4 years old was when I asked my teacher for a ‘kenchi’ (scissors) at nursery unable to think of what the English word was. I ran home at the end of the school day to ask my older brother and cried with embrassment.
6, is how old I was when I moved to a school in a predominantly white neighbourhood and realised I was different.
12, was the first time I heard someone hurl racist abuse at my mum and dad and watched them put their head down and walk away quickly to avoid confrontation.
14, is when I scribbled on the back of my history book, ‘where are all the women and brown people?’ I don’t think anyone ever saw it.
16, is how old I was when a man shouted in my face saying, that he didn’t want to be served by a p**i in the jewellery store I was working in.
18, is when I realised my background gave me a significant handicap in the degree I had chosen and I had to do something about it.
20, is how old I was when I watched a mainstream British movie that had a cast that looked like me and my family.
28, was the first time I saw a successful Indian woman in academia and was able to begin to imagine what my life could look like.
29, is when I started seeing my ethnicity as my superpower. My background and culture gave me a unique understanding of the world around me and I was grateful for that.
30, when I realised that without knowing it I was setting an example for young Indian girls in the schools I was teaching.
This month on our podcast, School Meets World, Karl C Pupe talk about Race, Representation and Inclusion. So as you can imagine it got me thinking about the role these things have played in my life.
Honestly speaking for much of my younger life I just wanted to be white and for life to be smoother. But now in my 30s I believe my ethnicity and background of having immigrant parents who settled in the UK, is my superpower. It’s this background that made me make the most of my education because my mum didn’t get to step foot in a school because of her gender. It’s this background that has permanently planted a little voice in my head every time I doubt myself that says ‘Come on Roma you’re parents came here with nothing and built a life for themselves you can publish a podcast/write a book’ or whatever other task I am talking myself out of! It’s the quiet knowledge of knowing everything I do needs to move the needle forward for anyone who comes after me, whether that be my nieces, students or anyone else for that matter.
I didn’t understand the value of representation until I met a woman who was a complete Powerhouse and my manager in a job I was doing to tie me over until I started my PGCE. Looking back she was the first strong Indian woman I had seen absolutely smash expectations in her job and have a great family life. She helped me visualise a future I didn’t even know I was looking for. It’s funny because at the time I didn’t realise it and it’s only in hindsight that I see she had broadened my parameters. And that’s what representation does. It broadens the way people see themselves, what their future could look like.
In this episode we talk about the value of representation in school and what we need to do in order to be more inclusive and allow our staff to feel more comfortable to speak up and feel counted. We have the privilege of being joined by Adrian McLean who eloquently demonstrates that if we want our young people to feel counted, confident and heard we have to start with our staff. He encourages us to check our biases be self reflective and honest. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you take some time to reflect and I hope you carry forward its message in the new academic year.
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