The moment I stepped out of Pudong airport in Shanghai. Something felt strange and I didn’t know what it was – maybe it was the time difference or the fact that I was on a completely different continent? It was early days so I just decided to ignore that feeling.
That strange sensation stayed with me for a couple of days until my friend pointed out that it was because 90% of the people in Shanghai were just staring at me.Taking photos of me or filming me. It made me so uncomfortable. Just getting in my personal space without my permission.
Why were they doing that?
Then it dawned on me that when I looked around, no one in Shanghai looked like me. As a brown Pakistani girl I stood out like a sore thumb in a crowd of non-diverse people. I hadn’t felt like that ever. Where I live I have so many people I can identify with, so this had never been an issue for me but for them they were just interested in seeing who I was and what I was doing?
I had always known the importance of diversity, but this was a key example of why it’s so important. I knew that the people filming and taking photos of me didn’t have a bad intention. They were fascinated by the difference between me and them, but it made me uncomfortable, nonetheless. It made me realise how important it is to break down the barriers and let people integrate. Otherwise, we create a generation of people surprised and confused when they see someone that doesn’t look like them.
The reality is that when we create a diverse space, we don’t just give people a group they can identify with but also create a comfortable space where they get a chance to see the differences in the world.
This enables people to see what the world has to offer and how they can relate to everyone including people who may not look like them, sound like them or act like them. But the funny thing is that when I came back to the UK, I realised that diversity might be a big thing here, but we are still dealing with some key issues such as racism or discrimination based on religion and gender. This is the case even though I am welcomed into the workplaces I go to and get a chance to sit down with a mixed group of people. For example, terms like ‘letterboxes’ and ‘towel-head’ are still being used in everyday speech and by politicians. We, as a country might have come a long way to fight racism and discrimination, but we still have a long way to go.
When I returned from China, I felt happy and comfortable being back in the UK. I felt safe however, I know that not everyone feels safe in their communities. There are still people being targeted and we need to work on that. We need to educate more, petition more and represent more. China might have a long way to show diversity, but UK still has a lot of work to do.