In 21 years I’d never been racially abused. Now it’s happened twice in two weeks

Hate crimes have risen fivefold since the Manchester attack

Recently, one of my friends asked me if I felt like I was a minority.

I’m from a privileged, multicultural background where my British identity has never felt at odds with my ethnicity. At no point had anyone even insinuated that they had a problem with my ethnicity or made me uncomfortable in any way. So, truthfully, I’ve never really felt like a minority which is surely a good thing, why should I feel any different because of the colour of my skin?

Since the Westminster attack in April, this country has felt a level of fear unlike any in the lifetimes of our generation. Subsequent terrorist attacks in Manchester, on London Bridge and in Finsbury Park, as well as the Grenfell Tower tragedy, have understandably contributed to a heightened sense of fear and anger.

Despite never having felt threatened in my life because of skin colour, in these past few weeks I’ve twice been accosted on the street and had the word ‘Paki’ – a word that came to prominence in the 70s through its use by violent anti-immigration gangs – shouted at me. The first occasion was in broad daylight on one of Edinburgh’s busier streets. A middle aged man, obviously drunk or on something, barged past me saying “Get out of my way you fucking Paki bastard.” Although obviously inexcusable, I justified it by thinking that had I not been brown, he probably would have something equally offensive instead.

Credit: Richard Webb. Clerk Street, Edinburgh – where I was first called a Paki.

What really took me aback though was when a fellow student called me a Paki repeatedly on a recent multi-university sailing week in Croatia. We were walking back to our boat from a night out when, totally unprovoked, he hurled the abuse at me. In all likelihood, he was probably drunk as well, but the last time I checked an outburst of racism isn’t one of the effects of alcohol. It wasn’t just his reaction that concerned me. His friends were pathetically passive throughout the situation, allowing him to get away with it, and are in my mind basically as guilty as he was.

Previously, I’d always taken it for granted, maybe naïvely, that university was a place devoid of outward racism. Students are supposed to be educated and sensitive of other cultures, so being called a Paki on a university holiday was the last thing I expected to happen.

Now I’m sure that these two morons are not representative in any way at all of university students or the general public, but I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that I’ve experienced this just as fear is on the rise in this country. Apprehension is understandable, but totally unjustified hate towards innocent people is completely pointless. Events like the Finsbury Park attack and the fact that there has been a fivefold increase in the number of Anti-Muslim hate crimes since the Manchester attack shows that unfortunately, elements of hate are creeping further into our society.

If the terrorists’ aim is to divide us, then it looks like it is starting to work. While acts of terror cause more devastation, both terror and racism stem from a hatred that seeks to divide. We should use the actions of the people of Manchester after the attack there, where people opened their homes to survivors, as an example as how to react to terror. I know I’m preaching to the choir in most cases here, but sadly not everyone is converted to what should be a basic understanding of tolerance.

It can feel that we’re slightly helpless to the events we see on the news – worry is fine, but as soon as that translates into irrational hate or even facilitating that hate, that’s where we’ve got the chance to do something.