Race, UK and​ feeling Othered

Guest Blog from @HalilMrT1

The grief still pours out. No matter what I do the pain lies heavy in my heart which makes it sink further in my chest.

I recently saw this on twitter.



It’s this rhetoric, by the likes of President Trump, that makes people of colour and those from ethnic minorities as a group feel like they will never truly be equal to their white counterparts. This is because it makes it ok, for those of a certain disposition, to be outwardly racist. It makes it ok for government policies to be created to oppress groups purposefully and without shame – you only have to look at the goings-on in the detention centres at the American Mexican border or the stop and search laws here.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I truly started to appreciate how hard my father had to work. He had always wanted to be a teacher – but due to his first-year course at a top university in Turkey not being “of an equivalent educational value” for the universities here in England he had to defer. Unfortunately, once he started to work that was the end of the dream for him in becoming a teacher. He worked until the early hours 7 days a week enduring verbal and sometimes physical racial abuse from drunk customers.

Up until the age of 16 I rarely had friends over. Our “house” was a flat above a kebab shop. But this wasn’t the reason for my not entertaining friends. I was allowed. I mean both my parents were liberal but I guess I didn’t through embarrassment. It’s strange as I write this it makes more sense than it ever did.

Society, whilst I was growing up in the 90s, saw ethnicity and skin colour as a negative…a flaw. Something to laugh at not celebrate. Something to sneer at not embrace. Something to blame rather than engage with. I’ll never forget the one time two of my friends came over to the shop and met my dad for the first time. I was about 13years old. My dad’s English was broken and he had an accent. This amused my friends so much that for weeks they would mimic some of the words my dad had said using an accent so offensive and caricature that it could have belonged on Harry Enfield’s sketch show (“hello peeps”). Yeah…they didn’t come around again. Not because they hurt my feelings but because I felt embarrassed.

Society, whilst i was growing up in the 90s, saw ethnicity and skin colour as a negative...a flaw. Something to laugh at not celebrate. Something to sneer at not embrace. Something to blame rather than engage with. Click To Tweet

Immediately and for a long while after I wouldn’t want people around the house/shop. I found myself exasperated with my dad … I’d rectify him when he said things “wrong”. I made sure I spoke with received pronunciation.

I felt ashamed – worried that our way of life would bring more laughter and ridicule. They made me feel less. Below. Inadequate. The food we ate, the pictures, the mashallahs (evil eyes) hung up, the Turkish books my dad read, the rugs on the floor, Turkish TV and Turkish music blaring through the speakers – in my mind all fodder for anyone wanting to degrade my culture and way of life.

What effect did this have on me? It meant I wasn’t exposed to some activities that my friends were. I distanced myself from many others outside of school so I didn’t socialise with my peers in a non-educational setting. As a result, I didn’t go to the park with them ….to play football…or go swimming… go out to eat…or go shopping (actually I did once I was about 14… it was an experience that ended with the police knocking on my dad’s shop door – another story for another time). These are activities that help to build and develop social interaction, foster a love with nature and help people to be healthy (the last one I failed at spectacularly!). I missed out on this.

Our shop was very much inner city and we didn’t have a garden to speak of really just a concrete yard where we were not allowed to play. Luckily I had my sister (my rock) and a Turkish friend who would come over occasionally. We would tend to stay in play computer games and watch TV whilst my friends were out on their bikes.

Now, as I begin to conceive writing the next few words, my palms are little clammy and my heart rate has increased.

I can’t ride a bicycle.

There I’ve said it!

Partly down to my own self perception of my own being, which had been transferred on to me through fear of being different and the fear of being chastised and ridiculed for being so, didn’t allow for this to happen.

Yes, my parents could have taught us but they worked long nights and didn’t have the time. Although 13 was a little old to be learning to ride a bike (I mean most children learn whilst they are at primary school) it would have been something I could have learnt given the right environment/opportunity to do so. Ironically my father bought me a bike but I never used it.

I longed to learn. I wanted to. But the embarrassment grew as I got older. I bought myself a bike when I was in my late twenties but I never took it out for worry about what others would think. Watching a grown man fumbling around on a bike. I laugh at the thought never mind what others would think.

Only as recently as last year, as a 39 year old man, I was still hiding behind the shame. I was sat in a meeting where my bosses had an idea to raise money for charity by having, yes you guessed it, a sponsored bike ride. “Halil you could ride one of the stages!” Holy Moly, what do I say? my brain says “tell them you can’t ride a bike, tell them you never learnt” my mouth says ” yeah that sounds great. Yeah, why not. I’ll even source the exact type of bike needed” whhhhhhyyyy!? (it was a rickshaw granted it would be easier than a two wheeled wobbly monster but still riding on a road …pedals….brakes…. handlebars! Urgh I shudder at the thought). Luckily for me, it didn’t happen.

Don’t get me wrong I love my heritage, my background, who I am and who I was. I never hated myself but I felt embarrassment for being different. I never felt equal. As a result, limited myself from experiences that would otherwise be normal for others.

My role as a head teacher is fuelled by the desire to give every child these opportunities. A curriculum with breadth and depth enriched with trips that level the playing field. I want their lives to be as smooth as cycle lanes. Where their only worry should be which way they are going. Not riding in a lane where the potholes of lack of privilege have to be navigated.

My role as a head teacher is fuelled by the desire to give every child these opportunities. Click To Tweet

Right. I think it’s time to learn how to ride a bicycle… don’t you think!?

2 thoughts on “Race, UK and​ feeling Othered

  1. Thank you for sharing this emotive and personal blog. You’re an inspirational headteacher – the pupils are very lucky to have you.

  2. Fantastic blog. Need to put a cold cloth on my eyes but well worth it. It’s important to face the sadness in reality in order to move forward and push back.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.