Sunday, 13 November 2016

Byproducts of Racism

One of my earliest memories is of when my family lived in Harlow, Essex. One of the things that is still clear to me is how scared, no- terrified my parents and grandparents were. I was only about 3 or 4 at this point, and to see older people so alarmed was terrifying. Our house had been egged- but from what I've been told it wasn't the first time this had happened. But that is the only time I remember it happening. I also remember men shouting, "P*#i, p*#i p*#i!" and "Go back" at the door as they threw the eggs. I remember my parents saying something about them being 'skinheads'.

Another time, I remember our garden fence been spray painted with that horrendous word on it and another time, it being smashed. I remember my father and grandfather painting over the fence and fixing it silently, as quickly as possible- the fence was what kept them away from us. Just thinking back to those days makes my chest tighter, and only recently have I realised how this affected my parents and now me.

My parents, especially my father, tried to ensure we were always safe, the house that I last lived in with my family had a big gate, no one could get into the grounds very easily and our parents always knew where we were. It was surrounded by overgrown bramble and hawthorn bushes, all 2 acres of it. It looked like the big spiky bushes from Sleeping Beauty that the witch created to keep people out. Ours was left like that for a similar purpose.  He bought that house because it was on a private road; no one went there without reason. We had guard dogs- they should have or could have been pets but they were trained to kill. My father had an arms license, and had trained me in using a shotgun in case someone trespassed or worse- attacked us while he was away on business. At night, big lights came on that shined all the way around the grounds. It felt like we lived in a compound. All the exterior doors were checked 3 times at night before bed. The house was in the middle of nowhere, away from fascists that might attack us, but I think that the days in Harlow really affected him. By trying to keep us safe, he almost shut us away from everyone; we lived so far away from our relatives that we hardly ever saw them.

This need for remaining safe became part of my life too. This same almost paranoid safety issue means that I cannot sleep with my bedroom door shut. I cannot walk with someone behind me, and I cannot sleep until I have checked that my front door is shut at least 3 times.

The skinhead element has also played a big part in my life. Of course, now I know that there were 2 different streams of skinheads, and it was only by speaking to a skinhead, who bless him, was shocked that his appearance scared the hell out of me, for me to learn about the history from him and then doing my own research that I started seeing people who wear Dr. Martens boots in a different light. But for many years I associated these people as racists. In the same way I get told, ‘But you’re alright, we just mean other immigrants,’ line, I too held similar thoughts.

I was bullied at school and racially attacked all the time throughout in Year 9 and 10. With only 5 BAMEs in the entire school, my teachers were ill prepared in taking action, thus I was left to defend myself. It affected my performance immensely. It was when I reached Sixth Form and saw south Asians only hanging out with other south Asians that I realise now, was their form of creating their safety net.

We know that we learn our values and morals from our family. Mine was so scarred by their treatment in the 1980s, that it had ensured its safety by creating an impenetrable fortress. My views changed and developed because I ventured further, spoke and started dialogue with people. We found common ground. But there are so many people out there scarred by their experiences who have never opened up to the idea of even trying to break away from their safety net, to see that there are good people out there, on both sides. And now with another surge in racist incidents, I wonder whether these incidents are going to create another generation of people, who feel untrustworthy of creating friendships with people from other backgrounds. 

Until next time,
Sen x

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