Apakilypse Now

Deep divisions on racial lines were exposed during the run-up to the recent Presidential election in the US and KKK endorsed Donald Trump’s subsequent victory.

Similar tensions were brought to the surface post-Brexit referendum here, where racial prejudices reared their ugly heads with a new found legitimacy after a misinformed and mislead electorate voted to exit the EU.

We might feel that we are a far more integrated and inclusive nation compared to our transatlantic neighbours but we must not kid ourselves that race (and racism) are no longer an issue in Britain.

I was called a paki today.  In the city where I have lived for the past 10 years, where I work, where my children were born and go to school; I was called a paki. 

In broad daylight, on a bustling city centre street where ironically, a peace forum was taking place just doors away; I was called a paki.  

In 2016 Great Britain; I was called a paki.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I’ve written before about how we all have prejudices and we all have the propensity to stereotype certain groups of people.

Occasionally, children have the ability to astound and astonish us with little nuggets of profound wisdom which are borne out of their minds as yet unclouded by intolerance and bias.

Their purity of thought can put most of us to shame and brings into question our own habits of judgement.

We attended a dinner to celebrate the birthday of a family member.  The guests were all of British Indian origin as they were mostly relatives, with one white English family who are the neighbours and close friends of the birthday girl. 

During the meal, a conversation between the children culminated in one child exclaiming “Well, we’re all Indian and you’re not”.  A statement that was factually correct and was in no way meant in an unpleasant way.  But it was the response of another child that is the gem of this story.

Another child at the table replied “It doesn’t matter if we’re Indian or not, we are all humans”.  (OK, I’ll admit, it was my 6 year old who said this – cue huge proud Mum beam!).

What a beautiful sentiment from one so young and I hope she continues to think this way as she grows older and that we, her parents don’t allow the influence of our intolerances and discrimination to creep into her psyche.

“Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you”.  — H. Jackson Brown

Overheard at the Election part 2…

I’m not going to attempt to analyse the Election results here – regardless of my political beliefs, of which party I voted for, we have a Tory government for the next 5 years.  But I’m going to share with you some of the justifications people shared with me (or that I overheard) as to why they made the choices they did (or didn’t).

This election was dubbed as the first “social media” so it makes me wonder, how much influence social media had in informing the voting choices of electors.

One young chap, who incidentally, didn’t vote, has never voted and has no intention if ever bothering to vote; stated that he didn’t trust Ed Milliband and wasn’t surprised that Labour hadn’t done well. “Did you see the picture of him eating a bacon sandwich – I mean you can’t trust the bloke”.  Because he’s not photogenic??

A middle aged woman (who also didn’t vote) but would have voted Conservative if she’d had time, because she thought “they’d done well over the last five years”.  This conclusion was based on “What they said on the news”.

A Dad at the school gates was overheard stating that if he had voted, he certainly wouldn’t have voted for the SNP.   Good job they weren’t an option in England then.

If the 2015 election was won and lost on social media, and it appears that the incumbent party did seem to have a slicker, more polished presence on the various online platforms, then the opposition parties definitely need to up their Facebook/Twitter/Insta game.

Overheard at the Election…

A bit of a shift away from the normal theme of my blog this time; I’ve mentioned before in my posts that I work in the public sector.  Every year for the last 4 years or so, I like to do my bit for democracy, so I have applied to work as a Poll Clerk in a polling station at Election time.  It’s a long day’s work; we arrive at our polling stations at 6.30am; these can be situated in Church Halls, Community Centres, Schools, even Porta-Cabins in pub car parks!  Voting starts at 7am, staff manning the polls have no scheduled breaks and we don’t leave until after the polls close at 10pm. 

This year was by far the busiest Election I’ve ever worked at; we were expecting a good turn-out in this, dubbed as the first ever ‘Social Media’ Election.  It was refreshing to see people coming out and engaging with the democratic process and overall was a thoroughly enjoyable day and as always, a fascinating experience to come across the various characters who make up the electorate.

We encountered a charming couple in their nineties who had lost count of the number of Elections they had witnessed but came out at every election to cast their valuable votes.

We met many first time voters which was encouraging; it is often more difficult to engage with young people when it comes to politics.  They had varied reasons for turning out to vote.  One young lady said she had been badgered by her Nan to come, a young man said his Mum had told him to make sure he voted.  Others were brought out by issues that affected them directly; university tuition fees for example.  Some of the first-time electors came with their families; one lad was overheard asking his parents who they would recommend!

A number of people arrived at the polling station to find that they were at the wrong one!  This was understandable for some as Ward boundaries have been amended since previous elections; however, a significant number of these lost voters had their poll cards with them, which have the name and address of their polling station clearly printed on it!  It begs the question; how are these people expected to make a reliable, informed choice on their ballot paper if they fail to read and realise where they are supposed to be voting in the first place?

