• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

I’ve been called a ‘p***’ all my life. Racial slurs are never just ‘banter’

·4-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

I knew I was a “p***” at the age of five. I was standing alone in the school playground, bewildered and anxious, my eyes flitting this way and that, searching for a friend. “Who’s that p***?” a boy asked loudly as he eyed me up and down in disdain. His friends sniggered.

It was the first time I’d heard the word but I knew instantly that it referred to something terrible – and that terrible thing was me. The boy had spat it out, his tone sneering and contemptuous. It broke me.

For years afterwards, it became a reference point for how others defined me and, consequently, how I came to see myself. When it came to picking teams for sports matches, I was the last to be chosen because I was a p***; when we went on a school trip to Dorset I was put in a room where there was a double bed. The white girls refused to share it with me because I was a p***. And so it was that I learnt of my place in the world order.

As a young child, my confidence was crushed to the point where I felt as though I was enveloped in a layer of fog. I began to oscillate between innate exuberance and abruptly withdrawing into myself. To this day, it still happens from time to time.

This, I imagine, is how Azeem Rafiq felt when he was subjected to racist abuse by his team mates at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2008 and 2018. His revelation in August last year that the institutional racism he suffered left him feeling suicidal was, for me, a trigger. It took me back to that time and place when all I longed for was invisibility.

Yet Rafiq’s former team-mate, Gary Ballance, who has admitted to calling him a p***, merely says he “regrets” his words. No actual apology, just regret, couched inside a lengthy diatribe of how the two were at one point close friends and spent a lot of time together. As if that makes it OK.

What is worse, the club’s investigation into Rafiq’s 43 allegations of racism, which began last September and took almost a year to conclude, found that the word was uttered “in the spirit of friendly banter”. As such, Ballance was cleared of any wrongdoing and, so far, no disciplinary action has been taken against any employee of the club.

Well, I feel the need to explain something to Ballance and his club. During all the occasions when I, my friends or family members were subjected to this term of abuse, we never mistook it for banter.

When the white girls I hung around with at secondary school occasionally let the “p” word slip in my presence, then clasped their hands to their mouths before mumbling an insincere apology, it was not banter. When, during my first job at the UK Border Agency, a colleague casually referred to a passenger as a p*** in my presence, it was not banter.

In the same way, when Ballance called Rafiq a p*** it was not banter, regardless of what context in which it may or may not have been said. The word slices through your ears like an invisible cleaver. It does indeed make you want to curl up and die.

To describe the conclusion of the club’s investigation as a whitewash is stating the obvious, even though it has now upheld seven of the 43 allegations and has admitted that Rafiq was the victim of racism. But several other investigations and inquiries are now taking place – or are about to – including one by the England and Wales Cricket Board, and we can only hope that their findings will reflect the true extent of Rafiq’s suffering.

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

For me though, what is disturbing is that Ballance and his club have not demonstrated any appreciation of the degree of trauma Rafiq has experienced, and is no doubt still going through. Ballance accused Rafiq of making similar slurs, including calling him a “Zimbo” in reference to his Zimbabwean background. I have no idea if “Zimbo” is as demeaning as “p***”. All I know is that my memories gnawed away at me for years. For a long time, I could not even repeat the word. Even now, I flinch when I hear it.

When Ballance says he regrets his actions, what he is actually saying is that they do not warrant full atonement. But the word p*** is not banter. It is obscene. It cuts deep and has long-term psychological consequences that manifest themselves in many ways. In my case, it instilled in me a sense of distrust of other people that I have never fully been able to shake off. I never received any apology from the perpetrators of my abuse, but perhaps it is not too late for Rafiq.

Regardless of what the other inquiries may or may not conclude, it is up to Ballance and his colleagues to acknowledge the magnitude of their actions. Only then can Rafiq perhaps start his journey towards recovering from the damage inflicted on him.

Shamim Chowdhury is a London-based British-Bangladeshi journalist and writer

Read More

Mihir Bose: Virat Kohli’s defence of his Muslim teammate will change Indian cricket

What next for Angela Merkel? | Borzou Daragahi

Opinion: We need a bold new type of NHS – the National Housing Service

What next for Angela Merkel? | Borzou Daragahi

Opinion: We need a bold new type of NHS – the National Housing Service

Boris Johnson’s worst nightmare? President Michel Barnier | Denis Macshane

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting