The Pakistani community in Britain faces multiple hardships, many of which are not their fault.

‘Grandchildren of the Empire’ is a five-part series of articles that I’ve written relating to racial discrimination in the UK, particularly regarding the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the subsequent discussion it has sparked in Britain.

Bias is one of the only constants in writing. It’s important to remember that everything you’ve ever read has been written by a human being, and that human being will be fallible.

They’ll of course be at their most fallible when addressing their own situation, which is why I preface this fourth instalment by reminding the reader that I’m a British-Pakistani man. The way in which I’m going to write this article is undoubtedly shaped by my own emotions and experiences more than any other in this series, and there’s a chance that they might affect the quality of this work. There’s no way around this bias and, in many ways, it’s an essential part of what I’m writing here.

A Unique Group

British-Pakistanis are a unique group within the UK for several reasons. As mentioned in the first article, most migrated to this country in order to perform manual labour and to accept low-paying jobs. Outside of London, prominent British-Pakistani communities exist in Northern cities like Birmingham, Manchester, and Bradford. The majority of Pakistanis are Muslim (specifically, Sunni Muslim), and many are fluent in languages such as Urdu and Punjabi, alongside English.

They often suffer discrimination due to racism but, for this community, racism and religious prejudice in the form of Islamophobia have become heavily intertwined. A lot of the stereotypes surrounding Muslims in the UK are directly related to them being of Pakistani descent and, as such, many people use the words ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Muslim’ interchangeably. Although this isn’t accurate, the links between the two are undeniable, and many non-Pakistani Muslims or non-Muslim Pakistanis will find themselves victim to prejudices held for a group that they don’t even belong to.

Being British-Pakistani can often feel surreal. The loyalties that people in the community have to one another means that, in some areas of a town, your appearance can mean that you are met with great kindness by complete strangers who happen to look like you. Then, in other areas of the same town, your appearance can lead to cold stares and vaguely threatening comments from white people and other BAME groups.

This is largely due to the fact that when Pakistanis (and immigrants from various countries, for that matter) came to the UK, they were sent to live on certain streets in certain cities by the government. This has created the illusion of self-segregation when, in actuality, these immigrants had little real choice in where they were sent to live. The majority ended up in milling areas of the UK which, due to their primary industry going defunct, have seen a huge decline in economic activity.

This has led to disproportionate poverty and unemployment in Pakistani communities in comparison to the nation’s average, with the ONS reporting that Pakistani and Bangladeshi households are the most likely to live in low-income households and with material deprivation out of all ethnic groups in the UK. This poverty is then, of course, blamed on these groups themselves for their ‘lack of intelligence’ and ‘unwillingness to integrate’.

Stereotypes held against Muslims and Pakistanis are applied relentlessly, but in different ways to men and women. Pakistani men have supposedly earned a reputation for being sexist, homophobic, violent, unintelligent and prone to commit sexual assaults — just to name a few abhorrent traits. Meanwhile, Pakistani women are patronisingly labelled as the ‘brainwashed victims’ of these men, which makes it very difficult for them to be taken seriously and to be treated with respect.

These stereotypes, alongside systematic segregation, have led to a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve witnessed many of my peers ‘validating’ these stereotypes through their actions simply because they’re berated as cultural traitors by white people and each other for not doing so. Due to the discrimination that they have endured (and have watched their parents endure), young Pakistanis will tend to socialise only with others of the same race for fear of bullying, poor treatment and social exclusion.

Speaking as one of the few young Pakistani men who ventured out of Asian sub-circles at school, I can say that this fear is fully justified. The school I attended was split down the middle between Asians and whites, with staff claiming that this was ‘just the way that the students wanted it’. Often, teachers would get involved in pitting the two groups against each other. My white teachers would frequently use cultural phrases such as ‘Masha’Allah’ and ‘Asalaam alaikum’ mockingly towards me and other Pakistanis. On one occasion, a new headteacher was appointed whose first act was to ban Muslim prayers from taking place (the school was just under 50 per cent Muslim).

To those who may mistakenly think that this was decades ago, at the time of writing I am 18 years old.

Justified Prejudice?

An interesting problem that British-Pakistanis face is the blatant admission to prejudice that some people have. A select few Britons are openly and proudly Islamophobic, pointing to things such as 9/11, the Manchester arena attack and the Rochdale grooming gangs as justifications for the way that they treat all Muslims.

