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.