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What it’s like to be a non-white student with a backwards family

There’s a ‘uni’ version of you and a ‘home’ version of you


Being a part of a Muslim family who originate from Pakistan has meant that a lot of limitations have been placed on the way I want to live my life. Some people may not think that it is restrictive and that’s completely fine. But for me, I often find that it is.

My parents and older sister and I are extremely laid back and open-minded people who have integrated into the modern western society that we live in here in England. Unfortunately, some of my extended family like certain aunties, uncles and cousins are on the opposite side of the spectrum. They even have had the audacity to question or criticise certain things that my parents don’t even think of as problematic.

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If you can relate to some of these things, then don't worry, you’re not the only one who effectively leads a double life.

First of all, it means you can’t really trust everyone in your family

It’s hard to know who you can trust, and who you can’t trust. You always learn this by making the mistake of thinking that you can trust somebody in the family, and then whatever you say later gets thrown back in your face.

Being called a "coconut"

Basically, being brown on the outside and white on the inside.

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Heres a picture just to clarify

My sister and I have been called a coconut because apparently we “acted white”, so everyone assumed we were ashamed of our religion and culture.

We aren’t.

And what it means exactly to “act white”, I don’t quite know. Was it because we didn’t like wearing traditional clothing on a day to day basis? Or was it because we didn’t know how to speak the mother tongue fluently, or maybe even because a majority of our friends are white. Does this make us white? Apparently so.

Making any form of social media private and removing ALL family members

It is just far less complicated to block or delete everyone and make your accounts private, just in case. You should have the freedom to post what you want and living with a constant fear of “oh no, what if **** sees” was enough for me.

Plus, you can’t always control what you get tagged in.

Getting verbally attacked for wearing a skirt or dress

This is the precise reason for blocking family members on social media.
Have you ever come home to your mum or dad telling you that they have had a phone call from a family member who has seen something “bad” on social media?

Or maybe they have just straight up said it to you.

In the past I’ve been told that I was an embarassment and brought shame to the family for a posting a photo like this – I can’t find the original as it was in 2013 so I have included a drawing of what my outfit was like:

Family members trying to persuade your parents to not let you go on a girls’ holiday or travel

Yep. And my sister and I got called white for wanting to… because showing any sign of independence or autonomy makes us white people.

Having to hide the fact you have a boyfriend

It is so much more worse for the family to find out if a girl has a boyfriend than a boy having a girlfriend. Why? Because sexism.

Being told that I can't thread my eyebrows

Yes, I know. I actually got told that I shouldn’t remove stray hairs from my eyebrow area. I guess it’s because having two separate eyebrows is overtly sexual.

The ideal:

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Segregation policies between the sexes

I’m actually embarrassed to admit this: I was sitting next to my male cousin and was told that I shouldn’t because technically, I could marry him. And no, it doesn’t make sense to me either.

If you eat a non-halal Maccies burger instead of a fish fillet, people will talk

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I am personally happy to identify as a Muslim and I don’t follow it strictly. I don’t always eat halal food nor do I pray five times a day.

Not everyone who is born into a religious family agrees with or follows every aspect of it, and that is okay.

In my family, it is just expected that you devoutly follow the religion that you were born into, which I don’t think is fair. You should have the complete freedom to choose what your beliefs are, if any, without getting criticised or shunned or called a ‘Coconut’ by family members.

Clubbing is a no-no

I can honestly say that the reason I chose a university in Leeds was merely to avoid being seen by family members in my home city. I don’t have to worry about what I wear or who I’m with or what I’m doing with the fear of someone in my family seeing, especially going on a night out.

Some members have even tried to persuade my aunties to not allow their children to live away at uni and commute instead. Why do they care?

Having consistent debates about equality

Some of my family members just cant seem to comprehend the notion of equality between races, genders and sexual preferences and it makes me angry.

Boys get more freedom and get treated like kings for NO REASON.

If you’re LGBTQ+ you would have a really difficult time coming out, if you chose to at all, and that is I think one of the biggest shames in being a part of a family like mine.