I once had someone try to explain to me that Muslims are not a minority in the UK.

This isn’t a problem that other ethnic minorities seem to face, with most people at least admitting that there is anti-black discrimination in the UK, for example. This sympathy that other minorities receive is not afforded to Pakistanis and Muslims because of how they are painted by the media.

Take a moment to think about how rap dominates the music industry. Then think about the enjoyment Britons get from Holi-inspired colour runs. And then think about the awe with which Chinese New Year and its fireworks are celebrated. And then try to find a single thing that is considered beautiful about Pakistani and Muslim culture.

Try to think of any headline about Pakistanis that hasn’t contained the words ‘terrorism’, ‘grooming’, ‘paedophilia’, ‘sexist’ or ‘inbreeding’.

Try to find a single famous British-Pakistani figure (if you can find any at all) who hasn’t been either mocked and berated mercilessly, or used as a token by the Conservative Party.

And then try to think about why British-Pakistanis and Muslims tend to keep to themselves. About why they don’t tend to marry outside of their own race. About how they tend to be portrayed as villains in the few films and TV shows that they appear in. Think also about why they rarely speak up about the challenges that they face.

I’d like to add that this isn’t singularly a white problem in society, either. Some of the worst discrimination that I’ve ever faced has been at the hands of British Indians, who tend to be wealthier and more accepted than Pakistanis by their white peers. I certainly don’t want to generalise, especially since I’ve known plenty of kind Indians as well, and it’s only a small few who act this way; but it seems that this is an issue that is never addressed (likely for the same reasons that the partition that caused this rift is never addressed).

It’s often easier to socially exclude Muslims from events because they don’t drink, don’t eat pork and don’t eat during Ramadan.

I’ve also heard stories of black people who will shun their Pakistani and Muslim friends when white peers arrive on the scene, in an attempt to be more included themselves. Again, though, they are a small minority in what is otherwise a group that has advocated rights for people of all colours. But this kind of thing is the reason that ethnic minorities in the UK are easy to target as a whole.

Because, when we don’t stick together, it’s easy to pull us all down.

Real Problems

I’m sure that there are a few cynical people who will read this article and think about all the bad things that they associate with British-Pakistanis and Muslims the whole time. They won’t want to listen to the struggles of what is arguably the most heavily marginalised group in the UK, and will skip right to the part where I affirm their prejudices by addressing the problems within Pakistani communities. For those people, that part is right here.

There are undeniably some very real problems in British-Pakistani communities. Homophobia and sexism are big issues, as is the fact that some young Pakistanis have been groomed by terrorist organisations. Racism from Pakistanis against other BAME groups is another thing that needs to be talked about, with the above examples often being two-way streets. What’s more, the Rochdale grooming gangs led to the exposing of many similar Asian gangs in the UK, and it would be naïve of me to not admit that there is a very real cause for concern in terms of organised sex trafficking. In fact, I assure you that I’ll be writing about all of these issues extensively in future articles.

However, many of these issues exist within other groups as well. The Bible and the Torah are no more or less ‘homophobic’ in nature than the Qur’an, and yet society is far less critical of Christians and Jews who come out in support of gay rights than it is of Muslims. And I think we all know that women’s rights in general have a long way to go in every circle of society. So why are Pakistanis and Muslims specifically criticised for these things above everyone else? And why are these topics used to justify discrimination against people who, besides looking the way that they do, have never given anyone a reason to suggest that they’re not progressive?

The situation with George Floyd in America seems very far-removed from what I’ve talked about here, but the sentiments surrounding his death are very relevant. Many of the stereotypes that I’ve described above about Pakistani men in the UK are applied to black men both here and in the US. Plus, many black people are Muslim and will have stereotypes against Pakistani Muslims applied to them as well.

It was very difficult to talk about some of the things I’ve written in this instalment without making things personal, but this is such a personal issue. To make matters worse, I’m one of the people in the British-Pakistani community who is the least affected by them. I speak with a white accent. I’m from a financially stable home. I’m generally considered to be ‘well-integrated’, and ‘one of the good ones’.

So, imagine what life is like for someone who isn’t.

If you found this article interesting, feel free to take a look at the other four in my ‘Grandchildren of the Empire’ series. The next (and final) article acts as a summary and looks at how we can move forward against racism as a nation.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.