We encountered a few people who weren’t registered to vote.  A couple of them weren’t particularly bothered to be turned away and some argued that they had been online to register; but if they weren’t on the list, they weren’t coming in!

One Elector didn’t understand how the Parliamentary election worked (i.e. with constituencies across the country with candidates standing to be elected as MPs).  She took her ballot papers away, then returned to the desk and asked, “Why has this paper got (constituency name) written on it, isn’t it meant for the General Election?”  At this point, we had a queue of electors out the door so our Presiding Officer tried to give her a brief overview of how the whole thing worked.  She still didn’t understand it and flounced off exclaiming loudly, “Maybe it’s just me then, I don’t get it and clearly need to be educated”.  This was a woman in her early to mid-forties I’d say, a professional, dressed smartly, on her way home from work, who did not understand how the voting system in this country woks.  Rather than the names of the local party candidates, she had been expecting to see the names of the party leaders listed on her ballot paper, akin to an American Presidential election!

In most areas, there were two elections running this year, a local as well as the Parliamentary.  This caught many electors unaware who had not grasped this in the run-up to polling day.  One elector refused the ballot paper for the City Council election because; in her words “I’m not interested in the local side of things”.

A man arrived with his poll card and that of his partner and stated that he was voting on her behalf too.  His partner had not applied for him to be a proxy voter, so we had to refuse to allow him to vote on her behalf.  He was surprised; he fully believed that as they had the same surname and lived at the same address, he was allowed to vote in her place, especially as he knew that her vote would be the same as his!

And finally, this wouldn’t be a blog about race and culture if it didn’t contain an obligatory observation about a racist comment that seems to rear its ugly head now and then.  One elector told us that he had refused the job of Poll Clerk because the ward in which he’d been placed was a diverse area and “it would have been like playing spot the white bloke”.

Typical Indians: Living up to the Stereotypes

I haven’t blogged in a while; a combination of work, kids, running a small business venture and some pretty major renovations and redecorating of our house have pushed the blog to the backburner but I’m back with this post about Indian stereotypes…

There are certain behaviours and traits that can be ascribed as being ‘typically’ Indian, some negative but others a bit light-hearted and even amusing.  I’ll share with you a few I have encountered recently:

We’ve had some major road-works taking place outside our office building recently.  Different sections of the road have been cordoned off at various times, traffic has been restricted and diversions put in place.
On returning from his lunch break one afternoon, a colleague told us that he had witnessed a young man in a swish, sporty car driving the wrong way up a one-way street that had been blocked off.  Upon reaching the barriers at the end, he continued to try and inch forward as though he was hoping for a way out, despite the workmen shouting and gesturing to him that the road was closed.
My instant response to this was “Was he Asian?”  My colleague raised his eyebrows and confirmed that he was.  “Was he driving a BMW?”  My workmate was astounded.  “Yes, did you see him?”  I hadn’t seen the incident but from the way it was described, I just knew it had to be an Asian man (and the car was bound to be either a BMW or a Mercedes).

Is it a case of life imitating art, or the other way around?  Have these stereotypes grown out of the behaviour of a few and tarnished a whole section of society, or have they become some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy where we have started to fit into the very stereotypes built up about us?

A friend of mine has had new neighbours move in on her street who, in her words are “a lovely family”.  Almost immediately on their arrival they proceeded to pave over their front garden to create a driveway that accommodates about 6 cars and had some mock neo-classical, Greek Pantheon inspired UPVC columns installed in front of their double garage.  “The pillars look awful” my friend lamented, “Why would they do that?” Again, I just knew.

My friend had not mentioned the ethnicity of her new neighbours and was quite amazed at my powers of deduction.  Whether it was the choice of architectural style or the big driveway that gave it away; it just seemed like a typically Indian thing to do!

Finally, another colleague recounted his trip to a large well-known department store during a sale.  He went off on a Victor Meldrew type rant about how the queue for the tills in the menswear section was made up entirely of women and that only men should be allowed in menswear.  “One woman had a stack of about 10 shirts in all different sizes” he said.  “Was she Indian?” I asked.  “Yes, how did you know? – And what the hell is she going to do with all those shirts?”  For any Indians reading this; we know!

I can’t be racist, I’m brown…

A friend of mine, B, read my last blog post and we began to discuss if some people could truly be totally free of any kind of bias or impartiality.  We are now citizens of an ever shrinking world, encountering people of so many different races, ethnicities and nationalities in our day-to-day lives; do we even bat an eyelid when we encounter those different from us? 

B argued that EVERYONE harbours some kind of prejudice, whether this is borne out of our upbringing, the culture in which we live or our personal experiences; we all have some preconceptions and presumptions about people based on their race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender etc.  Take the Harvard Racism test here.

