Friday, 2 August 2013

What ‘Go Home!’ Means to Me

Once, when we were in primary school, a girl in my sister’s class said to her: ‘Go back to where you came from.’

My sister, being the awesome person that she is, didn’t tell the teacher and instead looked back at the girl and said: ‘Oh okay then, I’ll just walk back down the road to my house then.’

She was seven, maybe eight. To this day, I have never been more impressed by anything.

I, probably like every other non-white person I know, have been told to ‘Go Home!’ more times than I care to remember. The phrase reminds me of feeling like an outsider on the school playground and being stared and glared at in country pubs. Sometimes the words are shouted at you when you’re walking in the street; other times they’re blurted out by kids who don’t know any better – but, more often than not, they aren’t actually said aloud. They are implied through pursed lips that look like they belong to someone who’s accidentally added bad milk to their English breakfast tea. Yeah, I get it, you don’t want me here. And I’m second generation. I don’t want think about what it was like for my dad in the seventies.

I could tell you a million other stories about how people I know have stuck up to racists and bullies, but I couldn’t tell you any about myself. I like to tell myself that ignoring or laughing off slurs like that is the best way to deal with it, but, truth be told, the reason I’ve never defended myself is because I don’t have the stones. I’m too scared. What if I can’t think of a witty retort fast enough? What if the bully realises how much they’ve upset me? I don’t want them to know how thin-skinned I am. I think, though, that perhaps it is time to try and explain what it feels like.
Being picked on for not belonging to a country that you were born and brought up in is first and foremost humiliating. I still catch myself, once in a while, putting on an extra posh English accent in situations where I feel intimidated – a coping tactic I developed as a child and teenager as a way of saying ‘Look how English I am.’. Recently, on the way back from a family function, my cousin and I stopped in a service-station Starbucks whilst wearing Indian outfits – the accent came out then. It weirds me out that, however unconsciously, I still feel the need to do that. More than being embarrassed though, when someone shouts a slur at you (or worse, when a friend complains about other Indians or ethnic minorities they know – ‘I’m not talking about you, of course. You’re fine, normal.’) it hits you harder than you expect. I am always so surprised by how much it hurts. I always think that I’m used to it. I’ve had twenty three years of being used to someone or another picking on me for something that is so essentially part of who I am and simultaneously absolutely irrelevant to who I am, that I think it won’t hurt. But it does. Always.

When I first heard about the racist billboards back in my home town, courtesy of the British government, and, yesterday, as I watched the UK Home Office boast about arresting #immigrationoffenders whilst uploading tasteless photographs of people being taken in, I found myself crying. Crying in a way that I haven’t since I actually was on the school playground, crying because I felt bullied, felt like I didn’t fit in. Over the last few hours I’ve found myself flooded with fear: imagining situations in which I’m walking with George, or with my friends, and being stopped because my papers need checking whilst my not-brown-skin-having friends get to walk on (I don’t even carry papers. Who carries papers?), imagining a world where once again I feel like I have no control. And that’s just the fear that makes sense, mostly I’ve just been filled with a nameless, shapeless feeling of dread and sadness. I feel like pretending to be sick so I don’t have to go to school.

Bullying and scare tactics like these should not be used against anyone. Every time someone says something hateful to me, I wish I was more like my sister. But she was lucky she had a house down the road to point towards - not everyone does.

Have you ever been told to #GoHome? How did it make you feel? Or have you ever witnessed someone else become a victim of racism? Share your #GoHomeStory on Twitter or in the comments below. 
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  1. very nice read avani.

    i understand exactly how you feel

  2. Avani. That's a really good blog post. Great you got the guts to tell how you feel, and how we all feel about this disgusting campaign. One thing you should know, and everyone should know, UKBA officers don't have the right to arrest you if they don't have a valid reason. They don't have the same power as the Police. If they arrest you without giving you a reason, you are in your full rights to say "I don't want to talk to you and I am free to go". So never fear them, because you are in your full rights :)

    Here an infographic explaining how to react to UKBA officers and your rights:

    Tips: Don't answer their questions or they will try to find evidence of valid reasons in your answers.

