“No one looks like you. You don't belong here.” These words were spoken to two new girls at our school by a boy in the playground. Yes, it was true that we didn't have any other children from Africa in our school. But what wasn't true was the second bit about not belonging. They belonged, just like every other person in our school, including me.
You see, I know what it feels like to be different. My mum comes from Pakistan and my dad is Scottish. I spent the first three years of my life living in three different countries. I know what it feels like to not belong. And I know how much it hurts to be told so.
When I started at my primary school I didn't know anyone. I felt lost and alone during lunch and recess. It wasn't helped when one girl turned to me and said “you don't have any friends here, just go back to where you came from.” I didn't really know what that meant. I've come from many places - including London where I was born. And my parents come from other places. We even spent some time living in the Middle East, where my brother was born. Only later did I realise that maybe what I experienced back in Kindy was called racism.
Nobody likes to talk about racism. It makes people uncomfortable, even those who have never experienced it. I've never spoken to my friends about racism. Even though we talk about lots of sad things, racism isn't one of them. But I hope they all know it's wrong. It did make me wonder though, why we felt so uncomfortable just talking about it.
A recent study showed 70% of school students in Australia said they experienced racism (https://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?p=1373). But as the study also showed many people believed that while multiculturalism was good and racism was bad, often what some people thought was racism, others did not. So could it be that there is some kind of misunderstanding between different cultures or people? Or is it something else?
Could it be that some people don't know what it feels like to be the outsider? If you were born in the same country as your parents, you might never know what it's like to be different. Although I suppose people can feel different for lots of reasons. Maybe it is to do with the words we use. Words have more power than you think. Sometimes you may say something to someone that makes them feel bad and you might not have meant it. Often when we get angry we use words to make the other person feel worse about themselves - this could also be responsible for making people feel different, or like they don't belong.
There doesn't seem to be one reason why people are racist sometimes, or even why racism seems to exist. As the study mentioned before showed, most people support multiculturalism but when lots of people from different cultures live together we have to be careful of how we speak to one another. Also, one of the benefits of living in a multicultural society is that you get to mix with people from different cultures. The more you do that, the more you get to understand one another, and realise perhaps how alike we all really are.