Source: The Guardian
By Aditaya Chakrbborti
A grieving teenager is exposing the grinding reality of everyday discrimination, and the results could be transformative
The two biggest stories this year are coronavirus and Black Lives Matter, and one of the places they meet is on a cul-de-sac in Romford, Essex, silent on a weekday afternoon apart from the thrum of lawnmowers. Inside one of those tidy houses lives Intisar Chowdhury, with his wide grin and big glasses and life story that you partly know.
He’s the son of Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, the hospital doctor who even while sick with coronavirus wrote an open letter to Boris Johnson pleading for more masks and gowns for NHS colleagues. When he died three weeks later, 18-year-old Intisar was thrust into the headlines. This was early in the course of the pandemic, when each evening brought news of hundreds more Covid-19 deaths. As the adults in power tore lumps out of each other, a grieving teenager spoke with poise about the government’s lack of consideration for black and Asian carers. Of the more than 30 doctors the British Medical Association knows to have died in this pandemic, around 90% came from ethnic minorities, it says.
When we met earlier this month, Intisar showed podcast producer Mythili Rao and me the garden where his parents threw parties, the conservatory where his dad’s tablas sit silent. He has had more life pushed into the past few weeks than most schoolboys should have to live over 18 years. He could, maybe should, have taken a rest. Instead he is doing something extraordinary.
Outraged by the police killing of George Floyd, he wants to use whatever attention he has gained to battle racism. Along with his friend Clara, he appealed last month for other teenagers to recount the racism they face at school. As the call-out spread across social media, dozens of stories flooded in, from Lincolnshire to Surrey to Kent. Assembled into a dossier and reported exclusively by the Guardian, they comprise a horrific indicator of the abuse and even assaults dished out to black and Asian children by their peers and sometimes teachers in English schools.
And they crack some of the orthodoxies around race. Those big-name commentators fretting they could be silenced by “cancel culture” would do well to listen to these children who usually have no voice. Those who affect to believe that the Black Lives Matter movement is all about rusty statues or that the UK is a “post-racial” utopia should read the accounts from black schoolboys told by teachers to stop hanging out together “because we looked threatening in a gang”, or the Muslims warned by staff not “to congregate in large groups” – supposedly to prevent terrorist radicalisation.
Then there’s Appy, a black girl who goes to her Midlands grammar with natural hair, only to be told by senior staff it’s against “governmental regulations”. She is frogmarched to a storeroom, given a roll of navy blue fabric and ordered to sew her own headscarf.
In a different classroom, a teacher interrupts his presentation with a slide from a Ribena ad – a cartoon of a fat, purple blackcurrant with outsized facial features. He spends the next five minutes calling the only two black students in class, “the Ribena boys”. When one of them writes “the entire class laughed”, you feel the heat of his shame.
Suggested reading by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times