Protests, Race and The Realities of Being a Visibly-Muslim Woman
The Tone Up

Protests, Race and The Realities of Being a Visibly-Muslim Woman

After Meghan Markle’s big reveal of the mistreatment she received from the UK tabloids, I have seen an outpour of discussions about race in the UK. Since then, I have been desperate to write a piece about it but I needed some time to understand it first.

In 2020, the death of George Floyd had millions of people protesting on the streets because prior to that time there had been too many black people dying at the hands of police officers. The UK BLM protests happened in Westminster. I remember it, because I was there, unintentionally. I went out with my cousin to St James Park; I was tired of staying home, on furlough and having nothing to do. As we were trying to find the park, we got partially lost and found our way to Whitehall, an area filled with government buildings. I remember seeing a crowd ahead and my Google maps navigating me to go there (to get to the park). I went ahead and I saw posters with people’s mouths covered, a head on the floor and a foot on a neck. I saw the police officers on horses, on foot, in cars and the young people shouting for justice.

I remember not feeling nervous or frightened as one would if they stumbled into a protest. Unfunnily enough, this was not the first protest I stumbled into. I remember only a year ago when I was searching with my friend for a Korean BBQ at Oxford Street, we had seen EDL protesters across the road. Of course, I went the other way, their protests were not for me but against me. I was wearing my hijab which my gut told me they would have not reacted kindly to — on top of all the ‘noise’ they were making. I was somewhat nervous and frightened back then.

When Meghan Markle; a half-black, American woman married into the royal family — things started to look different. The difference was that for once, the royal family started to look a lot more real in the UK. Inter-racial relationships are a lot more common than they were a few generations ago, so to have that represented in the UK was a huge step in change.

Unfortunately, this change didn’t last long. To summarise it simply; the UK tabloids have been cruel and unjust. The rumours and the fake news about Meghan Markle, have taken her and her family out of the UK and the royal family. Since appearing on a show with Oprah, a lot of people are angry. People like Piers Morgan have been so upset with what Megan Markle has said that they have walked off the screen on live television. A lot of talk about the royal family being the whitest institution in the UK has had me questioning if that is even right to begin with. On top of that, the line of prime ministers has had a strong history of only white members.

Since this whole ordeal, I have had discussions with people in my life about race in the UK. My friends would tell me, “it’s a white man’s country, get used to it, our parents probably had it worse.” At work, my colleagues would tell me, racism works differently here than it does in the US. It’s subtle and it’s polite and it usually happens without you even realising. The word that stood out to me the most was micro-aggression. However, there’s no law that protects an individual from this. This act that occurs in everyday life, that is harmful but unnoticed by the perpetrator. My own experience of this has been with my manager, a white woman. I sat with her and a group of colleagues and we were having a conversation about religion.

As a Muslim, I try my best to talk about Islam in the way I believe it to be true and not in the way that the media would like to portray me. I remember somewhere in the conversation, she mentioned how when she went to Dubai, couples were not allowed to hold hands and how she found that to be backwards. I told her, it is their culture and it is their country and if you did not like it, you do not have to go there. Soon after, she mentioned how ‘people’ come to the UK and they don’t follow the rules and they get in trouble. Another white colleague gave her a look and she stopped speaking and looked away to her screen. I told her, what do you mean? but the other white colleague intervened by changing the subject to ‘arranged marriages’.

Of course, I didn’t feel offended by what my manager said, if anything I tried to understand where her thought was coming from. I know there are problems all over the world. I know Dubai has had slave contracts with my own Bangladeshi people. However, I am not from Dubai but I am Muslim. I speak English and Bengali, I’m also an avid fan of my hijab, which gives people a reaction that tells me a lot about them. I love London when I can be myself but I hate it when I have to hide. I’ve lived here my whole life but I have barely stepped foot outside to another city that wasn’t Birmingham or Manchester. Of course, I could but my own prejudice tells me that people outside of multi-cultural cities like London are not as welcoming. I’m trying to challenge this by putting on a courageous and positive mindset but it’s not always easy. I’m sure a lot of people who look different to their surroundings can say the same.

The UK has not eradicated racism. As the racism here is different, therefore a different approach should be taken. I have no idea what, of course. I do notice that having open conversations tend to bring people together. I believe education about race should not just be taught through a PowerPoint in class but through actual experience. Taking a trip to a different part of the UK or getting involved in a charity or visiting a country with a different type of government. Just seeing the world for what it is then what it has been shown to you as. This is how you can educate people.

The funny thing is that the royal family have done the exact same thing yet a member of the family has ‘enquired’ what colour Meghan’s baby was going to be? And why hasn’t Prince Andrew been investigated for visiting Jeffrey Epstein’s paedophile island? My answer is ‘White (royal) privilege’ — that is what stood in the way of their education.

Read more from Sajida A. here

Sajida A.

Sajida A. is a reader and on occasion, a writer. She reads mostly classics or fiction, and at times non-fiction (biographies usually). She writes and reflects upon current (and her own internal) affairs.

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