New research exploring the volunteering experiences and perspectives of people from the global majorityy. Find out more
This South Asian Heritage Month, I’ve been reflecting on my personal journey. From growing up as a first-generation British Pakistani in a majority white community to living life as my most authentic self today, at the intersection of everything I am.
I vividly remember the moment I became aware I was brown, and the other kids were white. I must have been around eight years old.
We ran into the cloakroom when the lunch bell rang and I beamed with pride as I took out the cold samosa, wrapped in cling film, lovingly prepared by my mother. Her cooking was always amazing, and her samosas were up there as one of my favourites.
But when I started to open the wrapper, the other kids looked quizzically at this alien food product before loudly erupting into laughter and calling me a 'weirdo'. I felt confused and embarrassed.
After school, I withdrew from my family for a few weeks as I processed things. I actually felt angry at my parents for hiding this ‘revelation’ from me.
Looking back now, I realise that this early experience shaped a lot of how I connected with my race throughout my childhood and early career. I was very shy and withdrawn for a large part of my childhood, although those who know me would not describe me that way anymore!
Hindsight has made me realise how much I compromised for the sake of fitting in. I often assimilated to avoid being bullied and felt I had to suppress a large part of my identity to avoid being ‘othered’.
I was never ashamed of it, but whether consciously or subconsciously, I hid my ‘brownness’. I focused attention on other areas of who I was, to fit in and create connections.
When I reached the world of work, I felt that in every room and every business I walked into, I had to work twice as hard to be trusted, respected and feel like I belonged.
As a result, I leant on areas of my life and personality where I could find common ground most quickly, and so my queerness was the focal point in my personal story for a long time.
In fact, I’m almost sad to admit, it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I truly leaned into and embraced my Pakistani heritage.
Looking back, almost twenty-five years later, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m proud to be a first-generation British Pakastani cis gay man. To be a brother, son, colleague, friend, advocate and leader.
Because no one is just one thing, I encourage everyone to take an intersectional approach. By doing this you see the power in the uniqueness and complexity of the individual while honouring the communities we belong to.
I’m proud to work for an organisation that understands, reflects and stands up for the things it believes in – including the power of diversity and equity to make a difference.
I’m also proud to be part of continuing the representation and belonging NCVO creates for people of all backgrounds – but especially those from non-white backgrounds.
Back at school, when those kids laughed at my samosa, I felt embarrassed. Now, I see what sharing your culture and being proud of it can achieve. So, to anyone who hasn’t eaten a samosa, I say…try one. It will change your life.
Research exploring the volunteering experiences and perspectives of people from the global majority
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