‘I thought they were going to set the house on fire’.

CONTENT WARNING: This blog discusses acts of bigotry, racism, racist language and trauma.

Experiencing racism and violence as a young child

The 22 of August is the UN’s International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief. As someone who is a victim of violence on the basis of my faith, I wanted to share what happened to me and my family, how that trauma is still real today many years on, and how it has affected my mental health and day-to-day life.

I have been subjected to racism for most of my life and it all started at a very young age. The one that really affects me the most to this day is the firework incident.

Me and my sister were 11 and 12 and my younger brother was 6 years old. We lived in an area of Cardiff that didn’t have any families that were from a minority ethnic background, or anyone that looked like my family.

It was a normal winter’s evening in November at home with mum, dad, sister, brother and me. I remember being so excited, thinking about how it would soon be bonfire night and we would get to go into the garden and watch the fireworks, and secretly hope mum and dad have bought some for us to do. I remember we had just finished dinner and me and my sister were clearing away the dishes, my brother was on mat duty (putting the floor mat we eat on away), mum was in the kitchen washing the dishes, dad was reading namaz (praying).

We could hear noises outside which sounded like kids laughing. Then, all of a sudden, we heard a “BANG!” and mum screaming in the hallway shouting “don’t come out here, stay in the living room.

As a young child when you hear your mum scream you get scared. It’s a normal reaction but we didn’t know why mum was screaming, let alone what the continuous banging noise was. The sound felt like it lasted hours. It was really only minutes, but minutes of hearing fireworks outside is fun; it’s a very different story when these fireworks are going off in your hallway. I later found out that was what had happened.

Luckily mum was not injured. The police were called, and the situation was explained. They gave mum and dad suggestions on things we could try to prevent this happening again. The suggestions were a block of wood in the letter box and a padlock around our gate.

I remember thinking at the time “is that all you can do? You are the police, you have the power to stop these things from happening and your only advice is to put wood in the letter box and padlock the gate.” I was already taller than the gate, so I couldn’t see how that was going to stop anyone getting in.

In my head as an 11-year-old child you think ‘the police will fix it all.’ The reality was quite different, but what could the police do? We had no idea who did this so how were they supposed to know and where would they look?

That night I was so scared, thinking that they are going to set our house on fire and we are all going to die. No 11-year-old should have to go through that.

I kept asking mum and dad ‘why do they do that to us?’ It was hard for mum and dad to explain, as they knew the real reason was that we were brown, and we had a different religion and belief to the rest of the people who lived in that area. How do you explain to three children who are very young and vulnerable that there was no justification for what had happened.

The simple reason was hatred towards us because we were brown, and because we were different, looked different, dressed differently we had different celebrations.

Living in fear

Over the years the hatred towards me and my family got worse. Thank God that no more fireworks were posted through our letterbox, but we had “P**i” spray-painted on our cars, “go back to your own country” written outside our house and racist language hurled at us when we were out in the street.

After a while I didn’t want to go to school or outside as it was constant.  I lived in fear, checking behind the curtains to see who is outside at any slight noise. This continued for years until we moved.

‘I can’t stop pacing up and down the hall on bonfire night. What if it happened again?’

This trauma affects my day-to-day life in ways I can’t even begin to explain. I can’t bring myself to do the simplest of things at times like go to a firework display or stop pacing up and down in the hall on bonfire night, thinking it could happen again. This trauma affects my mental health; I live in a constant state of anxiety and fear most of the time, I over-think everything, I carefully plan where I go, and I feel uncomfortable in certain places, even when no-one looks like me.

Before I came to Platfform I had put all my feelings, fears and thoughts in a box never to be visited again, thinking ‘yep it does not affect me anymore as it’s the past.’ But that’s not really true. I think about these things all the time, and about why am I the way I am and my only answer is that this society did this to me and made me live a life of fear for no reason, other than that people can see I have a different skin colour and believe that I am a different religion and might have different beliefs to them.

Platfform has given me the comfort and a safe space to openly talk and share my lived experience and for that I feel I am on a journey of healing.

This is still real today as it was many years ago and many people in Wales are still subjected to hate and violence due to being different. One day I really hope we can live in a society where colour, religion, beliefs and anything else that might be different does not matter and we embrace each other for the amazing people we are.