• Neha Maqsood

Metro UK - Racism forced my dad out of the UK and 23 years later, it’s driven me out too

Updated: Apr 8

Neha Maqsood pens a poignant personal essay about her familys' experience of living in the UK and questions whether the Britains' days of xenophobia and racism are truly behind it.

It was a brisk, winter morning in Peterborough when my father took my older sister and brother out for a vigorous walk – daily exercise was cardinal law in our family. As my father led my siblings through the park, a group of white, teenage boys walked towards them. When the two groups crossed paths, the teenagers let out a malicious chant, ‘Oi, P**i!’


Unfortunately, the story ended up like many others: The victim walked away, and the accuser got off Scot-free. My father didn’t confront those boys because apparently being called a ‘p**i’ during the 80's was a normal occurrence. Instead, he gripped his children’s hands tightly and swiftly moved away from the teenagers.


In 1982, my father moved from Pakistan to the UK with his newlywed wife in tow. Although he initially moved to receive his medical training, the main reason was because he wanted to give his future children the life he never had – a life built on a system of meritocracy where success came to anyone who worked hard enough for it.


However, after 14 years of living in the UK, my father decided to move back to Pakistan with no intention of ever returning.


He was tired of having to avoid walking alone at night due to fear that he might be one of the many Asian people in the 80's who were the victims of knife crimes. It hurt him to see his daughter get bullied at a private school because of her ethnicity. He refused to let his children grow up as second-class citizens and Muslims who feared persecution. Therefore, he decided to give my siblings a semblance of home, which Britain never was for them.


The fact that Brexit and the appointment of a bigoted, misogynistic man in the White House had occurred in 2016, legitimized the nationalistic and xenophobic ideals many people had been harbouring for years.

I hoped, by the time I decided to move to the UK for medical school in 2016, things would have changed. I was convinced the stories of xenophobia and racism existed only in the tales of my father’s past, outdated enough to not find their way into my future.


Never had I been more wrong.


The world I entered in the UK was a stark contrast to the one I had previously lived in in Pakistan.


Within the first few months of my arrival, I had already endured multiple racially charged encounters, from old, white men accusing me of being a member of the Taliban, to patients refusing to let me examine them on wards because of the colour of my skin.


The fact that Brexit and the appointment of a bigoted, misogynistic man in the White House had occurred in 2016, legitimized the nationalistic and xenophobic ideals many people had been harbouring for years.

My experience in the UK made me very conscious of people’s prejudice so when my parents visited me, I would find myself dissuading them from donning Eastern clothes. At restaurants and stores, I would make sure I was the one conversing with the waiters and cashiers in my fluent English. I didn’t plan on giving anyone another reason to think that they were better than us.


I sympathize with the people who live in a country that has struggled to acknowledge both its hand in colonialism as well as its nationalistic tendencies.

During this time, I would often find myself wondering what life had been like for my parents when they had moved to the UK in the 80's. These were two people who had come from largely conservative Islamic households and to whom English was a second language.


I thought of my mother, who would don her light-coloured shalwar kameez as she grocery shopped at Tesco. I thought of my father, who would struggle to interact with his patients in English.


I started to realize that my experience was slowly matching up to the one my father had. It took him 14 years to return to Pakistan – it took me just three. I needed a break to recover from the mental strains of being a person of colour in a place where I was clearly unwanted. More importantly, I needed to realign myself and understand where my roots were to regain the identity and confidence I had slowly lost over the course of the my time in the UK.


As I watched the results of the general election pour in from my home in Pakistan, I felt like I had escaped a dangerous situation. Under the new Conservative government, I am worried for my fellow Muslim women, the LGBT+ community, working class citizens, BAME people, people on welfare and international students.


I sympathize with the people who live in a country that has struggled to acknowledge both its hand in colonialism as well as its nationalistic tendencies.


I am grateful that I am able to return to Pakistan and I consider myself lucky to have the certainty that it brings me – a concept that I fear is gradually being taken away from the people of the UK.

The original home (Metro UK) for this article can be found here - https://metro.co.uk/2019/12/30/racism-forced-dad-uk-23-years-later-driven-11976714/

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