• Fahima Begum

Small Town Big Racism

Racism; it is a single word that is filled with so much prejudice and hatred. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.’ This single word has become a core aspect of my existence.

My Bengali ethnicity and my hijab have been used repeatedly to make me feel like the ‘other,’ especially whilst growing up in a predominantly white area. Whenever I do talk about racism, there is always this sense of disbelief about the level of ignorance that comes into play with my experiences. I am hoping by writing down my experiences it might give people a glimpse into the severity of these incidents. I also hope it becomes a form of education, showing how racism does not always have to be explicit; it can also be underlying and inflict the same pang of hurt.

Let me begin with my explicit experiences with racism, one where you can easily point out and say ‘that is racist.’ Back in 2015, the day after the Paris terrorist attacks was painful to say the least. The world was trying to come to terms (myself included) with the tragedy that had hit France. I was walking to college when a white van pulled up next to me. The next thing I noticed was the spit running down my face. A grown white man was shouting verbal abuse saying: "you hurt innocent people", "it is people like you that are the problem in this country" and "why don’t you just f*** off back to your country you terrorist". Deflated, I simply continued walking to school while trying my best to wipe off the spit that was seeping into my hijab. Being spat on once is disgusting and traumatising enough, but that was only one out of three times I was spat on. Being called a terrorist had become a regular event, even from those who I considered "friends"-- deemed acceptable because it was " only a joke".

I was walking to work the other day when a group of young men stopped beside me in their cars and proceeded to question me about my whereabouts, and whether I was planning to bomb anything. A part of me was still shocked how people can utter such vile rhetoric in today’s climate where diversity and inclusiveness are supposed to be embraced. You would think with worldwide calls for the end of racism would have changed a few things. I guess I was wrong.

Now, let's talk about microaggressions, you know, the ones that some people refuse to acknowledge. Whether it's being stared at or being given dirty looks, the number of times I have had debates over if this is racism or not is mind-boggling. Take a normal day out, I'll be walking past a group of people at a bus stop and everyone will stop what they are doing and look up towards me. Sometimes it seems like it is through curiosity, as if it's some sort of massive surprise that there is someone who is not white walking past, but the looks of disgust are rather telling. Then, I find myself being followed around the shop, not very discreetly, where they directly watch me to see if I'm stealing. Despite all of these incidents, the worst one has to be when I was stopped and searched on the bus as a "routine procedure". Out of approximately the ten to fifteen people on the bus, I (the only person of colour and the only visible Muslim) was asked to open my bag to show my belongings because someone clearly thought I was carrying a pack of TNT.

These encounters of racism are certainly personal to me, but racism can happen in multiple other forms. You don’t have to experience it to know it exists. If you do not acknowledge the issues minorities face to this day, then you are a part of the problem, and this includes minorities who do not see the struggles of other minorities. I find myself continuously fighting against political stereotypes, however this generation brings me hope.

Fahima Begum