All a parent ever wants is a better world for their children, safe and full of opportunity. Over generations, my family has gradually bettered themselves financially and academically. On my dad’s side, he was the first to attend a university, juggling school work with weekend shifts at his parents’ fish shop. On my mum’s side, daughter of a Punjabi Civil Servant, her grandfather travelled on a dhow across the Indian Ocean to find new opportunities in British East Africa; her parents had emigrated on British Passports to escape Idi Amin’s racial purification programme in 1972. My childhood was happy and comfortable in England’s bucolic charm, with a colour television and piano lessons.
I was twelve before I really understood racism. Growing up in Tory Lincolnshire, the current hotbed for Farage’s Brexit fans, I was aware of being a little different: I had a Granny and a Naniji; I worshipped in a Church and in a Gurudwara and my mum sent me to my friend’s pyjama party in a salwar kameez- an etymological master move (“pajama” is Hindi for loose trousers). At age seven, I heard the school bully, eleven-year-old Walker, call my brother a “brownie”. Misunderstanding his meaning, I proudly interfered, stressing that I was a Brownie and my friends are Brownies, too. My gang of Girl Guides then chased the offender around the school field, rudely chanting “Walkers Crisps”. Later in detention with my shamed face against the wall, the racial slur swept under the carpet, the Headmaster simply concluded, “Well, Walker, you’re hardly a Golden Wonder”.
My plucky confidence was undone by one single incident at high school. I remember walking alone down the corridor at lunchtime. Up ahead were a group of boys, but it was fine because some were from my primary school and I’d even been at one boy’s tenth birthday party, joked with his mum and eaten pizza in their kitchen. That same boy gestured at me and as I smiled, he sputtered, “Paki”.
Wounded, I gave no…