This website uses cookies for anonymised analytics and for account authentication. See our privacy and cookies policies for more information.

The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Anti racism movement could learn from LGBT community

This opinion piece is about 8 years old

Zarina Ahmad of the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations recently gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's equal opportunities committee

Ticking the British-Pakistani box in official forms always felt a bit odd to me, because I always identified as British. I never felt like an ‘ethnic minority’, even though I came to understand that’s how I am seen. My dad came to Britain very young and always considered himself British; my mum was born in India and came here aged 18, from Pakistan. But for me, Pakistan didn’t really come into it. I’ve only visited the country briefly twice.

I wouldn’t say there were any barriers to my education. However I was aware of racism every day. The last day of term was known as ‘Paki bashing day’. It happened after the bell rang and off school grounds, so there was no or very little means of reporting any incidents. But I enjoyed and did well at school and graduated with a degree in psychology from Glasgow University.

My dad had qualified as an accountant but couldn’t get an accountancy job in the UK. I’d done an accounting course as a back-up plan, so in the late-80s I applied for a job with a small accountancy firm, mainly to please him. At the interview, I was very open that my main interest was psychology and working with children, and was amazed when they still hired me. When I asked why, I was told I was intelligent and had a degree. But importantly, I was female and Asian, which ‘ticked a lot of boxes’. I was flabbergasted but at least I could respect their honesty.

Our culture and language are no different from people who identify as Scottish ethnicity

I was given insolvency cases that involved what my employers described as “your kind” – Asian cases, and anyone with a foreign-sounding name. It was very difficult to progress in my role. I was told I would be supported to sit my professional exams. But the opportunity never materialised.

I left to be a full-time parent, keeping my hand in as a sessional charity worker, until I joined a property firm as a book-keeper. I ended up running the business and found few barriers on the private sector side. People are interested in profit, rather than who it comes from. But I encountered a lot of negativity towards Asian landlords, especially from local authorities.My experience was that if you’re Asian and get it wrong the first time, there are no second chances. You always had to prove you were better than their prejudices and work twice as hard to prove yourself.

I battled for seven years for my son to be tested for dyslexia. Teachers assumed his problems were related to limited English language abilities or because we were a bi-lingual family. We’re not – we only speak English at home. Teachers saw brown skin and made that assumption. When my son was finally tested he was found to be 95% dyslexic.

Aged sixteen my daughter started to apply for a Saturday job. Her white, Scottish friends have the same educational background; they take part in the same after-school activities and have the same experiences. The only difference is name and skin colour. It’s hard when your daughter sees her white friend being taken on at £10 an hour, while she is given a £3.75 an hour job.

We’re now at the stage where many Asian people living in Scotland are third or fourth generation. Our culture and language are no different from people who identify as Scottish ethnicity. The only difference often setting us apart is skin colour.

Asian people have accepted unfair treatment when we shouldn’t. We don’t want to ‘rock the boat’. We don’t want to be seen as ‘problematic’. But third and fourth generation Asians are still not accepted, mainstream or integrated into the world of work. This needs to be tackled. We need strong, proactive leaders in anti-racism, employing similar strategies to the LGBT movement.

We also need to recognise that there exists a culture of institutional racism and this needs to change.

Zarina Ahmad from Kilmarnock is a climate change and environment officer with the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations.