What happens when a young Muslim girl stumbles into the heart of a town centre EDL demonstration?
I leaned nonchalantly against a brick wall. Remnants of frost glistened on the ground and I watched as my breath gently curled around my lips. Winter had always brought me a special kind of joy and I revelled in the dark and mysterious clouds that overshadowed the town.
“Come on Hana, hurry up!” my friend urged.
Smirking slightly, I conformed and followed as she bounded towards the town centre in a gleeful skip. Visits to the town centre had become customary for us and held many fond memories. The bustle of bodies, ensemble of noises and plethora of smells all perfectly aligned to become the beloved backdrop to our childhood. Every nook and cranny became deeply ingrained in my mind. It was my town – our town – and we were ready to visit again.
Absentmindedly, we delved deeper into the town centre completely engrossed in our light hearted chatter about the festive season of winter. The smells, the sounds, lights, snow – we fell deeper into the rabbit hole – swirling in conversation till our surroundings became blurred……
I looked up abruptly.
Crowds of police officers surrounded us. Their neon jackets morphed together creating an impenetrable barrier around the area. At the heart of all this chaos there they stood. Rows of people shouting scattered chants. Ostentatiously, waving posters and banners plastered with ignorant, disgusting, slogans.
“End all mosques”
“Stop paedophilic muslins” (sic)
“Ban halal meat”
My eyes hit the ground. My heart began to race. Faster. Faster. Faster. A lump formed in my throat and I struggled to squeeze any words out. I jerked my head in my friend’s direction. It was in that moment we locked eyes and became aware of our position.
This wasn’t our town any more. It was theirs’.
Tears began to prick my eyes. I felt blood rushing to my face. The dark clouds suffocated me. I finally gave in and let silent tears slide down my face.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
That day remains locked in my memory. A buried minefield that will always be there. Racism used to lurk in the shadows; an unspeakable monster that only rarely reared its ugly head. It would cleverly cloak itself and lull me into believing it was not there at all. Until that day when I was surrounded by it, left right and centre.
As a society we boast about how far we have progressed; how accepting we are. We pretend that social inequality does not apply any more. Surely not now in our magical age of tolerance and understanding? To some extent it’s true, all around integration is evident but beneath the obvious surface lies the harsh reality. Racism is not simply an uneducated person spouting ignorant slurs; It’s the job opportunity missed due to your birth name. It’s being stopped by security due to your skin colour. It’s the look of discomfort when you speak your mother tongue in public. It’s having your culture appropriated as a novelty trend. It’s being told your natural hair is unfit for work.
Yet the worst of the list is having a person in a position of privilege ignoring your struggles and tossing it aside as it doesn’t affect them, and labelling it as a “thing from the past.”
words hana hussain