As a kid, I moved around a lot and honestly I didn’t really mind a lot, I went from Sheffield to London and then stayed in Birmingham. In Brumtown I ended up going to several different schools and experienced a lot of different ways of being taught. Fun fact: In religious schools you tend to miss out on a lot of world history that you’d be taught in mainstream schools.
Once my family somewhat settled, it was in a South Asian majority area which was interesting since Birmingham tends to be split weirdly when it comes to areas, they tend to have a racial majority, and are rarely split evenly. Going to school with South asians was an interesting experience considering I was usually one of the handful of Somali’s in the whole school and the racial tension sometimes got heated up.
I’ve said this a lot in person, but I’ll say it here – I’m aware every race is capable of racial exclusion, it’s a sad but true fact. Especially in schools where children internalise their parents racial slurs and ideologies, they also will be less likely to have reached the point of thinking for themselves whilst in school. But wow the racism was real in some cases.
I heard the N word a few times, heard some ‘you’re so black’ phrases and listened to peoples general distaste of darker skin colours. I remember girls talking about wanting to stay out of the sun because they were scared to be dark, and boys insulting their darker skin coloured friends for being too black, in some cases equating it to being dirty. It was so normalised to me that even in my friendship group they did this and I stayed silent, because the argument wasn’t worth it.
I remember being in a history class during year 10 and one of the guys said a really horrible joke against black people towards me, and no one said anything to defend or diffuse it and that was just a moment where the racial divide was reinforced. Despite having friends who did care about me, they wouldn’t step in and help at times like this, and I learned quickly to defend myself. Thankfully by year 10 I was already comfortable enough to clap back, so I did.
Colourism is strife in South Asian communities and it is enforced by their cultures and beauty standards that reinforce the idea of lighter skin being more beautiful – which is what my culture also likes to believe. So I couldn’t hold a lot of the comments against them, but the outright racism and use of the N word was something I really wished I’d argued against more.
When you’re school has a majority race you’re bound to feel left out if you’re the minority, no matter how much your friends tried to include you, there will always be a weird line that you can’t cross in terms of conversations and mannerisms. To begin with it bothered me, but this is something that any minority feels anywhere, and it’s weird how you can become accustom to it.
There are the gems that will try their best to include you and help you understand things, and those people need the highest level of appreciation. The amount of times I’ve had people use their language and terms without explaining anything is a joke, and the people who see your confusion and take the time to explain things are pure cinnamon rolls who need to be protected.
I feel like the most memorable moment in school where being excluded was a benefit was during the Pakistan vs Bangladesh mini wars that happened in my school. This involved the boys who considered themselves ‘thugs’ to separate themselves based on whether they were Pakistani or Bangladeshi, they’d stare each other down and behind the scenes there were some serious fights and weapons were even brought in.
Going to school with South Asians was an interesting experience, I honestly did enjoy learning a lot more about the culture, food and having a fun time. I made some amazing friends and didn’t always feel like the odd one out. Yes, some bits were tough, and sometimes I’d hear racial slurs and insults, but it toughened me up, and I hope those kids don’t still hold those toxic beliefs.