    1. Thank you very much for reading. Yes - these are good points, thank you again. It's not so much that I fear what would happen if I actually did get stopped - for me it's a more abstract concern, the idea of being picked out of crowd of friends simply because of what I look like makes me feel sick. It reminds me of the less happy moments in my life. Knowing that you can say no and walk away is always useful though.

  3. I find it so sad that this type of thing is still going on. When will people stop and realise that the colour on the outside does not matter in the slightest, Its the actions of the person that matter, Which makes me wish most of the current members of parliament were all put on a boat to somewhere else.

    1. It is sad, yes, but I am also finding the number of people who can relate to my thoughts and feelings - both online and off - really reassuring. I almost didn't have the guts to post this piece. Thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment - it means a lot!

  4. An Interesting post and a good read. Considering you were born and raised here, do you hold a British passport?
    I'd say "Do you mind? I was born here" should be a good enough response to any remark blurted towards you. Whilst you say you have a "thin skin", you've got every right to confidently defend yourself from these idiots. The problem here is of course that you shouldn't have to. I'm not surprised you feel upset if your friends are critical of any other minorities. I'm quick to have a go at mine if they do anything similar.

    There's a lot of EDL nonsense floating around at the minute, not just toward black or Asian people, but also to those coming to work here from eastern Europe under the EU rules. I'm greatly embarrassed by it all. Illegal immigration is a problem that does need tackling, but the very public and heavy handed approach toward this current crackdown has the potential to humiliate a great number of innocent people.

    As a transport manager for an Eddie Stobart depot, I've worked with drivers from Lithuania, Poland, Lativa, Slovakia.. you name it. They're quite rightly taking advantage of an opportunity to triple their earnings. So many are settling down, working hard, getting a mortgage and want to become part of this country, taking the citizens test etc. Some of these guys are subject to a great deal of abuse, but if certain Brits have a problem with it, they should be directing it towards the Government for being part of the 'free movement of labour system' in the first place.

    If I was in your shoes, I would be greatly offended that British people haven't educated themselves on the Imperialistic nature of our past empire and the great trade benefits we received by controlling India for so long. Having received the services of over 2 million Indian soldiers in World War 2, we then grossly cocked up the implementation of independence in hastily creating Pakistan.

    1. Hello - thank you so much for reading and commenting. :)

      Yes - I do have a British passport which is why I'm not worried about the actuality of being stopped but more the general idea of it.

      Oh I agree with you. I think people often have a habit of very easily forgetting that there are individuals behind statistics, and also, like you say, that problems shouldn't be directed at individuals who are well within their right to be here. Illegal immigration is, of course, a problem but it certainly isn't as simple as 'Go Home' (which in itself assumes that there is a home to go back to!).

      I'm still learning about the implications of the Empire myself, but from what I remember of it at school the curriculum was rather biased...

      Thank you, again, for reading. :)

  5. Hey, I enjoyed reading your blog post.

    It must really hurt whenever you get singled out or made to feel like an outsider, by racists or pure ignorance. I can understand what you are saying about the fear, that would be the worst part. You are British, we are British! I hope that things change, Britain has become a laughing stock because of things like this, I've seen Americans talking in comments sections on posts, being shocked but not surprised about the #racistvan. It is pretty shameful and embarrassing.

    I didn't realise the Home Office actively used a Twitter account, it makes pretty grim reading seeing them reporting things like "A total of 139 suspected #immigrationoffenders have been arrested in raids across the UK today". Yeah, lovely hashtag. I did see this Twitter response though, from one angry person who phoned them up to see if they could take him home (a few minutes way) haha

    1. Hey Jack, thank you for reading and commenting. Your words mean a lot to me. I'll check out the link a bit later. Yes the Twitter stuff from the Home Office was awful - but people like the person you mention are great. You have to laugh...

      I notice you're from Aber. Small world - I LOVE that place. My sister (the superstar in the story) used to live there when she was at university. :) I almost tempted to move there myself now that she's gone!

      Thank you, again, for reading!

  6. I realise, having posted that, that probably it's not actually that small a world and that my sister - or one of her friends - is probably how you found my blog in the first place. Doh!


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