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Page last updated at 05:02 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 06:02 UK
Reduced to a four-letter word

Undercover: Hate on the Doorstep

Tamanna Rahman spent two months living on a Bristol housing estate for the BBC's Panorama programme Undercover: Hate on the Doorstep.

Here she explains her reasons for agreeing to take part in the programme and describes how it felt to be a daily target of racist abuse, both physical and verbal. Her report contains details of racial abuse.


In 2000, as a 16-year-old at my culturally and racially diverse Manchester secondary school, I was asked by a local television news team examining the hopes and aspirations of the first class of the new millennium if I felt that racism in Britain was a thing of the past.

Fresh-faced, naïve and optimistic, I answered yes; racism is dead.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2009 and my answer is very different.

What changed? As part of a Panorama programme, I spent two months working undercover on a Bristol housing estate.

Over the course of our investigation I would have glass, a can, a bottle and stones thrown at me

The assignment came just months after Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said in an interview that having neighbours of a different ethnic background is no longer an issue in modern Britain when compared to other countries.

The Commission say his comments followed two Mori polls which, it claimed, showed the majority of British people to be increasingly at ease with racial diversity.

Before this assignment, even though I had not faced direct racism, some of my friends had and I had begun to notice subtle racism towards others.

The opportunity to see first-hand if the problem was really as bad as many friends had indicated, or if they were just isolated incidents, was one I felt I had to take when approached by the BBC to take part.

Rocks thrown

From the moment that my colleague Amil Khan and I drove onto the road that would become our home for the coming months, we were subjected to the coldest glare I have ever experienced.

Alone, it might not seem like a big deal - my skin is thick enough to handle a frosty look.

But it turned out to be a sign of things to come.

Tamanna Rahman
Even at home in Manchester, Tamanna is now wary of attacks

Pretty much every time I left the house, and from many people I met, I would get frowns and generally be made to feel unwelcome - whether they were on the street, in their gardens, looking out of their bedroom windows or in their cars.

We were new in town, and nobody came to say hello. It took an entire week to be on the receiving end of a single smile and that came from a middle-aged woman I passed in the street.

On my second day on the estate I had a rock thrown towards me as I returned from a shopping trip. I was called "Paki" and had obscenities muttered at me as I walked by.

This from people who knew nothing about me.

Over the course of our investigation I would have glass, a can, a bottle and stones thrown at me.

In what was perhaps the most shocking incident of our time on the Southmead estate, Amil was told not to walk on the pavement before being punched in the head by a man who said, "Bye, bye Paki".

I was almost mugged three times and threatened with a brick.

I was mooned twice, called smelly Paki, and told to take a shower. The abuse, including some of the worst obscenities imaginable, came from children, teenagers and adults.

On guard

I have been back in Manchester for a few months now, but I still brace myself for trouble whenever I see groups of boys on bikes or teenagers on street corners. Even though the children of Manchester have never had a problem with me, it has now become instinctive.

Amil Khan, Panorama reporter
Amil Khan was punched in the head while walking down the road

One of the worst effects was the lack of trust I felt towards anybody and the sense that I must always be on my guard - even if it was just popping to the shops.

There is little sense of a mixed community in Southmead and the longer I stayed the more I realised why. The more abuse I received, the less I wanted to go out. The more racism I faced, the less I wanted to talk to anybody. I do not think that I was alone in my feelings.

Before we began filming, Southmead was identified to us by the group Support Against Racist Incidents (SARI) as an area where recent racially motivated attacks had occurred. Other estates and areas around the country were also highlighted by race campaign groups.

The Southmead estate is mainly white and working class but in recent years more black and minority ethnic people have moved in. Before we moved there to live undercover we spoke to others who had had similar experiences to ours.

I feel strongly that neighbourliness is a two-way street, but why would anybody attempt to go out of their way to get to know the community they have moved into, if that community has made you feel unwelcome for no reason but the colour of your skin?

If you are a non-English speaker, what incentive would you have to learn the language if the vast majority of communication you are likely to experience is abusive?

It must be said that some people were lovely and in an estate like Southmead, many have their own issues to deal with, especially during tough economic times.

But I was not looking for special treatment in Southmead, I was looking to be treated like everyone else - not to be reduced to a four letter word that starts with 'P'.

Panorama - Undercover: Hate on the Doorstep, BBC One, Monday, 19 October at 2030BST.



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