I first experienced racism when I was about 5 or 6. Although I was born in England, I had spent a lot of my early years in Mauritius. My parents were from Mauritius, and came over to train as nurses in the 1970s, where they met during their training and fell in love.
I was a confident child in Mauritius and I remembered feeling very loved wherever I went, but my initial experiences of growing up in England didn’t seem quite as friendly. I became a quiet child; my Dad taught me to keep my head down, stay quiet, and get on with things, so that’s what I did.
For instance, I recall going to an infant school in London. I remember being by myself a lot, and not having a particular friendship group as such. So one playtime, when two girls with blonde hair and blue eyes asked if I wanted to play with them, I remember feeling so happy to be asked, as I smiled and said, “Yes”. Little did I know this moment would not be as happy.
They signaled to me to go into the girl’s toilets with them, and I remember asking why, and they said it was part of the game. So they led me by the hand and ushered me into a cubicle. I was reluctant, but they assured me that it would be fine — fun, even.
I asked what sort of game this was, and they said they were playing, but first they had to wash me. They grabbed hold of my left arm, and while one held on to me, the other took some tissue, dipped it in the water from the toilet and started rubbing my arm. I asked, “What are you doing?” She replied, “We’re washing the dirt off your skin so you can be like us.” That was the first time I noticed my colour!
A teacher came and stopped them, and severely told them off. To be honest, I was quite confused, and didn’t fully understand what was going on, as I was so young. I remember the teacher asking if I was alright, and to be honest, I was OK — on the surface, anyway.
Little did I know that that one occasion would have an impact on me later in life. I always knew I was different, and I was quite happy about that. I could sing, write songs, play instruments, and dance, and that made me feel happy. Throwing yourself into what you are good at doing is great for releasing any underlying troubles that may happen around you.
But even though I carried on through life doing positive things, there was one thing that bothered me, and it wasn’t until I became an entrepreneur that these feelings came to surface. I wondered what people would think of me if they discovered I was brown! So for a long time, I hid behind the scenes. I didn’t have any photos of me on my website or on my social media business pages; I also refused to do any videos, for fear it would put people off my business or from following me. I kept from being visible!
For a long time, I simply turned down opportunities if it involved me being on camera. It wasn’t until I was doing some inner work on myself with a coach that I discovered that the reason I was hiding stemmed from this incident. We then did some work, and although painful, I brought this memory to the surface and could see it for what it was, a racist experience.
My coach persuaded me to look at this situation differently, to help me move forward. I realised now that the girls were probably innocent, and they thought they were doing something “nice”; their behaviour was probably learnt from their parents or caregivers. This was a bitter pill to swallow, but I had to take it to move forward and release this traumatic memory, so I could get on with leading my life.
This experience taught me many things. It taught me we are all different in some way or other. Some differences may be cultural and some are at surface level. Many people are fearful of what they know nothing about, so they lash out to anyone or anything that doesn’t fit their idea of the “norm.” It’s not right, but hopefully by bringing light and awareness to this situation, we are in a better position to address it. Hopefully, when more people understand racism from other perspectives, it can bring about more understanding.
I shared my experience to help people see the pain this can bring to others.
I no longer stand in the shadows; I now shine my light hoping it helps at least one person.