B recounted how whilst working as a manager in a high street bank, she encountered on a number of occasions, instances of Asian men who would make appointments with her to discuss financial matters and then in the course of the meeting, ask intrusive questions about her personal life, ask her out or generally try to flirt with her.  One guy actively stalked her for months at her place of work and eventually had to be barred from entering the branch.

Based on her experience of a small group from this particular section of society, she has become wary of Asian men of a certain age and appearance who request appointments with her.

One day, a customer came in to the bank and asked to make an appointment to see a senior person in the bank about a mortgage.  B was reluctant to take the appointment herself; he looked (in her words) “like a freshie taxi driver” and she tried to palm him off on to one of her male colleagues. 

Whilst booking the appointment, she had a little chat with the customer to try and ascertain if he was indeed a genuine customer.  It turned out that the ‘freshie taxi driver’ was in fact a doctor, as was his wife and the mortgage they wanted was to purchase a house valued at just shy of a million pounds.  Needless to say, my friend took the appointment.

A Case of Mistaken Identity: Part 3, The Dr’s Surgery

As a BrAsian, I am bilingual; I speak fluent Punjabi as well as English and depending on my environment (especially at home) I tend to employ a hybrid of the two which consists mainly of English with a few Punjabi words or phrases thrown in and I can switch effortlessly between the two vernaculars.

I took my young son to the Dr’s surgery and as we were waiting he was playing and chatting, occasionally having a little whinge as he was getting bored.  A young woman came in and sat near us, smiling at my little boy as she took her seat.  She must have heard us conversing (as well as you can converse with a 15 month old) in our fusion language and she asked me in Hindi, “Aur bhi bache hain?” – “Do you have any other children?”

I was a little surprised as she didn’t look Indian at all; she was very fair-skinned with jet black hair that tumbled out in tight spiral curls as she removed her hat and she was dressed in a layered, ‘European’ style, as though she was just stopping off at the Dr’s whilst on a backpacking trip.  She looked more Portuguese than Indian. 

I kind of did a double-take and she asked again, once more in Hindi “Is he your only child?”  Now; I understand Hindi perfectly well, I watch the occasional Hindi film, listen to Hindi music, have been exposed (not willingly) to the plethora of Indian soaps that are on channels such as Star Plus, Zee TV etc. and could probably speak a little as it is not that different to Punjabi.  I could have answered in some halting Hindi or polished Punjabi but the inner snob in me surfaced and I responded instead in eloquent English: “No, I have an older daughter”.  I had established to her that I could speak English and now the rest of the conversation could take place – in English.  But I had also confirmed that I had understood her and she persevered in Hindi, “Were they both born here?”

I’m not usually averse to a little waiting-room chit-chat, children often serve as great ice-breakers in such situations and it wasn’t as though she could have gleaned any sensitive information about my children from her questions.  I’m not entirely sure if I was annoyed at her mild nosiness or the fact that she had assumed that I was Indian-Indian (and for failing to realise that I was British) but I was a little annoyed; “I was born here” I responded a little defensively.

She carried on to tell me, despite my impoliteness (in a mix of Hindi and English now) that she was expecting her first child and was nervous about giving birth and looking after a new baby in a foreign country without any support as all of her family were in India.  I softened a little, she was obviously reaching out for some female solidarity, some shared experience from a fellow Mum and I felt a little guilty for speaking to her in the way I had.

We chatted about the challenges and pressures of being working parents, extortionate childcare fees and family support (or lack of in her case).  She was very surprised at my line of work (I work in HR in a local government authority) and she stated “I thought all Indians were techies – my husband and I both work in IT”.

I was irked once again; “I’m not from India” I asserted.  “I was born here” I reiterated.  “My husband was born here too” I added.

I have engaged in many an argument with colleagues and peers over the years on why I follow the Indian cricket team rather than England, why I don’t feel ‘English’ and refer to myself as ‘Indian’ but for some reason, this assumption from her part that I was from India irritated me.  Whether it was her persistence in supposing this even though I had put her right or if I was upset that she had thought that I looked Indian; I’ve still not sorted out why I felt the way I had.

For those of you who have read my previous posts in this series on Identity will know how I have reacted with amazement at the assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes of others in terms of my ethnic/racial/national identity in various situations and I came away from the Dr’s that day, slightly ashamed of how I reacted.  I had been reminded again of my ‘otherness’ but also brought face to face with my own prejudices and been guilty of the very thing that I have been subjected to by others.  The woman in the waiting room had assumed I was Indian after hearing me speak to my son in Punjabi; I had made an assumption about her based on her appearance.

