On my journey to Hull my main concerns and apprehension were related to my working class background, I wondered how I would fit in in a predominantly middle class environment. However, my first day at University was a baptism of fire. Arriving at my shared university house, a fellow housemate and student met me at the door and told me my room faced Mecca. I was completely thrown, I thought I would be marginalized because of my working class background, however I was immediately transported back to the racial assumptions of the building site. On entering the North facing room my humiliation was further compounded. Even before they got to know me they had made assumptions based on my name and in addition their geographical knowledge was abysmal.
The three years I spent at University I learnt about Asian and Middle Eastern Politics and the sociology of race, discovering and understanding the historical and global impact of these subjects strengthened my dual identity and gave me a greater sense of my place in the world. Academia had given me a new language distinct from the language of the building site. On the building site it was difficult for me to articulate the anger that I felt from the racial taunts and abuse, the anger hadn’t diminished, but I could now form my own arguments and articulate my opinions in a language that was more knowledgeable and powerful.
Now it was time for me to visit my father’s birthplace. In 1989 I went to Pakistan for the first time in my life. It was the middle of summer and the heat was unbearable. In the heavily populated and polluted city Karachi there were tanks roaming the streets. The heavy military presence was due to the recent assassination of General Zia, President of Pakistan. Whilst in Karachi I visited the tomb of Muhammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan. I took the slow train to the Punjab and went to Lahore and spent time exploring the beautiful Badshahi Mosque as well as the Shalimar Gardens and then onto the Swat Valley describe in travel books as the Switzerland of Pakistan. I met so many wonderful and kind people on my journey to find my fathers village. My final crossing into the village, surrounded by water, was on a rickety leaking wooden boat.
I spent four weeks with my family in Toru, Mardan situated in the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan. Struggling with the heat, diet, language and the constant stream of family visitors and trips to meet extended family members I became conscious of a whole world that belonged to me that I had had no previous knowledge of. My academic studies together with the personal journey I made to Pakistan gave me an insight into my head and heart that I could rationalize.
On my return to England I chose to study for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Bradford and Ilkley Community College. Bradford continued my Asian experience. An exciting multi-cultural city that felt familiar to me. There were, however, no other Asian, black or dual heritage students on the course.
As a latecomer to Education I was passionate about continuing my learning experience, this led me to teaching as my chosen career. My own experience of school drew me to work in inner-city multi-cultural schools where working class black, Asian and dual-heritage children were struggling, in the same way I had, to make sense of their role in the world. These struggles are multi-faceted but at the heart of these conflicts lay the unifying barrier of difference, the colour of our skin.
My life in Bradford had helped me to identify more with my Pakistani identity. In the summer of 1990 I moved to London a dynamic and diverse city where I would feel comfortable. I enjoyed the art scene in London and made frequent visits to galleries, theatres and jazz clubs. I heard a multitude of languages spoken on the street and tasted food from all over the World. I attended talks given by high profile Asian men, Hanif Kureshi, Salman Rushdie and Tariq Ali, who described their own personal journeys. During these discussions I was able to assimilate a variety of different perspectives and views about race and identity.
The London school’s where I worked embraced the diversity of the city. Children, parents and staff would openly engage in discussions and debates about race. Children were encouraged to challenge prejudice, promoting respect and understanding of an individuals life experiences. These ongoing debates seemed as natural as breathing, this openness supported the curriculum in all areas but especially when there were projects and subjects discussed during Black History month, highlighting an understanding of Black and Asian histories that had previously been ignored and bringing to light forgotten heroes.
School provided me with a space to continue to explore my racial heritage and to learn and teach about other’s experiences. However, away from the comfort of an enlightened school I would find myself on the terraces watching football, ‘The Beautiful Game’, surrounded by ‘fans’ screaming racial abuse, they ignored my presence, because I wasn’t a ‘black bastard’ I was the ‘good Paki’!
During the early 1990’s I became increasingly involved in the wider football debate. At this time I was writing of my experiences on the terraces and the racism I saw and experienced. I was invited to attend meetings of the Football Taskforce a government organization chaired by David Mellor at the Houses of Commons. These discussions brought about Kick Racism out of Football a government-funded organization that actively sort, through education, to eradicate racism from the terraces. Locally formed organizations mirrored the aims of Kick Racism out of Football; in Sheffield this group was called Football Unites Racism Divides (FURD). One of FURD’s aims was to raise the profile of black footballers, working with an academic (Phil Vasilli), who was researching a book about black professional footballers, and with the help of family members they recovered the history of Arthur Wharton (1865-1930), Britain’s first black professional footballer. Finding Arthur Wharton, was for me, a seminal moment in the teaching of black history, he encapsulated all that was missing from the teaching of sporting role models and their history.
In 1995 a young ambitious architecture student, Stephen Lawrence, was brutally murdered by white racists in South London. The Macpherson report on the death of Stephen stated that the Metropolitan Police Force had seriously hampered the investigation into his murder and the infamous phrase ‘institutional racism’ was endemic within the police force. Concern was raised that ‘institutional racism’ existed in other public organisations. Racism was still knocking on the door. I was hearing racism and racist chanting on the football terraces. At times I felt uncomfortable especially when visiting particular football grounds.
My love of sport influenced all areas of my teaching, creating a vehicle with which to engage children; team results led to understanding numbers, finding out where different teams came from secured their geographical knowledge. My own reading skills were greatly improved when in my early twenties I discovered books about my sporting heroes, Sebastian Coe along with his dad Peter wrote a book called Running for Fitness this was the first book I had ever read. Local team sports during the late 70’s and early 80’s reflected the racism in professional games, the last thing I needed after a day working on the building sites was more racial abuse. Marathon running created a space for me away from the building site where I had the freedom and isolation to relax my mind, I set my own pace and goals.