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My tribe or not?

Racism exists but most Britons, of all backgrounds, try their best

Ilanded at Heathrow on 26th January 1991 with three pounds in my pocket and a turban on my head. In my head were Oxford spires, Bertie Wooster, Pink Floyd, Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes, Minister and the Marylebone Cricket Club—as well as a firm conviction that I would feel at home. I was heading for Hounslow in west London to get some cash from a family friend before going to the General Medical Council (GMC) offi ces near Great Portland Street to register, and finally to Lincoln to start work as a junior doctor. At Heathrow, I asked an elderly lady how to get to Hounslow, admitting that I only had £3. “Don’t worry love, you will get there and still have change left for a drink.” Paradise: where women you have never met call you “love.”

The GMC office was tricky to find. Outside the tube station, I asked directions from a group of youngsters who snarled: “Fuck off.” Disheartened, I turned to a man rushing somewhere. He looked at my creased paper with the GMC address and phone number, rang the number on his brick-sized mobile phone to find out where it was and walked me to the front door.

Lincoln was trickier still. Flat, everyone white, and not a turban or dark skin in sight. Walking back the first evening from a corner shop, I was stopped by three young men. Tattooed and aggressive, they wanted to know if I was aware that their country and my country were at war. They thought I was Iraqi. They were in no mood for lessons in geography, religion or culture; my pleading that I was a Sikh from India was of no interest. As they started to push and shove me, a group of women across the road came over. They were nursing students and one of them had seen me earlier that day trying to find my way round the hospital accommodation. One of them shooed the guys offwith language that would do a seasoned sailor proud. I was close to tears. She took me to her flat, made me the most welcoming cup of tea I have ever had, and said: “Don’t mind those dickheads, love.” Love, again.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: Peter Pomerantsev describes the situation in Eastern Europe as the governments of Hungary and Poland turn right. Simon Tilford, from the Centre for European Reform, questions the substance of David Cameron’s EU deal and Philip Collins argues that Jeremy Corbyn is not fit for purpose. Also in this issue: Peter Kellner shows us that we are feeling more optimistic than during the last stages of the last Labour government and Jessica Abrahams explores the sexism of Valentine’s Day. Plus Justice Malala on South Africa and the Prospect Duel asks: "Should all immigrants learn English?"
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