The life of an Asian student living in Cornwall
I truly believe that our generation will be the ones to make a significant difference
I’m a 19-year-old guy who grew up in North West London, surrounded by people of colour (yes, white is a colour here and NOT a tone for any fine art students). Seeing people’s different skin tones as I walked down the high street was the norm. I’ve always had friends of different backgrounds whether they were Hindu or English Christian or Muslim to name but a few. I almost considered it something to be proud of – a ‘look at me and all my different mates’.
I feel at this point I should add that I consider myself a British Asian. My mum was born in England, as was I. My family have been in the UK for half a century. I am a (very) proud Brit and Londoner and I will always support an English team. English is my first language – while I can understand Gujarati, I hardly speak it. The point of all this rambling is that I consider myself very British. British from the standpoint that Britain, since WWII and mass migration from the colonies, has defined itself (broadly speaking) as a multicultural society.
I am a first year Mining Engineer although this course wasn’t my first or second choice, I didn’t know I’d be studying in Cornwall until three weeks before the tropical flora of Glasney View greeted me. All I knew about Cornwall at that point was that they’d fought to keep ‘Cornish pasties’ Cornish, they had their own language/wanted independence and apparently we’d been on holiday here when I was little.
This is a highly opinionated piece so perhaps it would make sense to add some facts. From the Cornwall 2011 census 98.2 per cent of the Cornish population identified as ‘white’. While the in the UK, the percentage of people who consider themselves ‘white’ is 87.1 per cent. In ‘Greater London’ (where I grew up) the ethnic diversity is significantly greater with only 60 per cent of the population considering themselves ‘white’.
As a fresher on campus, I quickly realised that actually there weren’t nearly as many colourful faces as I was normally used to but at this point it didn’t bother me. No-one treated me differently – I was just another young fresher. However, I also began to notice lots of second looks from locals in particular, especially the elder locals. I mean it bothered me slightly but in reality, people could look twice, maybe I’m just that sexy, who knows? I began to notice it more and more; something that made me laugh was one time when I got on the bus and an older gentleman saw me and promptly took his wife’s hand with a startled and scared expression. None of this phased me. It wasn’t really racism and I mean I was naïve, but not that naïve.
I distinctly remember the first time I actually thought to myself ‘wait, wtf?’ I was at a Falmouth Christian Union (FCU) debate on whether religion should be considered a part of British politics. I was invited by a friend who has worked closely with FCU all year as he knew I was interested in politics.
So I was sitting there, in the lecture theatre, waiting for the talk to begin, surrounded by members of FCU and the speaker’s assistant turned to me (he was sitting in the row in front) and asked me directly ‘I’m correct in thinking this is a FCU meeting?’ in ‘proper, turn your nose up English’. On the projector it literally said ‘FCU’ in big white letters and I’d watched him greet the president. I turned incredulously to my peers thinking either this guy was ridiculously thick or had another motive. I politely informed him that I was underthe impression that this was an FCU meeting and he was in the right place. I have to confess at the time, I honestly thought he was beingstupid. It was only until later on that I thought ‘was he just being racist?’. My mum insisted he probably was.
From then on it seemed to get worse or maybe it just became more apparent to me; FXU FC being called an ‘international team’ by a local is my favourite one. I have lots of examples, casual and blatant but the point of this is not to rant about racism.
I had never really considered myself that different from my peers at school or at uni. I honestly don’t think that most of my mates see me as that different – if at all from themselves. Evidently some Cornish locals, young and old, see me as something different and maybe unequal. It upsets me that it is still this way. I don’t want to be seen as different just from judging the colour of my skin but that’s the way it currently is.
I truly believe that our generation will be the ones to make a significant difference. For most young people there is no stigma against people of any colour and if there is they’re in the minority. I mean, I’d like to think that if you’re reading this article and have mates of different skin colour, you’re acutely aware of the difference in skin tone however you see them as an equal. From the people I have spoken to, this is almost entirely the case.
So I have a request: if you overhear someone being racist in whatever manner, just tell them it isn’t cool. Don’t be violent. I have no intention of encouraging violence. Just a calm and gentle check. Explain that in 2016, racism is no longer tolerated and that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their skin tone. One by one, we will change the attitudes – if not change then force the negative, despicable and nasty ones to a corner with themselves.