Post Referendum Thoughts

Many of you know I was born in India, both my parents were born there too, my dad’s mum was born in Penang, Malaysia, my dad’s dad in Amara, Iraq. Both my mum’s parents were born in India. My great grand parents were born in Iraq and India. I’m an immigrant and proud of it. Here’s a photo of Great Grandma Esther and Great Grandpa Isaac.

GGMa Esther & Isaac 2

When I was growing up in a semi in Golders Green in early 60s London, our street was hugely multicultural. I remember Mrs Le Bon, the Italian Catholic married to a Jew. I was good friends with her son and daughter (yes his name was Simon). Then there was the Burmese family half way down the road, and Monica and Richard the Irish Catholics, and Mrs McCarthy across the road. We were never invited into her house, but her daughter and I were very good friends. Mrs McCarthy looked old even then. She was a foster carer, of course aged 7 I had no idea what this meant. She always wore a thick winter coat, even in summer; her hair was permanently in a state of shock, her hands heavy with bags of groceries. And she was always tired. There was a convent across the road; I remember the nuns, walking around, and Gibson’s, the sweet shop, my favourite place. Aged 5 I learned to cross the road so I could spend my pocket money on hundreds and thousands, sherbet pips and pear drops.   Our street was a pick and mix of just about everyone, and we all lived together very happily, there were never any unpleasant words. Now, the remaining members of that community are my mum, Monica and Mrs Le Bon. Everyone else is an orthodox Jew. Mum’s neighbours, especially since my dad died, have been courteous, helpful and one in particular, a Parisian woman in her 70s, is someone I love to have conversations with and she, according to my mum, loves me.

In the mid to late 60s, I never saw or heard any racism or anti Semitism among my community, though I know it was going on elsewhere. I loved my primary school, Wessex Gardens on the A41, a multicultural mix; we all got on very well. I was extremely happy there, meeting kids from all over the world. I then went to one of the first secondary modern schools, and again met people from every country you could name. I still have my school photo and I am proud of everything my school taught me about other people. My education might have been poor, but the best education I received was accepting other cultures and religions. However, it was also here that a girl called me Paki and told me to go home. For a start I was born in India, not Pakistan, and I wasn’t really Indian, but her words hurt me so much and I knew what she said was not acceptable to me or anyone else. She would kick the back of my chair in classes, and taunt me. Eventually we had it out, and became friends for many years after, growing up from age 11 to our 20s and staying friends until we fell out over something else. I still remember the hurt from those days, yes only one person who was cruel to me, but it was enough. I knew by then that people all over the world, let alone in my country, was suffering from racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and more.

When I now read that people who are citizens of this country, some of them born here, some who came here like my family, people who call themselves British, are being taunted by other members of their community, telling them OUT OUT OUT and GO BACK TO YOUR OWN COUNTRY, I am horrified. Twitter and Facebook are full of nasty comments by nasty people. I had a load of anti-Semitism directed at me on Twitter last week – it was a first.  But I’d rather know it was there than pretend it doesn’t exist. Social media allows everyone with Internet access to have a voice. I’d rather hear it than not, because then I know what I am dealing with. One thing I know, my friends, my community, are tolerant, loving people. People have stood up for me and I have stood up for others, whatever the situation. I was in M&S a few months ago, and the sales assistant had a face that was clearly not okay, deformed beyond anything I have ever seen. It didn’t bother me but the 14-15 year old school kids who were in the queue were laughing at her and taking the piss. I looked at them and said, ‘Are you being horrible to her, because if you are, don’t.’ They were shocked into silence. I expected a barrage of insults from them, but they kept quiet, and were embarrassed that they had been found out. I spoke out where many others witness but never say a word because they are afraid. There’s a lot more to be afraid of right now.

The referendum has happened, we have to take it and move forwards, but we can do so in a dignified manner, with the love and honesty and the tolerance most of us already implement in our lives. What we are seeing is truly ugly behaviour from some. We have to stand up for those whose voices are not heard or whose voices are silenced. We owe it to humanity if we want a peaceful future for ourselves, our children, our friends.

PS. Just back from a 6k run, through our gorgeous park, where kids of every colour, religion and nationality play together, the paddling pool filled with cool water, the paddling pool the community funded to keep going because Lambeth Parks cut their funding. And then I see gazebos and bunting, tables and chairs on a road blocked off to traffic. I was by now on my 5 minute cool down walk, so I stopped to ask them what was going on, “A street party.” “Anything to do with the referendum?” I said, meaning a coming together of locals. The man, in his 30s, shook his head. “The referendum is nothing to celebrate,” he said. We smiled, I walked home, past the dog walkers, the kids playing, down the road to our neighbours, every colour, class, religion. Some people keep saying Londoners need to know they are privileged, and I say we do and that some of us are, and some of us really are not. London has poverty and homelessness, it’s hard not to be aware of that. Whatever happens next, wherever our leaders take us, it’s time for all of us to come together and make this country a place where people feel welcome, not rejected, a place we feel proud of living, a place many can call their home.


2 SS School pic @1976

Click on the pic to enlarge.



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