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A Tale of Two Democracies

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The issues of Racism impacting international students

Growing up under the classification of ‘British Asian’ has always helped to provide a security amongst those of South Asian origin, with regards to our national identity. I had always found pride in the ease with which I had found myself being accepted as British. This was only re-enforced by coming to Bangor University, and so it came as a massive shock when after seven months of living in France as an English language Assistant, somebody point-blank refused to accept that I was British.

Of course it did not come as that much of a shock: after all, just before I had moved into my own place in Valenciennes – I was given the clear warning to ‘beware of the Algerians’. Even at that point, it was clear that that the person who said this was talking, not only of Algerians who had immigrated to the country – but of their children who had been born in France as well. My preparation for encountering this attitude was in large part due to Dr Jonathan Ervine’s second year module Race & Immigration in France, which had taught me of some attitudes held exclusively toward people of North African descent. What I was not prepared for was that I would go on to be lumped into this ethnic minority and subsequently find myself feeling more and more isolated from people.

I have never in my life been made to feel like a second-class citizen

Although in the UK there is the complaining of immigrants and the un-based wails that they come over here to steal what few resources we have, it does not tend to limit itself to one group. Indeed, recently the tabloids have enjoyed stigmatising Eastern European Immigrants, but generally speaking –the problem has more to do with xenophobia in general. However, the case is not so simple in France. There, the issue is always to do with immigrants and children of immigrants who are of a ‘non-European’ background. This distinction alone relies on distinguishing an individual based on the colour of their skin and explains much of why life in France for me was so frustrating compared to my life in the UK.

Whilst in France, a whole new world was opened up – a world where someone needn’t use racial slurs violence to convey racism. The image of the ‘violent Arab’ is rampant in the mindset of many; conditions like Sarkozy’s unnecessary warning to Muslims in France to not slaughter sheep in bathtubs for Eid do not help.  That which became increasingly clear to me was the fear that is generated toward Arabs; simply from the looks I was given every single time I was outside. This may sound like me being too sensitive, and I myself was at a total loss at first as to why (mostly when I was not dressed for work), so many people refused to smile back at me, as to why I would often catch people watching me with blatant suspicion and often, with distaste. Maybe I was in denial at first, but after having my bag searched, for what had to be the third time in a week whilst purchasing my groceries at the supermarket – there was no doubt left in my mind.

That is how the whole seven months went, and I would like to state that whilst I have had to deal with the odd ignorant comment made against Islam or immigrants, I have never in my life been made to feel like a second-class citizen, potential criminal or come across a system whereupon racism is so obvious and yet underhand. My patience eroded severely near the end of my stay in two separate incidents. The first was during my final food-shop, when whilst paying for my shopping – the clerk pointed to my rucksack, which I had strategically opened in the bagging area to avoid suspicion, and demanded that I open it wider for her to check. I asked her bluntly if she would like to check my passport as well – to which she politely declined. The second incident was a case of aforementioned refusal to recognise someone as both Asian and British: A man noted the English conversation I was having with my friend and asked us where we were both from. Hannah and I both replied that we were English, to which he started shaking his head at me in stark refusal of this fact. To prove this fact to him, I pulled out my beautiful pink passport and flashed the page where it says clearly in black ink: PLACE OF BIRTH – CROYDON.

Whilst this being a trying experience, it is nonetheless an experience which can be taken in order to appreciate the comparably higher levels of acceptance and tolerance we have in Britain. It is these aspects which make us a socially advanced society and personally has helped me reaffirm my pride in being British.

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