My name is Ramon Mohamed son of Amir Mohamed and Mary Watts.
My father, a practicing Muslim and Pushtoon from the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (NWFP), arrived in Sheffield in the 1950’s as part of the first wave of colonial immigrants invited by the British Government to work in the steel industry.
My mother, a practicing Christian was born in Sheffield, worked for most of her life in Bassets sweet factory.
Together they had eight children, I was their fourth son and the only child given a name from my father’s family, my paternal grandfather, Ramon, meaning ‘the Merciful and Compassionate one’, one of the ninety-nine names given to Allah. Our parents followed the religious orthodoxies of both Christianity and Baptism, and the Islamic custom of whispering the Adhaan into the newborn babies right ear, to establish our faiths.
During my early childhood my father would send us to Industry Road Mosque located in a house to learn the Qur’an, my mother would encourage us to go to Sunday school at the Baptist Church on Eleanor Street.
As a young child I knew I was different, one parent had brown skin the other white skin. This difference was exacerbated by the fact the there were no other Pakistani families living on our road and definitely no dual-heritage children to play with. At night in bed my confusion would keep me awake, tossing and turning, feeling uncomfortable in my own skin.
In the 1960’s when I began my primary education at Phillimore School, Darnall we were the only family who had a Pakistani dad and a white English mum my unique school experience continued through to my Secondary education in the 1970’s at Park House School, Tinsley. In the playground I had good mates with whom I would play football aspiring to be just like Tony Curry, Sheffield United’s prolific mid-fielder. However, when things got nasty, and fights broke out in the playground, racial stereotypes were hurled at me in the form of Afro-Caribbean stereotypes – big lips, flat nose and nigger. By the mid-seventies Asian racial abuse emerged and I could now be insulted more specifically – curry breath, untouchable and Paki.
At the beginning of the 70’s more Pakistani’s came to Sheffield working in key industries and creating communities that were focused around Industry Road Mosque. In 1976 I left school with no qualifications and spent eight years working on building sites where again I came across racial abuse and also racist language used in everyday speech. As the Pakistani community grew, not only did I experience racial abuse from the white community but also from sections of the Pakistani community who refused to understand and accept my dual heritage. Both Pakistanis’ and whites would call me ‘half cast’, making me feel untouchable and alienated, and an outcast from both communities.
During this period all my siblings were changing their last name from ‘Mohamed’ to ‘Watts’ my mother’s maiden name. The very fact that they were constantly labeled by the name made employment and forming relationships difficult. I am the only ‘Mohamed’ in my family.
The 1980’s were a period of massive social and economic change, privatization of utilities and trains, anti-poll tax demonstrations the decline of heavy industry, rising unemployment. 1984 and the miner’s strike was a significant turning point in my life. I lost my job and decided to give education a second chance.
I attended Shirecliffe College and took four GCSE’s as well as an access qualification aimed at mature students. I found the two years I attended college, away from the familiarity of working, for eight years, on the building site challenging. During my time working I was surrounded by ‘industrial language’ racist conversation was part of everyday discourse. Inside I knew it wasn’t right, but accepted that on the outside this was the way people behaved, I was their mate ‘the good Paki’, able to survive in yet another confusing environment. At college I wasn’t hearing racist language everyday and I was beginning to feel more comfortable in my own skin. Yet even here I did not see one dual heritage, black or Asian student attending college, I still felt isolated.
I had arrived at a point in my life when I needed to ask my father questions about his journey from Pakistan to England, how his life differed from a rural village to an industrial urban city? What were his experiences and what motivated him to build a new life for himself away from his Asian roots and create a new family in Sheffield? It was at this time that I began to intellectualize my racial predicament. I became interested in the academic study of politics and sociology. In 1985 I accepted a place at the University of Hull where I studied for a joint degree in Politics and Sociology.
Prior to leaving Sheffield to go to Hull I heard that my father had died suddenly of a heart attack in Pakistan. Just at the point at which I had begun to need answers to questions about him, and of my background and Pakistani roots he had died thousands of miles away leaving so many of those questions unanswered.