Trojan Horse: Ofsted & the media fall short on gender

A fascinating angle on the Trojan Horse issue and a poignant story from the writer’s own experience in school.

Coventry Women's Voices

fem times logoBy Coventry Women’s Voices member, Kindy Sandhu – Originally published at Feminist Times.

Following the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of an Islamic extremist plot in British schools, the press has failed to focus on the fact that Ofsted inspections in fact unearthed findings about the way gender inequality can pervade a school culture. The report describes a culture of fear and intimidation within some of the schools, with some female staff members saying they feel intimidated by male members of the school and are treated unfairly because of their gender. Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage are not being adequately addressed, and there has been opposition to mixed-gender swimming lessons.

Furthermore, children are being badly prepared for life in modern Britain. In some specific cases girls are discouraged from conversing with boys, undertaking extra circular activities and receive religious education separately from boys. The recommendations emphasise the need for schools to “carry…

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A Case of Mistaken Identity: Part 2, The Job Interview

Grad pic

After finishing university, I drifted for a while. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in terms of a career, whether to continue in education, go travelling etc. I signed up to a few recruitment agencies, sent half-hearted job applications and speculative CV’s. Job hunting can be daunting when you leave university, all the expectation of that degree finally paying off weighs heavy and the pressure is exacerbated when you don’t really know what you want to do for a living.

One particular experience in my search for a job (that I was hoping would lead to a meaningful career) is notable even after all these years; it was an interview arranged for me by a recruitment agency for a job that wasn’t in the field that I had studied, nor was it something I particularly wanted but it was a job and I needed something to tide me over while I worked out what I was going to do with my life.

I researched the role and the company which was a small, family-run clothing firm. They were looking for an office administrator to process invoices, arrange for orders to be shipped out and as the role progressed, get involved in bringing in new customers and securing orders. I had been told that the person I needed to ask for was called Bal. Ahaa, a fellow BrAsian I thought.

Bal explained how the business had been started by her parents; her Mum sewed clothes in a back bedroom of their family home while her father handled the orders and finances. Her brothers had not shown an interest in following in the parents’ footsteps, so she took over the running of the business. Her drive and initiative clearly showed as she spoke with passion about how she wanted to progress and expand the business – she was no Stella McCartney, but she knew what she was doing and where she wanted to go. I began to feel fairly confident as the interview progressed, I felt that I answered the interview questions thoroughly, gave detailed examples of my achievements and secretly thought that my BrAsian status would give me the edge on other candidates.

Interview pic


And then this happened:

Bal asked me if my parents were planning to get me ‘married off’ anytime soon. She explained that she didn’t want to appoint someone who would then have to leave the job because they got married and were moving to another part of the country so if I was getting married any time soon, I should let her know and she would have to consider another applicant. Yes, another BrAsian woman actually asked me this.

I was furious, but all I managed was to reply in the negative. (See previous post about my inability to respond spontaneously with witty or cutting remarks). How dare she (I glowered internally). There is no way she would have asked a white candidate that question; how could she in one swoop, stereotype all young British Asian women in an all-encompassing generalisation where the sum of their goals in life was marriage. And an arranged one at that.

 Bal was married; she had alluded to a husband earlier in our meeting and wore a very traditional Indian gold wedding ring set. Had she not had an arranged marriage and therefore felt superior to the rest of us who in her mind would be consigned to that fate? I came to the conclusion that as she still lived in the area she had grown up in, either her husband had moved from where he lived to join her after they married, or she had married locally. Or, she had married an Indian-Indian and brought him over; so her assumption that I would have to move away after getting married wasn’t manifested from her own experiences.

Punjabi Bride pic
Any which way you look at it, her remark wasn’t justified. Throughout the course of the interview, I hadn’t once hinted that the job would only be short-term for me, a stop-gap until something better came along so what had possessed her to ask such a culturally, not to mention racially (imagine if a white boss had asked that question of an Asian applicant) loaded question? I had a white friend at the time who was also job-hunting and concealing from potential employers that she was only planning on staying for a few months in order to save enough money to go travelling around Australia but she would not have been subjected to such a question.

The woman at the recruitment agency called me later in the day to see how the interview had gone and asked if I would be interested in taking the job if Bal called me back. I said no and relayed the incident to her and told her that the question about marriage had been highly inappropriate, but all she established from that was that the role wasn’t for me.

Thankfully, that was the one and only time I had been judged on my background in a job interview rather than my abilities but I think what made the whole episode striking for me was that the person doing the judging had been a fellow BrAsian.

As always, I welcome the experiences and perspectives of my readers; let me know if you have been asked an improper question relating to your race/ethnicity/culture in a job interview? How did you handle it, did you take the matter any further by raising a complaint for example? Have you ever been negatively stereotyped by a fellow BrAsian, what happened, what was your reaction?