office.