I have never understood how skin colour constitutes such hatred. I will never understand it because I have been born out of a shining example of why racial hatred makes no sense. My parents have been together for 46 years, they love each other, they are each others biggest fans. They have never seen each other for their skin colour. Their families did- in the 70s- but they fought threw it. I’ve seen this unity and I’ve seen my white father embrace and celebrate my Indian heritage more than his own- celebrate Diwali, attend every religious festival and temple- sometimes he was the only white man there- but our family was in solidarity. I never had an issue of divided identity until we studied John Agard's 'half caste’ at school. Suddenly kids started calling me ‘half caste’ and saying I wasn’t a ‘whole’ person, yet I was constantly praised for my ‘nice tan skin colour’-
My family and I have been at the hands of racism. My mum, her stories of racism astound me and her resilience like many of our parent's generations who have been at the hands of racism, make us proud and paved the way for our generations to this day.
My first memory of racism was the year before the apartheid and we were in South Africa. The restaurants were segregated clearly with ‘coloured’ areas. I was 4 and I never understood why we were separated. Why would I? Why would anyone? It makes no sense. If only this world was run through a child’s eyes. My parents tell a story that at the end of the meal, I walked over to the black waitress and handed her the tip, shouting loudly that we should all give her the tip because she deserves it. The people in the restaurant did not find this entertaining- as one can imagine. On the same trip, I was playing with my sister and two South African white children - the parents had only seen my blonde father- my mum came out subsequently and the children were all torn apart. The SA family furious at them mixing with us…. I cried. As you can imagine. Because I heard what was being said and saw the distress from my parents. That trip, my mum bought me home a rag doll- a black rag doll whom I called Thandi. She had plaited corn rolls and a traditional African dress. I tried to do my hair like her when I was 8- it ended badly and involved scissors. She has been by my side since that day (now no longer sleeps in my bed…😉) and I will be passing her down to my children. Thandi was the only black doll I ever saw growing up, all kids laughed at her and made fun of her- said she was ugly. I would cry into her and say it was ok- because I thought she was the prettiest thing ever.
Back in Kent, I was chased home from school and called a 'Paki'. (Side note, I am not even from Pakistan). But apparently if you're brown, that’s what you
are seen as… I had to hide in a bush once, from a group of guys who were taunting me and said they wanted to ‘f&*^ the little paki’. Writing this word makes me shudder. I hate it- I hate the connotation of fear associated with it. I would also like to thank those that shouted 'paki' at me, for making me feel ashamed to be Indian. I went through a time being ashamed of my heritage and telling people I was a ’tanned white person’. My nani had to put me in bed every night and tell me a story of my culture and religion. I can’t thank her enough for those nights she rocked me to sleep with those beautiful stories.
Growing up, I swam competitively from the age of 6 to 16. I was the only non-white swimmer in both counties, Surrey and Kent (not hard that though…) Actually at the nationals, it was myself and one other black girl who swam. Her and I ended up in the finals together- go figure…. When we were on the podium, our names were called out wrong and not corrected when I asked them to. In fact, every race I swam, they pronounced my name wrong. I went through a time of wanting to change my name when I was 7. No young girl should want to do that. But the Olivias, Zoes and Philippas had a much easier time and were doted on. They were pushed to the front of the stage on our school shows- I was ALWAYS at the back.
My mum is a former principle, published author and HMI, currently writing her second book on reforming secondary education, she has studied disparities in the schools, "At school we need to educate and inform students and identify key BAME figures in maths, science, art etc, invisible heroes who are never mentioned or celebrated. For instance, Katherine Johnson the black American mathematician who was critical to the success of the first and subsequent crewed space flights- then we should explore why our mainstream education does not include any of these individuals. That’s the insidious racism that permeates society and our education and leads to distorting the value and contributions of black and asian heritage.”
I trained everyday, twice a day, all my coaches were white, and all my team mates were white. I call them team mates. They made my life hell. A kid called Ollie, in the swimming pool would kick me hard in my ribs and my pelvis, spit at me on the pool side, scratch my back as I tried to swim past- kick me in my face. Pull my swim suit down as I swam. I would cry in the showers and have bruises. Did anyone do anything? no. My coaches saw it happen- they didn’t do a thing. I moved clubs, a 6 ft boy called Rob would dunk me under the water after every set, and hold me down. What did they do about that? You guessed it.
Moving forward to 2016, I founded a healthcare tech company. I’ve done numerous panels, keynotes and events. I will point out that I could count on one hand the number of panels I have done with a BAME representative. I mean, it shouldn’t be finding a representative, it should just be talent. All of the events I have attended, have had a disproportionate representation. I did at many occasions question whether I was being asked to be the token BAME or woman. However, the positive I can take is that at least I am being able to use m
y platform to change perceptions. I usually speak about the lack of funding for female founders, the fact that 7.4% of CEOs in the FTSE 500 are women. What I will be doing going forward is talk about the fact there are more chief executives called Steve than there are from an ethnic minority in the FTSE 100. More than half of FTSE 100 companies have no ethnic minority board members and only around 3 per cent of the most powerful, prominent 1,000 people in Britain are from ethnic minorities, according to the research. Just 3.3% of FTSE 100 chairs, CEOs and CFOs are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background – a figure that has not improved since 2014. Let’s highlight that 95% of 540 CEOs of Charities are from white backgrounds.
As a female BAME leader, I raised money for my tech company. I’ve pitched over 350 times. Not once did I pitch to BAME person, 2% of the pitches were done to women- but these women were associates and none were partners in the VC firm. I did however, get served with a beautiful cup of coffee by a woman in every single pitch. Not to mention that I have been mistaken for a PA on multiple occasions when these non BAME men came to my office, where I was pitching to them. Moments I’ll forever remember.
I now make a pledge as the co-founder of I am Arla. A community for women who have experienced abuse, trauma and discrimination. We will host events with BAMEs on every panel, topics that are inclusive to diversity, engage and ask for support from BAME expert psychologists, life coaches and so on. I will work on this pledge and write this as part of our business plan and OKRs. We will publicise it on our website so we are accountable.
Micro change leads to macro change and I will stand by this, against racism until the time comes when we no longer have to speak about race as a statistic.