Shereif Kholeif explains how racism in America is not the exception and details how he wants to make GUSA a diverse and safe experience for all.
Racism exists everywhere. After receiving your 200th email from Change.org asking you to sign another petition, you begin to wonder whether there’s a point in continuing to fight so passionately for something that seems insurmountable. You begin to ask yourself why you bother getting involved. But now, being silent is being compliant. We can no longer be quiet, which is why I’m using my platform to share my experience with racism. It is easy to look at the horrors in America and assume that it’s only an issue on the other side of the pond. But I believe it’s my job to show you that this issue exists everywhere.
I’d like to begin by stating that I foster no hate or resentment towards any of the people that are discussed in this article should they relate any of these stories to themselves. I am writing the piece to highlight the subtle and not so subtle ways that racism can affect BAME citizens in everyday life, and indeed on our very own doorstep in Glasgow.
So before I delve into my experiences of racism, perhaps you should get to know me better. I was born in Saudi Arabia to a pair of relatively liberal Egyptian parents. By the age of four, my mother was forced to divide our family into two and move us to Egypt due to the oppressive laws that Saudi Arabia inflicted upon women. As a result, my family grew up as two separate factions simply because my mum didn’t wish to wear a burkha – a very basic human right which we often take for granted in Scotland.
At the age of eight, we were told we were moving to Glasgow. Growing up on western sitcoms meant that I was fascinated with the concept of moving to Scotland, so I welcomed the move with open arms. I had never really experienced any racism before the move. Little did I know that I would go on to develop imposter syndrome in the first few years of my life in Scotland – the place I had been so excited to become a part of. I worked hard to fit in at first, I tried to engage in sports clubs and I came across (and still unapologetically do) as a very keen person. I guess it was the little things over time that fostered this feeling. When getting into small disagreements with friends or other kids, I’d get called racial slurs like “P*ki”, “Dirty Arab” and was told, “to go back to my own country”. I don’t blame them for this language. We were all children, we didn’t know any better. We didn’t know what kind of emotional and psychological impact that slurs like this would have on one another because we grew up in an education system that was unwilling to have these difficult conversations. My year group was never taught sex education in high school as it was too uncomfortable a topic, so it wasn’t a shock “Scotland’s past and present issues with racism” wasn’t on the syllabus.
Racism existed outwith the schoolyard and it cast its ugly shadow across many areas of my life during my teenage years, including my love life. In my early teens, I started dating a girl who I was very fond of and who happened to be the daughter of an intolerant man who was decorated in the police force. After our first date, she was told that her father’s colleague had “seen her wandering the street with a coloured boy” and was forbidden from seeing me anymore. According to her father, my parents and religion meant that I would be intolerant to the needs of a woman – the same liberal parents who moved continent in order to be free of oppressive laws. It truly was a 21st century Romeo and Juliet. A Shakespearean story I wasn’t prepared to be the main character in, at such a young age.
A second date came along, and when once again “seen” together, the conversation between father and daughter became a little more heated. Over the next few months of seeing each other indoors to avoid the watchful and judgemental eyes of her family and friends, I decided that the relationship had to end. For no other reason than it did not feel right or healthy based on the circumstances. After the breakup, I received a message from my ex-girlfriend saying that her father had experienced a change of heart. He wanted to invite my parents round to their home for dinner to discuss their views and values and to ensure that I was “good enough” to date his daughter. I refused, of course. I was a young teenager who was not ready to subject myself and my parents, who I hold so dear to me, to what I thought could be a heavy racial attack. It never even crossed my mind to tell my parents. I was scared of what might happen. If they are reading this now, it will be the first time they have heard this story.
These experiences have helped to shape me into who I am as a person today. A person who likes to advocate for and be a strong voice for others. I have learned how to use my voice and I wish to use it for others who are still finding theirs.
Not having these difficult conversations when we’re young and open to learning eventually leads to intolerance and an unwillingness to enter into complex and often uncomfortable conversations about race. Without this education, we develop into intolerant university students who have never truly have our views challenged in a constructive way. These same students then go onto shape the world and our politics. I’ll put my hands up and admit that I am still learning every day how to have these difficult conversations as they are being presented to me in my role as an elected student officer. I will undoubtedly make mistakes, but these mistakes are what will lead me to have the conversations that I need to in order to do better by our students.
Our collective voice is stronger when we stand together than when we are divided. One group’s suffering is not justification for another’s. We should all be fighting for the one side, the right side, the side of peace, equality, equity and love. I’ve long ago decided that fostering feelings of hate towards anyone is more effort than it’s worth. I know how cliche it sounds but, to break the cycle of hate, one party needs to fold and be willing to unrelentingly display empathy, compassion, and love towards the other. We as human beings, are creatures of habit, if we experience hate, we begin to display hate. If we experience violence, we ourselves become violent. So, try to relentlessly display love and compassion and hopefully, the result is, compassion and love will be shown toward you.
I’ll leave you with these final words: challenge each other’s views, learn from each other, and together, our voices will be heard.