I particularly remember an incident when I was thirteen years old, I had a really good school friend called Greg. He had white blond hair and a soft pale complexion. Greg and I could talk for hours, about life, school and although we had very different backgrounds we had a good friendship, so I thought….. One ordinary Monday morning Greg walked into our Maths lesson and as he entered the room my jaw just dropped. His razor cut scalp, tight jeans, black boots and a Union Jack scarf around his neck had all the signs that Greg had become a skinhead. At that point in time in the UK the word “skinhead” had become synonymous with neo-Nazism, fascism and racism.
Greg walked into class and instead of his usual casual nod he looked straight ahead and walked right passed me. He walked up to his desk behind me but did not acknowledge me at all. I felt so confused and dejected. I just could not understand what and why this had happened?
Class started and the teacher began explaining complicated fractions on the black board… but I could not concentrate and I also could not help myself, I turned around to talk to Greg who was sitting behind me.
“Hi Greg what’s going on? You ok?”
I remember to this very day that look Greg gave me, it was cold and angry and as he looked straight into my eyes, he said.
“Fuck off back to your country Paki.”
I was stunned, immobilized by his insult. You as well I thought? If it was his intention to wound me he had. At that point the maths teacher noticed I had my back to him and shouted,
“Sunita, will you stop talking and turn around. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you!” I did not hear the rest, fighting back the tears I just snapped and retorted.
“Sorry Mr Rogers but Greg called me a Paki.”
I was anticipating that Mr Rogers would react and discipline Greg for his racial insult, however, I was astonished to find I was met with silence….
Mr Rogers looked at me and turned right back around to the blackboard and continued with the lesson as if nothing has happened. I was devastated and deeply disappointed, now with both of them. This double blow was twice as hard and twice as painful. Now I know that with my work on safety, inclusion and belonging that everyone is an influencer and silence gives consent to undesirable behaviour.