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“Racial abuse resulted in my depression”

Amesh Ahir shares his story of facing racial abuse throughout his life, and how it affected his mental heath, while also suggesting ways men can help themselves when faced with such difficult circumstances.

Having been born and bred in England to Indian parents, I may have conformed to the UK society but in doing so I have endured situations which I believed was the norm for any citizen with no regard for race, colour or religion – until recently.

I was first diagnosed with depression in 2009 at the age of 18 and ultimately brushed it under the carpet. Until I saw a therapist nine years later. It was only at this point that I realised my tendencies were created through challenges within my childhood and upbringing.

Growing up in a small village on the outskirts of Bradford during the 2001 riots (a heightened escalation between British Asian’s and Far Right white communities), I often felt that like a young Michael Jackson, my skin colour would lighten as adolescence elapsed. As the sole member of colour for my local football team, I was often signalled out with racial abuse from not just players but parents on the side-lines. A lack of education on their part playing a key role in those scenarios, I feel, but being stamped on, spat at and being whispered abuse, was something I believed was the norm of any football match. As a result, this regularly led to me going into my shell, hiding behind a computer when I came home, so much so that my parents enlisted me in Speech and Therapy lessons at my primary school, as they were afraid of my shyness.

I was privileged enough to attend my local grammar school, where I fell in love with the predominantly white middle class sport of rugby union. This often-elitist sport separated me from my upbringing; I was fortunate enough to represent my county and although the racial abuse was diminished there were still the odd murmurs.

The horrific acts of terrorism that have appeared over the last two decades, including the London 7/7 bombings in 2005, added more legitimisation for those willing to be racist. The ideologies began to creep into my mind too. Taking a rucksack on a train: “Do passengers think I would do something stupid?”, “Why won’t anyone sit next to me when the train is full to the brim?” These are the kind of thoughts that circulated my mind at the time.

The first trigger of my depression: failing my A-Levels and not reaching my first university of choice. Education is paramount in Indian culture, playing precedent over any sport, and there was an expectation of you following the trend of school then university then white collar job. The thought of being a let-down caused my first ‘mental health hiccup’. I endeavoured to change this. Fast forward to the year after, when I’d re-sat my exams and was holding down numerous part-time jobs while enlisted at the University of Birmingham, another UK multi-cultural city.

You would expect at a redbrick university for racist ideologies to be limited, however after a few VKs at the student union, some people’s real colours would come out. Because I’d dated two white middle class ladies at university, there would be the odd comments like, “How did you get her?”, “Why is she with you, you’re Asian?”, “What colour would your kids come out?” You learn to ignore these comments, but as time goes on, the more people say it, whether it is said satirically or not, the more you begin to believe it. It’s at this time you begin to doubt yourself.  Rather than open up and acknowledge your insecurity, men often put on a brave face in order to show they are not ‘weak’ in relationships, and in an attempt to keep their ego intact. It’s an unusual paradox as a fear of losing someone by opening up and telling a loved one your true feelings would actually create the opposite result.

Racial abuse is something that in the UK will unfortunately always be apparent (at times elicited by the media) and  I have come to terms with the fact it will always follow me. Although, it’s our role in UK society to educate those that harbour it that we all bleed the same colour and we can learn from each other’s cultures; after all, curry is a national favourite. Dependant on your location in the country, some places are more accommodating than others although this is the problem: we as a nation must be there with open arms for anyone, no matter what race, religion, or colour, as they have the ability to positively impact and broaden everyone’s horizons once given an opportunity to flourish.

Like any man, you often push those away that are closest to you, due to an inability to express your emotions. You never want to be a burden, you don’t want them to think they are at fault, you don’t want to ‘bring the atmosphere down’. Yet it’s these people closest to you who will always be at the front of the line to help. My childhood experiences had led me to believe I will never be good enough, for family, work or relationships – men are never taught how to ‘love themselves’, rather it has been seen as a sign of arrogance if one was to do so. However, modern masculinity has changed in recent years, with self-care and self-love coming to the forefront of everyday male life and clay masks flying off the shelf as a result. Men must leave their ego at the door at times, and first look after themselves as number one but also, rather than put up a front and be a brash male, they must ensure they are comfortable in their own skin and be who they want to be.

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Love to you Amesh for this!