Illustration by Khadija Said
Carrying a bag of lemons and coriander, my uncle weaved through the crowds at Western International Market, thinking only of his wife. My aunty had always squeezed at least half a lemon into his daal – the flashback made him smack his mouth in happiness.
He was down his road when he first heard the voice and laughter. His eager smile began to fade when he recognised the tone. Quickening his pace, his feet began to fall over each other – the laughter was louder.
“Fuck off you p*ki!!”
He heard something land on the car he hurried past. It was a thud and the echo of something bounce on cement. He remembered this noise, thinking of the stones thrown against the wall of his house in Delhi when his friends wanted him to come out but were scared of his mum.
Another thud. This time he didn’t just hear it, he felt it too. His back arched as a brick hit the right side of his body and he jerked slightly. A pain shot through him, but regaining his balance, he quickened his pace. He would deal with bruises later.
Another thud. This time on his turban. His head jolted forward and he tumbled on the floor, lemons spilling out of his bag. He got up and ran. His turban slightly askew, he felt something wet by his ear – he didn’t care. He was still clutching the bag when he ran into the house, locked the door and closed the curtain. His wife cleaned up the blood behind his ear as he told her what happened.
“How many lemons were saved?”
The banality of it all. She was once pushed into oncoming traffic by someone, and she didn’t drop one thing from her bag.
When reading news of racist men getting egged and doused in milkshake, I think back to moments like these. Racist hate crimes have risen drastically since the Brexit vote in 2016. When I see people tweet that we shouldn’t be throwing milkshake on the very people who have allowed and incited violence against black and brown bodies, I feel devalued. There’s a history of abuse that runs through the veins of British values and it’s almost often against immigrants. It’s the history of colonialism that sits heavy on our shoulders as we’re told to go back to the countries made volatile by the very people egging us.
This didn’t just happen to my uncle, it also happened to me. Walking out of university, I’d just been told I was probably going to fail my course because I didn’t come in, and barely put any effort into my work. I knew my talent, yet I was failing because I was apathetic. I was thinking about getting drunk instead of facing my future, because that’s how I dealt with everything. I took my hood off when I realised it had stopped raining, and walked back to my accommodation. Before I felt anything, I smelled it. Before I realised what was happening, I heard them.
Reaching to my head, something slimy stuck onto my fingers. I still didn’t understand. The car sped away – distant laughter. I tried to understand what was on me, why it happened, why I took my damn hood off just then and why today wanted to do me like this.
A chunk of the egg shell was in my hood and I threw it to the floor in disgust. Tears began to fill my eyes. I went home and got straight into the shower, and cleaned my clothes straight away. I got rid of the evidence, because the reality was a burden I just couldn’t carry.
Every time I hear outrage about milkshakes being thrown on those spitting abuse about Muslims, I think of all my Muslim friends who have been abused on the streets of London. I try and remember where that outrage was for them.
I hear people talk about the radicalisation of liberals as if it isn’t a reaction to the radicalisation of the far right. As if hateful language isn’t normalised on our TVs, in our news and from the mouths of people around us. Keep calm and carry on, they say as LGBTQ+ people are deported to the countries that Britain made homophobic. If Nigel Farage can press charges against someone who threw a milkshake on him, every black and brown person in Britain can sue the whole of the British empire.