By Deljit Singh | BRITAIN |
When Priti Patel talks about being called a Paki in the playground, as unpleasant as that was she really got off quite lightly as pretty much everyone with a brown skin got called that and then some of us got a lot worse in the form of physical violence, otherwise known as a damn good kick in.
As a model pupil I never got into trouble with the teachers and prided myself on never getting summoned to the headmaster’s office for punishment – apart from that one time in 1977 when I was 15 years old because of an incident in a classroom.
Yes, its another long read so please sit comfortably…….
Bullying and racism even back in the 1970’s wasn’t the exclusive domain of boys as some girls could be equally as unpleasant and nasty. I had to endure a small group of girls in my class who would call me Paki, towelhead, badhead and other racist names.
I pretty much kept out of their way but then on particular day as we returned to the classroom from lunch one of these girls came up behind me and ripped my turban off my head and ran to the window which she tried to open so she could throw it out of the window. As I sprinted towards her to get my turban back, one of her gang tripped me so I fell forward face first bashing my face on the floor. I had been bought up never to hit girls but as I was now in pain, and with other pupils laughing at me, my anger got the better of me, so I lashed out. I picked up the nearest thing to me, a chair and threw it at the girl holding my turban, it hit her on the arm and she dropped my turban on the floor so I was able to pick it up. She swore at me and ran towards me but in her haste she tripped over the chair and went sprawling to the ground just as I had done. By now the furore hadn’t gone unnoticed and a teacher stepped in to separate us as once she was off the floor she and her friends started physically attacking me.
Given the opportunity to retie my turban, both she and I were frog marched to the headmaster’s office and told to explain ourselves. As the girl was incandescent with rage, she was sent outside to calm down while I was spoken to. Unbeknownst to me or the headmaster she’d phoned her father from the call box in reception and he arrived a short while later. As I left the headmaster’s office to go and wait in reception after explaining myself, the girl pointed me out to her father who immediately started threatening me. He was calmed down by staff and then he and his daughter went into the headmaster’s office so she could have her say.
I had thought about calling my father too but I felt so ashamed of myself for getting into trouble, getting him involved would only add to my shame so I decided against it. I was only waiting about fifteen minutes but it felt like a lifetime especially when the headmaster came out of his office and disappeared into another room and then back to his office and gave me no eye contact. I was fearing the worst when I was called back into his office and stood to one side away from the girl and her father, who was now calmer but staring at me with malicious intent.
The headmaster explained how he had heard both sides of the story as well as accounts other pupils had given to staff and the attack on me by the girl was unprovoked and she was the aggressor. The headmaster went onto explain that so far as he was concerned the attack on me was race related and so he was treating it as a racial assault. I’d never heard any white person use these words. He agreed my throwing a chair was wrong and I’d apologized for this unlike the girl who continued to say she’d done nothing wrong. As the incident happened on school premises it looked like it would be down to the headmaster to decide what happened next, and what happened was not what I expected.
The headmaster said that the girl’s attack on me wasn’t just racial but also an assault on my Sikh religion which he believed made it an even more serious matter. He explained how Sikhs had fought in world wars alongside the British while wearing turbans and her ripping my turban off was something I could if I wanted report to the police, he and staff would fully support me in doing so as in his school he wanted equality for everyone. Before the girl and her father had time to reply he asked her father how he would have felt if a boy, any boy had put their hands on his daughter in what would be a sexual assault, and whether or not he’d report it to the police. The father nodded his head and shrank back into his chair.
The headmaster then announced that if it was left up to him his decision would be to expel the girl from school for her racist assault, but with that said he wasn’t the one that had been assaulted, so it shouldn’t be down to him. I was taken aback when he turned to me and said; “Well, Deljit, what do you think should happen?”
So now it was down to me to play Solomon and do the right thing. As the girl was now tearing up and her father was ashen faced I turned to the headmaster and replied. “I don’t want to ruin anyone’s life, so can she stay in school if she and her friends who I know don’t like me just leave me alone, and I’ll stay away from them too. If they do that then I’d rather not take this any further, is that alright?”
The room fell silent as he looked down at his desk and he looked at the girl and asked; “Are you willing to do that or not?”. She nodded and her father promised she would and even mouthed the words thank you in my direction. The headmaster agreed to honour my decision and warned the girl if she, her friends or anyone else did anything like this he would take more drastic action.
After the girl and her father left, the headmaster turned to me and said, “I’m sorry I put you on the spot but I know how you are and I knew you’d do the right thing for all concerned. After all Sikhism talks about the welfare of all”. I replied, “Yes, sir, Sarbat Ka Bhalla, is what we say to do right by everyone”. “What you did in forgiving her makes you a credit to the Sikh faith Deljit, I’m very proud of you young man”.
The name of my headmaster was Michael Taylor, he was my hero and my mentor. He was always about fairness, doing the right thing and of course learning. That day in Mr Taylor’s office I learned that there are white people who abhor racism and will always stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the name of equality.
In later years I would consult with Mr Taylor whenever I felt anxious, particularly after finishing my A Levels, and needed advice, or just someone to quote me Shakespeare. It was because of his quoting me Shakespeare that I read many of the Bard’s works. Sadly I only have this one photo of Mr Taylor as part of a group shot of the Jack Hunt School 6th Form in 1979. Michael Taylor is the gentleman in the light suit on the front row second from the right, I’m in the second row with the same hairstyle I have today but without the facial hair.
Thank you to those who’ve commented that my speech on Saturday at the Black Lives Matter event inspired them to speak to their kids and to speak up on racism. I do so because I was mentored by the likes of Michael Taylor to do the right thing and say the right thing.
DEL’S FOOTNOTE TO THE VIDEO:
I was honoured to speak at the Black Lives Matter Protest in Peterborough following the murder of George Floyd and other black people in the US.
I spoke specifically about the racism and prejudice I have faced in Peterborough and how racism isn’t just a US thing. There were over 1000 people in attendance who listened, cheered and applauded all the speakers who were brilliant on the day.
About a minute of my speech is missing where I talk about how in school in Peterborough in 1966 my two brothers and I as the only non-white kids in our school were forced to change our names from Manjit, Sarbjit and Deljit to Peter, David and Paul respectively to “help” the teachers and other pupils. So on the video when I ask “How would you feel if your kids’ school told you they’d need to change their names?”. Just in case you don’t get the context.
The rest of the video is pretty straightforward in terms of All Live Matter when Black Lives Matter that’s a given.
Thank you to Chris David Martin and all at Everything Peterborough for filming this and sharing with me, check out the Everything Peterborough channel on YouTube.
(Adapted from Del Singh’s sharing on his Facebook page)
Racism from ‘nice’ white people (Asia Samachar, 10 June 2020)
ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |