On Wednesday 16 December 2020, Saarah Bhalwani and Muhammed Zia Ud Din lead the School of English and Modern Languages BAME Student Community in a debate on the topic ‘Tackling Racism: “Merry Christmas!… But why no Eid, Diwali or Vaisakhi?”’. In this blog post, Saarah explains what the debate was all about, and shares her views.
6 min read.
We can still see how damaging the government’s decisions about Christmas were and how we are now experiencing the repercussions. The most prominent consequence was the alarming death toll, increasing pressures on our NHS.
Here is a section of my speech as part of the debate:
“Frustration and hurt lies in the Christmas ruling by our government because of this: allowing Christmas at this large scale, where the rules of COVID are lifted so people can meet and mix within households, is absolutely unfair. There was not a single consideration for any of other non-Christian religious festivals such as Eid, Diwali and Vaisakhi that have happened during COVID. Instead, there was heightened policing, angry articles blaming the rise of COVID on poorer areas within British Asian and Black communities in parts of the UK, such as Leicester, and an overall disregard for the sacrifices and struggles ethnic minorities have faced with having to miss crucial religious gatherings.
What this Christmas during COVID has done is effectively made ethnic minorities and minority religious groups feel put in their place. The majority, a white Christian population in Britain, has been treated with favouritism. This is a race issue, because the majority of non-Christian religions are dominated by people of colour. In the Christmas decision, people of colour are side-lined on a mass scale, clearly being treated, and valued, differently.
What upsets me the most was that, when I visited my grandmother, and had to see her from outside her house, for Eid, she felt wary of the police, as people were being fined for travelling at the time. Muslims were made to feel criminal in that situation, but Christians do not experience this feeling as they can openly meet this Christmas. This is the issue that I’m trying to address. Criminalisation. Christmas is about partly eating together with family, but that’s exactly what Eid is about – sitting with family after the month of fasting. Where was our allotted 4 days to meet? One day? We got nothing.
This year has been really difficult for everyone, but as a member of a British minority in this country, I feel more ignored than ever. Issues regarding race have been big this year, an example being the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd. A more personal story of racism was my family and I being called ‘Pakis’ whilst we were bike riding during the first lockdown, on two occasions. However, my mum told me that we will report it to the police and remember that not everyone thinks like that in this country. And she’s right… I agree for the most part. But the government are not helping ‘assimilation’ and valuing the multi-cultural society we live in in the UK with this Christmas ruling”.
Looking back, 2020 saw the nation go through a mental health and identity crisis, which got worse and worse as we progressed through the timeline of that dreadful year. What was significantly highlighting was the stigmatisation towards minority groups, for example a rise in targeted racism against East Asian people, due to the stigma attached to the virus being from China.
Projected insecurities is one of the biggest issues with racism. Scapegoating large groups in our society is a repeated act in order to shift blame and denounce responsibility. It is one of the reasons why we feel stagnant in our progression with representation and diversity. In other words, we can’t really move forward with being seen as equals, if a few people still feel that it is valid to turn to someone’s race, religion, sexuality or colour into a reason to treat that person unfairly.
Instead of pointing the finger at a whole community of people, we could instead act with awareness that not every Muslim will act and do exactly the same thing, as we are all different as individual humans. We could approach British identity as a wider spectrum, instead of with a checklist that needs to be met for a person to be included. If we approach Britishness with an understanding of what inclusion actually is and how it can be implemented, instead of a white-centred approach which requires fitting in by assimilating to white British society, we could perhaps then avoid decisions such as the Christmas ruling by our government, where minorities in this country felt ignored yet again in situations that affect us all.