A lot has been written and aired in recent times (and rightly so) about the state of diversity within society. I wanted to use this space to look at, from personal experience, how far we’ve come over the past few decades and I truly believe that if we look from this perspective, progress is happening.
My father arrived in the UK from Sri Lanka via a boat which took two and a half weeks to get here back in the late 1960s. He and his family settled here and are all successful in their own rights after battling for everything in their careers. My father worked in the insurance industry and was the first ethnic minority to represent a major insurer in broker sales. This was an opportunity he was overlooked for constantly. It took him longer to get that role because of the colour of his skin. I know that, because years later, a manager admitted that to him and apologised.
Outside of work, my father dated my mother (an English white lady from North London), in secret, for several years. My father talks of the abuse he’d get for simply dating a white woman. Random people hurling abuse at him in the street, being punched in the face in pubs and other such hate and this was in a London town that was becoming more prominently cosmopolitan.
Let’s fast forward.
My family moved up to a small West Yorkshire town when I was 8. There were two families of colour in a town of 20,000 people. Our high school was slightly more cosmopolitan with kids coming from a variety of backgrounds from areas nearer to Leeds. One of my nicknames in school was BPIT. BPIT stood for “Best Paki in Town”. The utter sadness surrounding this, is that I considered it affectionate. I thought it meant I was accepted and I was the best of something (even though I wasn’t Pakistani). I never understood that it was both offensive to myself, others, and the Pakistani community and I deeply regret accepting it. As a fairly young teenager, I couldn’t see that. Another thing I didn’t realise was the pressure of growing up an ethnic minority. I have three younger brothers, and with the odd exception, I’ve always behaved impeccably and ensured my brothers did the same. More so than other kids I reckon.
Why’s that? Well, looking back, it was because I felt I was specifically responsible for representing a part of society. I didn’t want people to think “they’re all like that” or any of those negative connotations. Again, something I didn’t realise until later down the line. I have however, never been overlooked for promotion because of the colour of my skin, never been punched in the face, rarely been berated because of my ethnicity.
I’ve experienced no-way-near the racism that my father has.
The point I’m getting towards here, is that I see society improving. It has within the past few decades, and this year, the progress is speeding up. I’d like to think, that if BPIT was used as a term in a high school nowadays, due to the awareness of the excellent BLM campaign and other great anti-racism work, it would be immediately challenged and disregarded. As we become more multi-cultural, we understand that we have more in common that what separates us, and it gives me great hope in the future, that we can be more integrated and more tolerant of one another.
I know that this is a purely personal experience, but I’m hopeful that it reflects society and the wider picture.
I think it does and I think it’s important to remember how far we’ve come, but that we can continue to improve and do more.